The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play their first NFC South opponent in 2021 when they host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon. The Falcons have a bit of a new look starting with first-year head coach Arthur Smith, rookie tight end and fourth overall draft pick Kyle Pitts, and starting running back Mike Davis from Carolina.
The Falcons started the new season in Atlanta, taking on a Philadelphia Eagles team that few gave much hope for being a contender in the NFC, or the NFC East race for that matter. However, wins and losses are earned on the field, and after a 32-6 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it was evident that Atlanta deserved this defeat.
That said, the game provided something for head coach Bruce Arians and the Bucs to learn about what the new regime is trying to do with this year’s version of the Falcons. Offensively, one thing clearly stood out.
Quarterback Matt Ryan completing 21 of 35 passes for 164 yards and 0 touchdowns. It was dink and dunk all day to running backs out of the backfield and short routes to the receivers and tight ends. This led to a paltry 4.7 yards per attempt with no big plays downfield.
Now, it could be just a case of working out the first game kinks and getting new players ingratiated into the system. WR/KR Cordarelle Patterson, late of Chicago, got a healthy run in the backfield, for instance. He could be the main guy spelling Davis from time to time going forward.
Or, the offensive struggles could be due to something else.
The fact that there is no Julio Jones and that connection and trust he and Ryan built up over the years playing together could play a role. Sure, Calvin Ridley is a solid receiver, Pitts might, might be special over time, and Hayden Hurst is reliable, but who does Ryan go to when he needs that big catch or big play?
One game in and Ridley led the Falcons with 5 catches for 51 yards and their longest offensive play of the game for 18 yards. They did rush for 124 yards, but the majority of that was in the first half, and they were constantly stymied by an Eagles defense that didn’t come into the season as world beaters.
Bucs fans know about Julio Jones’ history and the fact that the club doesn’t have to face him twice a year is definitely a good thing. Atlanta will be coming to Raymond James Stadium trying to pull the upset. The Bucs should still be on high alert, even if they don’t have to face a major nemesis in the division.
Tampa Bay, who is a better team than Philadelphia, should follow their blueprint. Stop the run and force Ryan to do what it appears he can’t do anymore without Julio Jones; hit big plays down the field. Doing this would go along way to Tampa Bay being 2-0 after Sunday’s contest.
Want to write about the Buccaneers? Apply below!