Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Falcons-Buccaneers: Top Storylines & Key Matchups in Week Seven

With first place in the NFC South at stake, the Bucs will take on the Falcons on Sunday and try to contain rookie RB Bijan Robinson while making some explosive plays of their own against the league's fourth-ranked pass defense


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, and then won't have another game against an NFC South opponent until December. With a win at New Orleans already under their belt, the Buccaneers have one more early-season chance to get a leg up in the division before finishing the season with a rush of potentially critical NFC South matchups.

Atlanta also has a 1-0 record in division play at this point, having beaten the still winless Carolina Panthers, 24-10, in Week One. The Falcons followed that with a one-point win over the Green Bay Packers and then a pair of double-digit losses at Detroit and Jacksonville. A 21-19 victory over Houston gave the Falcons their third straight home win, but they then lost on their own turf last Sunday to the Washington Commanders, 24-16.

After importing a large group of free agent defenders in the offseason – including defensive linemen Calais Campbell and David Onyemata, edge rusher Bud Dupree, inside linebacker Kaden Elliss, safety Jessie Bates and cornerback Jeff Okudah, all of whom are in the starting lineup – Atlanta has had encouraging results on that side of the ball. The Falcons rank fourth in yards allowed per game (278.2) and 14th in points allowed (20.0), up from 27th and 23rd last year, respectively. With all the new help around him, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is off to a fast start with eight quarterback hits; NFL Next Gen Stats says Jarrett has generated a positive pass rush on 62.8% of his rush snaps, his best mark since 2018. Bates has made an immediate impact with three interceptions and two forced fumbles, while Okudah, traded away by the Lions, has played well for his new club.

The Falcons have committed to 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder at quarterback after he finished his rookie season on a strong note. Ridder has been up and down through the first six weeks, with six touchdown passes and six interceptions plus a passer rating of 81.3, most recently tossing two scores and three picks in the loss to Washington. The Falcons have generally tried to emphasize the run under Head Coach Arthur Smith, and to that end spent the eighth overall pick in this year's draft on highly-touted Texas running back Bijan Robinson despite having Tyler Allgeier coming off a 1,000-yard rookie season. Robinson has already begun fashioning an exciting highlight reel and is a legitimate threat in the passing game. Wide receiver Drake London, a top-10 pick a year ago, has emerged as the team's top pass-catcher, with 26 receptions for 329 yards and two scores. The Falcons have a strong offensive line anchored by guard Chris Lindstrom, though Ridder has taken 19 sacks so far.

The Buccaneers have won five of their last six games against Atlanta, but the lone less in that stretch was the most recent meeting, in Week 17 of last season. Already locked into the fourth NFC playoff slot, the Bucs rested or pulled most of their starters, but Ridder was impressive as the Falcons finished the season with consecutive wins. That built hope for 2023 in what was expected to be a wide-open division, and sure enough the Falcons' 3-3 start has them just behind the defending division champions in the NFC South standings coming into Week Seven.

Here are four major storylines and four head-to-head player battles to keep an eye on as the Bucs renew their rivalry with the Falcons with a share of first place at stake.


First Place on the Line – Before kickoff of their late-afternoon game against Detroit last Sunday, the Buccaneers watched the Commanders stave off a Falcons rally and the Houston Texans do the same against the New Orleans Saints. That gave the Bucs a chance to increase their lead in the NFC South to a game and a half, but they couldn't take advantage, taking a 20-6 defeat. (Coincidentally, the Falcons lost by the same score in Detroit in Week Three.) Thus, Atlanta will have a shot at passing the 3-2 Buccaneers in the standings and either taking over sole possession of first place or sharing it with the Saints. Both the Buccaneers and Falcons will know by then if the 3-3 Saints have kept place because they host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night. The Buccaneers have had at least a share of first place in the NFC South for 38 of the last 39 weeks, dating back to Week Four of the 2021 campaign; the Falcons could say the same for the first three weeks of this season, but prior to that last had a share of first in Week Nine of 2022. The Buccaneers are trying to win a third consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history while Atlanta last won the NFC South in 2016. If both teams can remain NFC playoff contenders, that could lead to an uncommon occurrence – the only two seasons in which the Bucs and Falcons each made the playoffs were 2002 and 1982.

