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3 big questions for Falcons - Buccaneers tonight

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In the battle of the NFC South’s current third and fourth place teams, who wins?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

We’re just a little over 12 hours away from tonight’s primetime game between the Falcons and Buccaneers, and it’s time to answer all the important questions about the game. Only the important ones, though.

Will Adrian Clayborn be ready?

This is a key question both because Clayborn is a dangerous player, and because of how the Buccaneers may look to attack the Falcons’ defense. The Bucs will take their share of deep shots, but their best chance to win is to attack this still-vulnerable run defense and try to take advantage of Atlanta’s on-again, off-again weakness against tight ends. That means plenty of Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, and the potential for an increased degree of difficulty rushing the passer.

Clayborn will make the team’s defensive end rotation that much more effective in both situations, and help to ensure that Jameis Winston feels pressure. That’s especially important because, as we’ll cover in the next section, Winston has had quite a bit of success against Atlanta in his young career.

Will the Falcons stop Jameis Winston?

It’s worth noting that Winston, for all his very real struggles, has played quite well against the Falcons. He has three victories in four career games against Atlanta, and has thrown for nine touchdowns and three interceptions in those four games, absorbing five sacks along the way. He has been, in a nutshell, quite good.

The Falcons didn’t get the opportunity to face Winston earlier this year, so we really have no idea how this Atlanta defense is going to fare against him. We know that even in their big win last year, Winston was at least pretty solid against this D, and chances are good he will be again. If Winston can get a rhythm going with Mike Evans and keep this offense rolling, this one could get legitimately interesting.

Can the Falcons avoid turnovers?

Matt Ryan’s performance against the Saints was arguably his flukiest of the year. He had three picks, two of them on ill-advised throws, and just generally did not play at the level we’re used to seeing from him against a solid but not spectacular defense. Given that the Bucs are at least theoretically capable of putting together a quality performance on offense, the Falcons can’t afford to turn the ball over a bunch of times again.

I think there’s some fresh skittishness about Ryan after that game, but the good news here is that this is a depleted Tampa Bay defense that has not being able to get off the field consistently all year long. Barring a meltdown, the Falcons should have no problem limiting their turnovers enough to stay in (and hopefully win) this game.