The Tampa Bay Buccaneers conclude their 2022-23 regular-season gauntlet in Atlanta with a Week 18 matchup with the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Although the Buccaneers have already taken command of the NFC South and clinched a playoff berth with their win over the Panthers last weekend, players and coaches have stressed building momentum heading into the playoffs. The theme at the AdventHealth Training Center this week was "not taking the foot off the gas." Tom Brady echoed the same sentiment in his SiriusXM podcast, stating "I don't think anything is meaningless. And everything is in preparation for what's ahead…I love trying to get better. We're 8-8. We don't have all our problems solved. I mean, I look at it like, man, we gotta use every opportunity, every day of practice to get better."
With late-game heroics on New Year's Day, the Bucs took sole possession of the NFC South in a thrilling 30-24 victory over the Panthers. Mike Evans' three-touchdown performance, Jake Camarda's athleticism on a botched punt and Anthony Nelson's fourth quarter strip sack all spurred the rally at Raymond James Stadium. An imposing defense and fourth-quarter heroics by Tom Brady have been the Bucs' recipe for success as of late; however, the trend may not be sustainable in the postseason. The Bucs were able to reinvigorate an explosive downfield attack with Evans as the beneficiary vs. Carolina but penalties, short-yardage woes and a lack of consistency on third down has hindered/plagued the offense down the stretch. Sunday against the Falcons provides an opportunity for Tampa Bay to get into an offensive rhythm.
After beginning the 2022 slate with a 4-4 record and actually taking over first place in the division, the Falcons have since gone 2-6. In Weeks 1-8, Atlanta was ninth in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency (64 percent) and third in red zone scoring efficiency (92 percent). Since Week Nine (not counting the Week 17 matchup), it is 23rd in touchdown efficiency and 28th in scoring efficiency. The embattled team reversed their recent fortunes against the Cardinals, snapping a four-game skid. Desmond Ridder guided the team down the field to set up Younghoe Koo's 21-yard field goal on the final play, en route to a 20-19 win on Sunday. The Falcons improved to a 6-10 overall record and 5-8 in one-possession games. In a matchup of two clubs already eliminated from playoff contention, Ridder completed 19 of 26 attempts for 169 yards and no interceptions in his third audition for the starting role. In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, Ridder orchestrated a 12-play, 72-yard drive that put the Falcons in the red zone with 1:49 to play. Koo sealed it with the game-winning kick.
Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson combined for 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 29 carries. The Falcons' offense is predicated on running the football with inside zone, outside zone, pulls and screens/sweeps as an extension of the run game, along with quarterback rollouts. In an RPO-based, play-action fake-centric offense, the Falcons put the ball in their playmakers hands, complementing their run-after-contact ability. Drake London provides a spark in the passing game, with his ability to settle in soft spots vs. zone coverage and proficiency on underneath routes. He can get north in a hurry and knows how to adjust the tempo of his routes. London has an elite catch radius and serves as a viable weapon for Ridder. Do-it-all phenom Patterson and rookie sensation Allgeier have become the catalysts, with the bulk of the carries. Controlling gaps will be a key for Tampa Bay on Sunday, forcing Atlanta to become one-dimensional. The Falcons currently rank 31st in the league in passing offense (155.7 average yards per game), illuminating the Bucs' recipe for success in Week 18.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Falcons' defense has allowed an average of 370.9 yards per game (29th) and 23.1 points per game on average (23rd). In addition, the Falcons are second-worst in the NFL in sacks with 21. Despite the team's overall standings, the defense has star-studded talent at all three levels including defensive end Grady Jarrett, who leads the team in sacks, inside linebacker Rashaan Evans (154 tackles – fifth in the NFL) and cornerback A.J. Terrell. Those three set the tone in Dean Pees' penetrating system. Pees likes to attack with disguised blitzes, bringing six or seven guys to the line of scrimmage in an odd front to ensure advantageous one-on-one matchups across the line.
On this week's compilation of headliners, many could have been included on the Falcons' difference-makers list; however, these five stand out. This group could help swing the game in favor of Atlanta on Sunday:
RG Chris Lindstrom
Since being selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Falcons, right guard Chris Lindstrom has anchored an offensive line that has blocked for the third-best rushing attack in the NFL in 2022, averaging 159.0 yards on the ground per game. Pro Football Focus has given Lindstrom an overall grade of 93.8 this season, tied with San Francisco's Trent Williams for the highest grade among all offensive players in the NFL, regardless of position. Additionally, Lindstrom was PFF's top-rated offensive lineman during Weeks 11-13, including a 99.9 grade in Week 11 – near perfection. Lindstrom has played all but one snap over the past three seasons and has established himself as one of the premier interior linemen in the league. With elite athletic ability and initial quickness, Lindstrom thrives as a move blocker in space. He is proficient at making reach blocks and cut-offs at the second level with lateral mobility. A vast majority of runs for Atlanta come behind Lindstrom. He effortlessly executes pulls and traps as a lead blocker on outside runs and possesses superb reaction skills to stunts and blitzes. Lindstrom sets the tone, and the Bucs' defensive front will have to account for him.
