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Falcons offense vs. Buccaneers defense: Who wins this matchup?

Can Tampa Bay slow down Julio Jones?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any big surprises, the Falcons offense will still be missing Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman this Sunday. While they were able to put up 22 points against the Panthers, there are still some concerns with this Dirk Koetter offense. The running game is still stagnant and the interior pass blocking is still wildly inconsistent. Is the Bucs defense a cure for these ills? Read on to find out.

In the trenches

The Atlanta offensive line has been up and down this year. In the running game, the entire unit has struggled. In protecting Matt Ryan, guys like Jake Matthews and Alex Mack have done their jobs and Kaleb McGary has improved from earlier in the year. The Falcons have missed having Chris Lindstrom, as James Carpenter and Jamon Brown have been mostly disappointing in the middle. They’ve played better as of late, but their overall season has been pretty poor.

The Bucs snagged one of the best free agent signings in Shaquil Barrett. He has 11.5 sacks on the year and could be a problem on Sunday. Vita Vea is a quality run stopper in the middle while Ndamukong Suh has been a bit of a disappointment in the middle. Jason Pierre-Paul’s best years are behind him as he has only 1.5 sacks this year. William Gholston is playing well, but is not much of a threat to get to the QB either.

The Falcons played the best pass rushing team in the league last week and kept Ryan mostly clean. The Bucs are decent, but nowhere near the quality of what Atlanta faced in Carolina. That said, this Falcons offensive line simply needs to play better to get the benefit of the doubt.

Advantage: Push

The skill positions

Matt Ryan had one of his best games of the year against Carolina. Even without Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman, he was consistently finding Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage when needed. While Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison didn’t offer much in the running game, they really weren’t needed that much. If the offensive line can protect Ryan, there’s reason to believe Julio and Calvin can have big days.

The Bucs arguably have two good or promising players on the back end of their defense: linebacker Levonte David and fellow linebacker Devin White, who is still improving. After them, the drop-off is precipitous. Vernon Hargreaves couldn’t even survive his rookie contract as he was cut by the Bucs recently. Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are not much better at corner. Safeties Jordan Whitehead and Andrew Adams don’t instill confidence either. Levonte David can’t do it by himself.

Ryan and Julio and Calvin have a great matchup here. Let’s hope Dirk Koetter takes advantage of it. If he doesn’t, I will be convinced he’s actually a mole planted here by the Bucs to tank the Falcons season.

Advantage: Falcons

Overall

As usual, the Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan if they’re going to have offensive success. Missing Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman could hurt, but this back end of the Bucs defense is not good. At all. The Falcons should be able to score if Ryan’s jersey is kept clean. Given how they performed agains the Panthers, there’s some reason to be optimistic.

Advantage: Falcons