Tampa Bay Buccaneers Keep an eye on these players as the Bucs finish out the season series against the Falcons in Atlanta. Carmen Vitali
1. Quarterback Tom Brady
I don't know if you've looked at Brady's stats against Atlanta since, well, Week Two, but let me serve as your reminder: they're great.
The 22-year league veteran is a perfect 9-0 against the Falcons in the regular and the postseason (I won't say it). In those games he's passed for 24 touchdowns, an average of 330.3 yards per game and an average rating of 114.2. Nothing suggests that won't continue as the Buccaneers get set to take on the Falcons for the second time this season. In their first meeting of 2021, Brady went off, passing for five touchdowns against no interceptions at home. Now, he'll take his show on the road against the league's 14th-ranked passing defense, which is thanks in large part to the play of cornerback A.J. Terrell.
The Buccaneers in general are on a three-game win streak against their division foes, dating back to last year's Super Bowl season when they swept the series with the Falcons. Atlanta is currently averaging 18.1 points per game compared to the Bucs' top-ranked average of 31.6 and with the league leader in passing touchdowns at the helm, Brady seems able and equipped to have a repeat performance of the teams' first matchup this Sunday.
2. WR Mike Evans
Speaking of players that seem to do well when playing Atlanta, wide receiver Mike Evans may take the cake. In 14 career matchups against the Falcons, Evans averages 81.2 receiving yards per game and a 15.4 yards per reception average. He's scored a total of 10 touchdowns against Atlanta's defense and in Week Two, Evans had five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
And before you think Terrell is the answer this time around, consider that NFL's Next Gen Stats has a heat map of cornerback play. Terrell's heat map has him almost exclusively playing the left side of the defensive formation, switching between the slot and the outside. So where some teams have chosen to try and shadow Evans to limit his impact, Terrell sticks to whichever receiver is on his side of the field. Opposite Terrell on the right side is cornerback Fabian Moreau, so there may be some matchups to exploit for Evans if the Bucs move him around. For the same reason, Chris Godwin could have a good game, too. I'd think either player is a worthwhile start in fantasy (she says quietly).
3. ILB Lavonte David
If Evans' 14 matchups with Atlanta is a lot, Lavonte David says hold my beer. The Bucs' defensive captain has faced off against Atlanta 18 times and has recorded an insane 142 combined tackles in that span, 21 of which were for loss.
Especially with wide receiver Calvin Ridley out, the unlikely hero of the Falcons' offense has been utility running back Cordarrelle Patterson. The nine-year vet is coming off a game where he rushed 16 times for 108 yards in Jacksonville, scoring two touchdowns and adding an additional 21 receiving yards. Two weeks before that in New Orleans, Patterson had 126 yards receiving. David, along with his counterpart Devin White, will go a long way in containing a player like Patterson, proving a matchup to watch this weekend.
4. NT Vita Vea
Vea has been a bit banged up as of late but not much keeps the Bucs' interior anchor off the field and he should be ready to go in Atlanta. The Falcons have lost three of four games when quarterback Matt Ryan is sacked three times or more. They've allowed a total of 21.0 sacks on Ryan this year, which ranks in the top 10 but Vea and his linemates may have something to say about it. If there was any improvement to be had from Tampa Bay's Week Two win over the Falcons, it was perhaps in the pass rush. The Bucs managed just one sack on Ryan all game. It is worth noting that Atlanta pulled Ryan in favor of backup Josh Rosen halfway through the fourth quarter after the Bucs had already stacked the final 48-25 lead against the Falcons, though.
The Bucs are coming off a game in Indianapolis where they sacked Colts quarterback Carson Wentz three times. The game before, they got to Giants' Daniel Jones twice and even in a loss to the Washington Football Team, they recorded 5.0 sacks on Taylor Heinicke. They'll look to continue that multi-sack effort and it could begin with Vea and not only the amount of blockers he can occupy at one time, but that push from the interior that collapses the pocket around the quarterback.
5. S Antoine Winfield Jr. & Whoever Fills in for Jordan Whitehead
Head Coach Bruce Arians announced on Friday that safety Jordan Whitehead will be out on Sunday with a calf injury. That's bad news for an already depleted safety room now that Mike Edwards begins his three-game suspension. The Buccaneers have veteran Andrew Adams on their practice squad that could potentially be elevated to help fill in for Whitehead but Ross Cockrell could also be called upon to do the same.
Cockrell has seen time at safety and nickel corner this year, after cross-training at the safety position in training camp. With the team getting cornerback Carlton Davis back from injured reserve against Atlanta, that makes for three starting corners back in the rotation between Davis, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting. The latter was the Bucs' bonified nickel before he got hurt in Week One. Now that you've eased him back to game action playing mostly on the outside over the past couple games, you could slide him inside at the slot, which would free Cockrell to try his hand at safety - or at least be in on the rotation.
The good news is that Winfield Jr. looked to be every bit the ball hawk he has the potential to be in practice this week. He nabbed multiple interceptions on Friday alone.
It's just the latest shuffle in the secondary that the Bucs have had to deal with - just as it looked as if they'd have their core back healthy again. That will just have to wait a few more weeks.