The Atlanta Falcons don’t have too much time to celebrate after their thrilling week 8 victory over the Packers, as a Thursday night tilt against the Tampa Bay Bucs is right around the corner. This matchup is always meaningful but seems even more so after the Falcons dropped the first game in week one in Atlanta.
Both teams have changed since that game and they have, seemingly, gone in opposite directions over the past month or so. Don’t get too confident, though, as Tampa Bay has shown signs of playing winning football as of late. This game will come down to the Falcons ability to score points and their ability to force Jameis Winston into some bad decisions—plus the wise goal of tackling someone in a Bucs jersey.
Here are the three matchups to watch this game.
Jameis Winston versus the Falcons secondary
In the second half against the Packers, the Atlanta defense held Aaron Rodgers and Co. to just eight points by switching to more man-to-man concepts rather than their traditional zone setup. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons opt to stick with more man concepts after that success and, if they do, if they have the ability to force Winston into some throws into tight coverage.
If Desmond Trufant can contain Mike Evans, Winston should have a tough day. However, if the Falcons choose to go zone for most of the game, they will have to be wary of the middle of the field—Cameron Brate loves that area, and while he’s not a massive threat, Winston can still feed him. Atlanta must force Jameis Winston to throw enough questionable passes (something he has a tendency to do) that a couple of them land in a pair of Falcon hands (talons?). If they leave the middle wide open or play too soft in coverage, Winston could have a field day.
[insert Bucs RB name here] versus Falcons defensive line
Jacquizz Rodgers was the fill-in back for the Bucs while Doug Martin, injured in week 2, works his way back, but Rodgers injured himself late Sunday afternoon during their loss to the Oakland Raiders. Now on their seventh running-back, the Bucs went and signed Mike James to tote the rock along with former Falcon playmaker, Antone Smith. This is shaping up to be a classic example of Atlanta entering a game with a favorable matchup and then leaving with a confused look on their face as if they got hit by a truck. Atlanta should be able to keep the stable of Tampa Bay running backs in check, which would lend itself to the previously mentioned matchup above, but they will have to finish plays.
There cannot be any plays like they had against Winston last season when they tackled him but forgot to actually tackle him to the ground, or when the same thing happened against the Chargers with Melvin Gordon. If the Falcons don’t keep the elusive and explosive Antone Smith and Mike James in check, their day will be a lot more stressful than it should be.
Matt Ryan & Co. versus Kwon Alexander
I’m going to put this lightly: Kwon Alexander has killed the Falcons recently. Whether it is a game ending interception or a 15 tackle game, Alexander has been the kryptonite to Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ super powered offense. Brent Grimes is the center-piece for Tampa Bay on the outside, but anything within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage is in danger of being destroyed by Kwon Alexander. This will be the biggest matchup for the Falcons offense—Julio and Grimes is a big one as well, but if Julio is banged up, I don’t expect him to generate too much—they must keep Alexander guessing and use their abundance of weapons to minimize his impact on the game. If he is getting 15 tackles and getting his hands on some of Ryan’s passes, it will be a long night for Atlanta, but if they are able to keep him in check, Ryan should be able to distribute the ball and the offense should keep moving.