Getting In Gear – The Buccaneers scored a season-low six points against Detroit and for the first time in five starts with the team, Baker Mayfield did not throw a touchdown pass. He almost threw one. Early in the first quarter he uncorked a pass intended for Mike Evans, who was well behind the Lions defense and seemingly in position to make a 92-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the ball never got to Evans because Isaiah Buggs got a mitt on at the line of scrimmage and Will Harris intercepted the deflection. That was one of a handful of painfully missed opportunities, including two downfield shots to rookie wideout Trey Palmer that were out of his reach. Mayfield still has a good 7-3 TD-INT ratio, and he had a strong outing before the Bucs' bye week with three touchdown passes against a very good Saints defense. Tampa Bay's offense is clearly still coming together under new Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales and the running game has not yet taken off despite obvious attempts to field a balanced attack. Head Coach Todd Bowles called the loss to Detroit a "clunker," and the Bucs will now seek to show that, offensively, it was just a minor bump in the road. It won't be easy against a Falcons' defense that, as noted above, ranks fourth in yards allowed, as well as fourth in passing yards allowed.

Dialing Up the Pressure – Will Todd Bowles try to disrupt Atlanta's young and still relatively green quarterback with a significant number and variety of blitzes? Is Samuel L. Jackson a Falcons fan? We know Bowles is comfortable sending extra pass rushers against almost any quarterback; through six weeks, Tampa Bay ranks second in the league with a 41.0% blitz rate. Only the Vikings and their even more aggressive defensive play caller, Brian Flores, blitz more often, at a whopping 57.1%. And how important is it for the Bucs to find some way to put pressure on Desmond Ridder? Take a look at his performance in the loss to Washington, which rarely got pressure on him. He was 23 of 36 for 284 yards and two touchdowns when not pressured but 0-4 with a pick on those few pressured moments. Overall, when pressured this season, Ridder has completed 52.1% of his passes, put up a passer rating of 67.3 and has an expected points added (EPA) figure of -51.7, the latter of which is seventh worst in the NFL. Ideally, the Buccaneers' defense can get pressure on the quarterback without a high volume of blitzes, but if Atlanta's talented offensive line makes that difficult we can probably expect to see some extra defenders coming after Ridder.

A Happy Home – Through six weeks the NFL has 13 teams with above-.500 records. Of those 13 teams, the Buccaneers are the only one that has a losing record at home. A pair of losses to the 5-1 Eagles and 5-1 Lions have the Bucs off to a 1-2 start at home, and they are about to embark on a long run of road games. After facing the Falcons on Sunday, Tampa Bay will play four of its next five games and six of its next eight on the road. Included in that run are visits to San Franciso, Buffalo and Green Bay. Obviously, the Buccaneers have been a good road team so far in 2023 and will certainly be confident of their ability to get victories in all those tough destinations. Still, if they hope to capture that third straight division crown they will need to get their home record tilted back in the right direction. The Bucs have never made the playoffs in a season in which they had a losing record at home, not even when they won the division at 8-9 last year. The Bucs are 6-7 in their last 13 games at Raymond James Stadium, playoffs included. They were 13-5 in that venue from 2020-21, postseason included. That's the kind of home cooking the Bucs want to taste again the rest of the way.


1. Falcons RB Bijan Robinson vs. Buccaneers LB Devin White

Considered the best running back prospect to enter the league since Saquon Barkley, Bijan Robinson has hit the ground running in Atlanta. He is eighth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 590, or nearly 100 per game, and he leads the Falcons in rushing yards while also tying Drake London for the team lead with 26 catches. Robinson has shown electric moves and move-combinations plus a stop-and-start ability that gets defenders off balance. The Falcons tend to send him wide – he has taken roughly 85% of his carries outside the tackles so far – so Buccaneer defenders will have to move quickly from side to side and quickly determine the best pursuit angles. Fortunately, Devin White is adept at both of those tasks and his tracking of Robinson as both a runner and a pass-catcher will be a critical part of stopping what the Falcons want to do on offense. Since White is also one of the Bucs' best blitzers, we may find out how good of a pass protector the rookie back is, as well.

