Falcons’ X-factor: Slowing Tampa Bay’s defensive front

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

FLOWERY BRANCH -- In two losses to the Buccaneers last season, the Falcons’ offensive line had trouble handling Tampa Bay’s stout defensive front.

That will be the X-factor when the Falcons (2-2) face the Bucs (2-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in a battle for first place in the NFC South.

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In the 48-25 loss in Week 2, the Bucs had only one sack and seven quarterback hits against the Falcons. The Bucs shut down the Falcons’ rushing attack, holding them to 55 yards on 20 carries.

In the 30-17 loss in Week 13, the Falcons ran the ball well. They had 23 carries for 121 yards and touchdown. However, the Bucs blew the line up for five sacks and 11 quarterback hits.

The Bucs are anchored up front by defensive tackle Vita Vea. They elected to move on from Ndamukong Suh and signed Akiem Hicks over the offseason. Hicks has missed the past two games.

“We know they present a lot of challenges,” Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom said. “We were able to have more success the second game, but we still didn’t win. We have to really focus and keep getting ready to go for Sunday.”

The Bucs were blasted by the Chiefs on Sunday and gave up 189 yards rushing on 37 carries.

“We’ve got a great challenge this week against a good defense that’s known to stop the run,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

The Falcons are averaging 168 yards rushing per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL. It’s no secret they must run the ball, as quarterback Marcus Mariota has a 76.9 passer rating and only three touchdown passes to his four interceptions.

“We’ve got to keep building on the things we’re doing and shoring things up,” Matthews said. “I think the future looks bright.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD