The first NFC South matchup of the year is a big one, at least symbolically. The Falcons can whip the Buccaneers and have their first winning record of the 2011 season and temporarily submarine a fierce rival. That’s heady stuff for the third game of the season.
Given that and the fact that the Bucs like to be pesky and hang around until the end of the game, circling the Falcons’ collective helmets like a hideous creamsicle fly that buzzes with the sound of cannon fire, this ought to be a good one.
There’s no shortage of matchups to profile, but as usual I’m going to limit myself to the four I think will matter most come gametime.
If you’ll hit the jump with me, I’ll run them all down for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Matt Ryan vs. Buccaneers Defense
Getting Todd McClure back should give Matt Ryan a fraction of a second longer in the pocket, at least on a handful of plays. That can only help him as he attempts to connect with his options in the passing game, which are varied. To say the least.
With a little more time, the Falcons should be able to get their passing game going. That's good news for guys like Harry Douglas and Julio Jones, who have yet to break out early in this season. The Falcons should be able to target the Bucs' secondary, which really isn't anything spectacular outside of Aqib Talib. Even he's no Nnamdi Asomugha.
Look for Ryan to have a great game, assuming the protection does materialize.
LaGarette Blount vs. Falcons Run Defense
Blount is a tank, as I noted earlier this week. A guy that big shouldn't be able to jump and make cuts like Blount does, but he can and the Falcons have to deal with it.
The run defense has been pretty stout since last year, and the front seven should be able to hold him check for most of the game. I worry about the one or two Turneresque runs where Blount gets some space and goes all Tecmo Super Bowl on defenders. It'll be another good test of the team's tackling, which I've found to be lacking thus far in 2011.
Josh Freeman vs. Falcons Secondary
This one is always interesting, given Freeman's general excellence and past struggles against the Falcons. I'm sure everyone remembers Brent Grimes snatching a pair of Freeman passe from the air last season. It's a very fond memory for me, anyways.
While Freeman has been as accurate as ever, he's struggled a bit with turnovers and finding his deep touch over the first couple of weeks of the season. If the team can't get Blount going on the ground, they're going to turn to the 23-year-old signal caller to get the offense moving. It would certainly help if the Falcons could make him turn the ball over a couple times in this one.
Matt Bosher vs. The World
I'm going to keep putting this here until Bosher shows up and starts booming some punts. I like the guy's upside, but at some point he's going to have to show something better than 35 yards a punt to set us all at ease.
Maybe this is the game he does it, eh?