It’s less than two hours until gametime, so it’s time for the educated fan to know what matchups to look at when watching the Falcons take on the Bucs. Here are the matchups I feel will be most critical for the Falcons to win:
Falcons offensive line vs. Buccaneer DT Gerald McCoy & DE Michael Bennett: The Tampa secondary isn’t very good, especially at the cornerback position, and linebacker is average. For the Falcons, the biggest challenge will be blocking the Tampa defensive line. McCoy provides a relentless rush from the inside, and can really affect the pocket from the inside. If he forces Matt Ryan out of the pocket, defensive end Bennett will likely be waiting to make the sack. The Falcons really have to work on double-teaming McCoy, as well as keeping Bennett from being a factor. If Atlanta can do that, they will have no difficulty passing on the 32nd ranked pass defense in the NFL.
Atlanta LB Sean Weatherspoon vs. Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin: Rookie RB Martin has taken the world by storm, running for 1000 yards already, 7 TDs, and showing outstanding strength and speed along the way. He runs between the tackles, can bounce it outside, and can even catch the ball out of the backfield. The one player the Falcons have that can mitigate the impact of Martin is Sean Weatherspoon. He’s fast, athletic, hard hitting, plays good pass coverage, and can blitz. He won’t completely contain Martin, but if the Falcons are to win, they have to keep Martin from making the ‘big play’, and try to make the Bucs one-dimensional. That is the true key to Tampa’s undoing.
Atlanta FS Thomas DeCoud vs. Tampa WR Vincent Jackson: We all know that in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme, everyone plays a bunch of zone coverage, and the blitz schemes come from all different directions. Safeties main responsibility is to make sure that they are solid as the last line of defense, and then come up to play the run. This will never be more important than today. With the great running of Doug Martin, DeCoud may be tempted to cheat up to play the run, but he needs to do his job and not allow Vincent Jackson to get behind him. If he can keep Jackson in check, or at least in front of him, things become much easier for the Falcons.
Falcon CB Asante Samuel vs. Buc QB Josh Freeman: Asante Samuel has made a living taking risks, and capitalizing on opponents mistakes. Josh Freeman isn’t always tremendously smart as a QB, and may try to force a throw. Samuel is also outstanding at baiting a quarterback into throws that he can intercept. If he can force at least one INT of Freeman, it will likely all be worth it.