RB Cordarrelle Patterson
Cordarrelle Patterson, the Falcons' multi-faceted hybrid, leads the team in rushing touchdowns with seven. Patterson is a nightmare for defenses to prepare for because on any given snap, he can line up anywhere: kick return, out of the backfield as a running back, as an H-back, or as a receiver. With a rare combination of size and speed, the do-it-all weapon has phenomenal run-after catch ability. Patterson is a shifty runner with suddenness in and out of his breaks. He is a load to take down in the open field. Patterson is electric with the ball in his hands, putting his foot in the ground and exploding upfield. The Bucs did not face Patterson due to injury the last time the two clubs met in Week Five but in Week 18, he will be a focal point for Todd Bowles' crew this time around.
RB Tyler Allgeier
In his rookie campaign, Tyler Allgeier is fast approaching the 1,000-yard mark. In 15 games played, Allgeier has amassed 900 yards on 186 rushing attempts, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. The Falcons selected Allgeier, the former BYU running back/linebacker, with the No. 151 overall pick. What Allgeier may lack in vision and explosiveness to start his NFL career, he makes up for with his ability to break tackles. Allgeier has spearheaded the club's rushing attack with his feel for inside and outside zone, along with run-lane progression. He is a tough runner who churns his legs, powering through defenders. Allgeier is able to tempo his runs in order to let blocks develop. He will continue to improve as he stacks games at the pro level, but Allgeier has already made significant contributions to Arthur Smith's offense.
DE Grady Jarrett
Grady Jarrett is the centerpiece of Dean Pees' unit. He currently leads the team with 6.0 sacks with an explosive get-off. Jarrett wreaks havoc in the backfield with an understanding of how to knife through gaps. With a powerful frame, he consistently generates push. Jarrett can knock linemen back with a lethal speed-to-power conversion. The one-gap penetrator can disrupt a gameplan. Tampa Bay's offensive line needs a stout performance in the trenches to counteract Jarrett's ability. He will be a handful come Sunday.
CB A.J. Terrell
A.J. Terrell, the Falcons' first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has made a name for himself as a shutdown corner. On an island, he stays in the hip pocket of some of the NFL's elite receivers. Shadowing top-receivers is what Atlanta asks of him week-after-week and he produces stellar results. He has the speed to stay with receivers on vertical routes and is rarely out of position when he breaks on the ball. Terrell has explosive burst out of his plant, allowing him to quickly close on the action. With sticky coverage and the ability to jam at the line, Terrell will be a focal point for the Bucs' offense.
Here are some ways in which the Falcons have excelled in 2022:
- Atlanta has been penalized the least in the NFL in 2022, coming in at No. 1 with 81 penalties called against, with 66 accepted for 576 yards. The club has not beat themselves with self-inflicted penalties, which has continuously put many other teams around the NFL behind the chains week-after-week with undisciplined play.
- The Falcons have the third best rushing offense in the NFL, compiling 2,544 total net rushing yards this season on 524 total carries. Atlanta is averaging 159.0 average rush yards per game, led by Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier.
Negative factors hindering the outcome of games for the Falcons in 2022, most notably:
- The Falcons have not been able to get home with their pass rush in 2022, accumulating the second-fewest sack in the league with 21 (-148 yards). Only the Bears have fewer with 20.
- Atlanta's defense has struggled down the stretch, allowing the most successful plays in the NFL at 567 (55.2 percent). Opposing teams have tallied a success rate of 56.4 percent on first down, 59.7 percent on second down and 45.7 percent on third/fourth down.
New Faces/Key Departures in 2022
After allowing 465 yards of offense in a Week Five trouncing, the Browns added reinforcements. Cleveland acquired former pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones in a trade with the Falcons. The Browns sent a 2024 sixth-round selection to the Falcons for Jones and a 2024 seventh-round pick. Jones was placed on injured reserve prior to the season's kickoff after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, contributing to his release. The Falcons then brought back Isaiah Oliver from injured reserve. Shortly after the club's 35-17 loss to the Bengals, the Falcons released former second-round pick Marlon Davidson, bringing his career to an end in Atlanta.
Additionally, ahead of the trade deadline, Atlanta made several moves. The team acquired Rashad Fenton from the Chiefs for a seventh-round pick and the Falcons got a seventh-round pick back for Dean Marlowe. The most noteworthy move was the stunning trade of Calvin Ridley. In a surprise swap, the Falcons sent Ridley to the Jaguars for a conditional package that included a 2023 sixth-rounder (could transition to fifth rounder with reinstatement date) and the Falcons received a 2024 fourth rounder (could escalate to a third-rounder based on production, second if Jaguars sign to a long-term deal).
Via the 2022 NFL Draft, the Falcons acquired Drake London in the first round, a prototypical wideout who will fight for yards after the catch in Arthur Smith's system. Additionally, Atlanta picked up Arnold Ebiketie in the second round, a tenacious pass rusher to bolster the outside linebacker corps. Desmond Ridder, a developmental quarterback with the makings of a bona fide starter, became the team's pickup in the fourth round and the Falcons acquired Tyler Allgeier in the sixth. Allgeier, a punishing rusher, has complemented the Falcons' positional group.