Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense managed to put 27 points on the board the last time these two teams faced. The offense managed to score in every quarter, including 17 in the first half. Can they repeat that performance on Sunday? Let’s see what might have changed.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line is likely to see some big changes in the middle on Sunday. The duo of Matt Hennessy at center and Matt Gono at left guard was ... not great against the Chiefs. Hennessy committed 3 penalties by himself and Gono had one of his worst games of the year. The team may opt to put Justin McCray back at left guard, but he’s not going to suddenly stabilize the position. Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom continue to be reliable, quality players on this line. Kaleb McGary faces another tough set of pass rushers this week, so his performance will also be critical.
For the Bucs, the combo of Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett is what looms large in this defensive front. Ndamukong Suh is still solid up the middle, but he’s nowhere near the dominant player he once was. The remaining guys in this unit are decent enough, but don’t really warrant writing about.
The interior of this line continues to be a problem. Hopefully, Hennessy can settle in after his first NFL start. If he continues to struggle, this could have a nasty cascade impact on the entire offense.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan is in his mid-30s and fans are rightfully debating whether his future in Atlanta is going to extend a few more years or nearly over. His performances this year have been all over the place with some exceptional games and some real stinkers. Without Julio Jones on the field, though, Calvin Ridley has emerged as a truly viable WR1. Russell Gage is a good receiver as well, though he may not be the WR2 the team needs right now. Hayden Hurst isn’t being used well and the running back trio of Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith is underwhelming, though Smith looks the best of the three.
Lavonte David anchors this defensive unit and second year corner Jamel Dean is a quality coverage guy, though matching up with Ridley will test him again. Safeties Jordan Whitehead and second round rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. are capable on the back-end, but are not difference makers. The weakest links are corner Sean Murphy-Bunting and linebacker Devin White.
This all depends on which Ryan shows up. If he plays the way we know he’s capable of, this should be a nod to Atlanta. If not, it could be a long day at the office. I believe Ryan wants to finish his season strong and he’s traditionally played the Bucs well in his career. Slight nod to the Falcons here.
The dynamics of this matchup have changed due to the middle of the Falcons offensive line. Hennessy needs to be much better if Ryan is going to stay clean and succeed in this Dirk Koetter offense. As it stands, this one is too close to call, given that the Falcons did manage to put up 27 points the last time they met.