Even with Friday's news that head coach Dan Quinn
and GM Thomas Dimitroff will return for the 2020 season
, 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.
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.”
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 [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. 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 [Freeman] is just the complete package. [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.”
Freeman, of course, is coming off a two-touchdown game.
But as ESPN's Matthew Berry notes, Freeman will be hard pressed to repeat that terrific performance. The Bucs are allowing a league-low 3.3 yards per carry this season and a league-low 4.3 yards per pass attempt to RBs this season.
Berry went on to note that Freeman has fewer than 55 rushing yards in six of his past seven games, so he's going to need passing-game usage and a touchdown. He certainly has been used in the passing game, as four of Freeman's six touchdowns this season have come on catches.
The issue, as Berry explained, is Tampa Bay's defense has allowed just one receiving touchdown to a running back all season. ...
Meanwhile, Julio Jones
continues to shatter records this season.
After catching 10 passes for 166 yards in Atlanta’s 24-12 win over the Jaguars, Jones became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 12,000 career receiving yards.
Jones passed Jerry Rice’s record for the second straight week. The seven-time Pro Bowl receiver reached this mark in 125 games, 17 games fewer than Rice. Last week against the 49ers, Jones broke Rice’s record for most receiving yards through nine seasons with 11,881 yards.
Following the game, Jones reacted his record-breaking performance by crediting his teammates and coaches for allowing him to be himself.
“It’s a great achievement but it’s for my teammates,” Jones said. “Dirk has been doing a great job this year putting me in the right positions and try to exploit the defenses. Matt has been throwing great balls to me. Offensive line has been doing a great job. Running backs in pass protection, allowing me to just be me. My accomplishments and everything is to the team.”
Expect Jones to add to those accomplishments tomorrow.
Tampa Bay's pass defense has been better recently, but this is a unit that has still allowed the most fantasy points to receivers this season and over the past eight weeks.
Beyond that, ESPN's Mike Clay notes that Austin Hooper
got back on track on Sunday with seven catches for 82 yards on nine targets against the Jaguars. It was his strongest performance since returning from injury in Week 14 and marks his ninth game with at least 12 fantasy points in 12 tries this season.
Clay added, "Fantasy's No. 6 tight end is averaging 7.4 targets per game and should be locked into lineups against Tampa Bay in Week 17."