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Paths to Victory for the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week

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How the Falcons and Bucs can win this Week 8 battle of NFC South rivals.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons

You've got to get the passing game on track, or you've got to run 50 times. Given the implausibility of the latter, Atlanta's gotta get this thing figured out through the air.

The Buccaneers' secondary is bad, period, and they just got torched in the second half by Kirk Cousins a week ago. Matt Ryan may be without Leonard Hankerson, which hurts, but this team can't be totally reliant on Julio Jones with Hank Time out. We saw the results of Matt Ryan forcing the ball to Julio a week ago, and while it led to plenty of yards, there were also errant throws, ill-advised throws, and some drops from Julio. Spreading the ball around to Jacob Tamme, Devonta Freeman, and the team's lesser receivers has to work this time out, or Atlanta could easily find themselves behind against a sneaky-tough Buccaneers offense. Get the quick hitters going, Kyle!

Making smarter decisions in short yardage and goal line situations can only help, as well. Rather than asking Ryan to make tough throws to Julio when the defense knows that's what coming, feed Freeman and let him work. The Buccaneers have a legitimately tough defensive front and should fare better against Freeman than many other defenses have, but I'm more worried about their ability to rush the passer. The beauty of having a back as talented and productive as Freeman is that you're never in danger of becoming one-dimensional unless you make yourself one-dimensional.

Defensively, it's all about bottling up the run (something the Falcons have excelled at in 2015) and shutting down Mike Evans. Austin Seferian-Jenkins could eat over the middle and needs to be monitored, but with Vincent Jackson out, Jameis Winston is going to be leaning heavily on his star receiver. I know Dan Quinn won't want to move Desmond Trufant around to shadow Evans, even if I strongly believe that's the smartest play, but he'll need to give Robert Alford and Jalen Collins safety help to take away Tampa Bay's best receiver. Beyond ASJ and Evans, the options here are pretty weak.

Oh, and if the pass rush could harry Winston into making one of his patented poorly thought out throws into tight coverage, that would be nice. A couple of turnovers will make this infinitely easier.

If the above sounds a little dour, fear not: I think the Falcons will win. I just think they can get themselves into trouble against this team, which is far more capable of hanging some big plays on the defense than Tennessee was.

Buccaneers

Feed Mike Evans. If the Falcons won't put Desmond Trufant on Evans, Jameis Winston will have no problem testing the coverage against him. It may work, it may not, but Evans offers the Bucs their best chance to move the ball down the field and set up scoring opportunities for Doug Martin.

You're essentially going to be running with Martin in hopes of busting a couple of big runs and keeping the defense honest, because I don't believe he's the back that's going to destroy a justifiably top-ranked Falcons run defense, even if I do believe he'll find some success. If you're Tampa Bay, you'll win this one by passing effectively, especially to Evans but also to tight ends over the middle of the field, where I still think the team's linebackers are bound to scuffle a bit. The risk here is that Winston throws an ugly pick or two, but it's a risk you have to take if you're the Bucs.

Defensively, the Buccaneers need to get after Ryan, force him to make more inaccurate throws, and generally count on the Falcons making enough mistakes to turn the tide. Ryan has talked about needing to improve his accuracy and taking steps to do so, but I don't expect the passing game to go from middling to thriving in one week, particularly if they're down the oft-maligned but very useful Hankerson. This is a pass rush equipped to give the Falcons some fits.

Your other key, of course, is taking the playmakers out of the equation. Put triple coverage on Julio Jones if you have to, stack the box on any obvious running downs, put a spy on Devonta Freeman...whatever it takes to take Atlanta's two most dynamic options out of the equation for as long as possible. If Ryan's forced to throw to Roddy White, Nick Williams, and Jacob Tamme for most of the game, the ride will be bumpy for Atlanta.