The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons will battle for first place in the NFC South on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET on October 9. Consecutive losses to Green Bay and Kansas City have slowed the Buccaneers down after a 2-0 start. Conversely, the Falcons – who were largely considered to be a team in a rebuild phase – will come to town riding a two-game win streak. Atlanta has played four tight games, powered by a rushing onslaught. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Falcons showdown in Week Five. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe on Sunday.
Luke Goedeke, the Buccaneers' second-round draft selection who played exclusively at right tackle out of necessity at Central Michigan, has stepped right into Tampa Bay's starting lineup at left guard. In true, 'baptism by fire' fashion, Goedeke has begun the 2022 slate going up against a laundry list of talent including Kenny Clark and Chris Jones. This week, he will face yet another top-tier defensive tackle in Grady Jarrett. Goedeke's cerebral approach and dedication to film study should prepare him for the challenging task. Jarrett, a two-time Pro Bowl veteran, has logged 3.5 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, eight hurries and five tackles for loss. The 6-0, 305-pound anchor is a premier run stuffer and an elite pass rusher. Jarrett consistently wreaks havoc in the backfield as a one-gap penetrator and possesses an arsenal of effective moves. Whether a double-swipe or chop-club, Jarrett imposes his will on the interior. He lines up in a variety of roles along the middle of the Falcons' line, so Goedeke, Shaq Mason and Robert Hainsey will frequently be matched up with Jarrett. This will be another litmus test for the Goedeke in his first year, and the Buccaneers will be relying on him to keep the pocket clean around Tom Brady.
In a full-time role in 2022, Mike Edwards has played all but one defensive snap this season. With his ball-hawk prowess, Edwards has been a back-end catalyst. He has accumulated a pick-six, two passes defensed and 34 tackles through four games. Edwards can do it all: blitz, cover slot receivers, stop the run off the edge and line up deep. On Sunday, he could be the key element in containing Falcons' dual-threat quarterback, Marcus Mariota. Mariota acts as an extension of the running game with designed rollouts and bootlegs in an RPO-centric attack. He effectively extends plays outside of the pocket using his legs. Mariota has run 30 times for 95 yards this season and it will be Edwards' responsibility to diagnose whether Mariota intends to pass or run. If it is the latter category, Edwards will need to run downhill to get into the mix off pursuit. In the event of a pass, Edwards could be the last line of defense if he is lined up in the post as a single-high if Mariota lobs a deep-over to Drake London – their bread and butter. Or Edwards could be tasked with collapsing the pocket on a safety blitz. In that instance, over-pursuit by Edwards would provide an open running lane for Mariota to exploit. Both pre-snap and post, Edwards will play a crucial role in the club's Week Five matchup against the Falcons' speed quarterback.
In Sunday's hunt for the division lead, setting the edge will be crucial for the Buccaneers. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett will play an integral role in disrupting Atlanta's offensive surge, centered around a robust rushing attack. After posting a rush offense ranking of 31st last year, the Falcons jumped to top-five status in the league in 2022, averaging 168 yards per game on the ground. In a similar way that Arthur Smith fashioned a smash-mouth approach as offensive coordinator in Tennessee, the same inside-outside zone principles translated over to Atlanta. The mobility of Mariota is an extension of the run game, and the team's movement works to keep defenses off-balance. The Falcons routinely employ receivers on jet sweeps to stretch the defense horizontally. Shaq Barrett will have to hold the point of attack and keep receivers, running backs and Mariota from working outside of the tackles, forcing the offense into traffic/ towards defensive help. Patrick Mahomes found success on the ground against the Bucs in Week Four and both "missed assignments" and "missed run fits" were stress points from Head Coach, Todd Bowles following the loss. This week is an opportunity for the Buccaneers to catapult themselves forward, and Barrett will be a key contributor. With rare speed, acceleration and counter moves, Barrett imposes his will. The Buccaneers need a big day from their cornerstone defender on Sunday.
In Week Four, Chris Godwin returned from a hamstring injury suffered in Week One and bolstered the Buccaneers' passing attack. He caught seven passes for 59 yards (played 83 percent of snaps), becoming a go-to target for Tom Brady over the middle of the field. Notably, Godwin played his first full game since suffering a torn ACL/MCL on December 19 that prematurely ended his prolific 2021 campaign. It is clear that Tampa Bay is much harder to defend with Godwin in the equation, as he picks up yards-after-catch and hauls in contested catches. His physical play style sets a tone and as he continues to stack games together post-ACL reconstructive surgery, he will regain his footing in the return to peak form. Godwin's effective release off the line of scrimmage provides an advantage, and then he utilizes his body to create separation from defenders in tight spaces. For the Falcons, first-year player Dee Alford has received increased playing time as the nickel corner with Isaiah Oliver beginning the season on injured reserve and has taken advantage. Alford has one of Atlanta's four interceptions and he will get a heavy dose of Godwin on Sunday. Godwin will be one to observe as his confidence grows between the hash marks.
The Buccaneers concluded their Week Four matchup against Kansas City with a total of three rushing yards on six carries, the second-lowest total in franchise history. Granted, the Bucs were forced to play catch-up as the Chiefs continued to pile on points. Tampa Bay did not have an option to run the football and were forced to become one-dimensional. After a productive ground assault in Week One, the Bucs currently sit at 31st in rushing yards per game and will face a Falcons' run defense that ranks 21st in the NFL (126.3). This could be an opportunity for Tampa Bay to unleash their tandem of Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White. Against the Chiefs, after a fumble on the opening kickoff, White bounced back and logged a touchdown run from third-and-two. While Fournette is the power runner through tackles, White provides an upside with shiftiness in space. Given the strength of the interior of Atlanta's defensive line, attacking the perimeter to complement White's slash running style could pay dividends. With burst getting north and patience in run tempo, White adds another dimension to the Bucs' ground attack.