As Matt Ryan and the Falcons get ready to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their final game of the 2019 season, the focus is on finishing the season strong.
The Falcons (6-9) are 5-2 since their bye week and will be facing a team that's also riding a hot streak. Prior to their recent 23-20 loss to the Texans, the Bucs (7-8) were on a four-game winning streak.
New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has Tampa's defense playing at a high level. The Bucs rank No. 1 against the run giving up an average of 72.9 yards per game. Tampa ranks No. 11 in the league in sacks with 41.
Ryan was sacked six times for a loss of 46 yards in the 35-22 loss to the Bucs in Week 12.
"They are solid, and I think that's what makes them go is their front seven," Ryan said. "They have a really good defensive line. They are very deep with strong interior guys and have good speed on the outside. They have excellent linebackers, they are very fast. Both linebackers have great speed and good instincts. I think they are playing with a lot of confidence. When you have a defense that is confident with talent, they are going to be successful and they have certainly had a good stretch this year."
Atlanta's running back trio
The Falcons' running back trio of Devonta Freeman, Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison has combined for 888 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Each of Atlanta's running backs has a different skillset, giving offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter a number of different weapons to use.
The run game hasn't been where the Falcons have wanted it to be all season, but Ryan believes it's headed in the right direction. The Falcons have the No. 30th ranked rushing offense.
"The running backs definitely all have different skillsets," Ryan said. "I think you mentioned Q [Qadree Ollison] coming in, he has kind of been our short-yardage/goal-line guy and he has done a really good job of that. He had a great run last game to finish in the end zone. Brian Hill is a violent runner. He is kind of wild, he is explosive, and he is able to get from one cut into the second level really quickly – I have been impressed with that. Then Devonta [Freeman] is just the complete package. He [Freeman] catches it well for us, runs it well for us. It was great to see him get going. I think we have been trending it in the right direction in the run game, getting better and hopefully, we can keep that improvement going into the last week of the season."
Ryan hopes second-half push creates 'belief'
Despite the lost season, Ryan believes the lessons learned in the final games can help in the future.
The Falcons are hoping to close out the year with a win, putting them at 6-2 since the bye and 7-9 on the year.
"I think the biggest thing is, especially with a young football team, is that it creates belief," Ryan said. "Knowing that you can go into these tough places against really good teams and get the job done. I think that belief is very powerful. Having the mindset that you know you are capable of getting the job done is big. I think that more so than anything, that is what carries over. There is a belief that we can beat a good football team moving forward and we have enough pieces and the right people to be able to do that."