2. Buccaneers WR Mike Evans vs. Falcons CB A.J. Terrell

In the past, the Falcons have used A.J. Terrell to track Evans no matter where he lines up, but Terrell has mostly stuck to one side in the Falcons' first six games. Either way, he'll get his share of one-on-one matchups with the Buccaneers' most effective deep threat. The 6-5, 231-pound Evans has a size advantage on the 6-1, 195-pound Terrell, but the Falcons star corner has proven he can defend bigger receivers. The 16th pick in the 2020 draft, Terrell has good length and is strong in press-man coverage, though Evans has always been one of the hardest receivers to press in the NFL. Low interception totals have probably kept him out of the Pro Bowl despite his rising reputation, but he was a second-team AP All-Pro in 2021. Evans leads the Buccaneers with 386 receiving yards and three touchdowns and is averaging 16.1 yards per catch, his best mark since 2019. The Buccaneers are looking for more explosive plays on offense after a low-wattage performance against Detroit in Week Six and Evans, who has more career receiving yards and touchdowns against the Falcons than any other opponent, is one of the best bets to provide them.

3. Falcons G Chris Lindstrom vs. Buccaneers DL Calijah Kancey

Atlanta has devoted a lot of prime draft assets to its offensive line in recent years – left tackle Jake Matthews, right tackle Kaleb McGary and right guard Chris Lindstrom are all former first-round draft picks and rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron was a second-round pick – and have gotten mostly excellent returns from them. The best of the bunch may be Lindstrom, who went to the Pro Bowl last year and about a month later signed a five-year, $105 million contract extension, the biggest contract ever given to a guard. While he stood out as a run blocker from the very beginning of his career, Lindstrom has steadily improved in the passing game to the point that he's now well above average in that category as well. He does a very good job of lining up blocks while on the run and then maintaining his balance through those blocks. Calijah Kancey, the Buccaneers' top draft pick this year, has far less NFL experience than Lindstrom but what he's done through one full game and one partial outing suggests he has star potential as well. Kancey had six pressures on just 28 pass-rush snaps against Detroit in Week Six, his first game back from a calf injury. Combining that performance with what he did on a handful of snaps in the Bucs' opener and Kancey has an 18.9% pressure rate so far, which is second to the Eagles' Jalen Carter (19.5%) among all interior linemen with at least 40 pass-rush snaps. The Bucs selected Kancey in the first round because of his explosiveness off the line, and that's something Lindstrom will have to contend with on Sunday.

4. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Falcons OLB Bud Dupree

Speaking of draft assets well spent on offensive linemen, the Buccaneers' Tristan Wirfs could end up being one of the best picks the franchise has ever made regardless of position. After dominating for three seasons at right tackle, earning two Pro Bowl nods and one first-team All-Pro award, Wirfs moved over to the left end of the line and has made the transition appear seamless. (There was, in fact, a lot of hard work put in by Wirfs to make that move a successful one.) Wirfs has played 313 regular-season snaps at his new position so far and, according to Pro Football Focus, has yet to be credited with allowing a sack. That's reminiscent of his amazing rookie season, when he played every offensive snap and only allowed one sack. Dupree was one of the aforementioned veterans the Falcons imported during the offseason in their seemingly endless effort to field a more robust pass rush. A former first-round pick by the Steelers, Dupree had 19.5 sacks from 2019-20 before two less productive seasons in Tennessee, and he currently leads the Falcons with 2.0 sacks, including 1.5 in last week's game against Washington. The Falcons rush him off both edges, so he'll certainly get some looks against Wirfs. So far, Atlanta's sack rate as a team has not risen dramatically in 2023 (they're currently 27th at 5.43%), but Dupree could send that in the right direction if he gets on a hot streak.

Related Content

Latest Headlines