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Do you want the Falcons to let Matt Ryan work from a no-huddle scheme more often? Sure, we all do! Atlanta slips in the latest round of NFL power rankings, with a couple of national analysts citing the team's clunky offense.
Following a scoring drive that only took 43 seconds, the defense took over needing to give the offense a shot to actually take the lead in this one. Although a second down pass to Arrelious Benn went for a first down, it was called back due to a rare offensive facemask penalty. The defense took advantage of this big mistake by the Bucs and held their ground.
The Atlanta offense then took over on offense with the ball on their own 32-yard line. A first-down carry to Michael Turner went nowhere, but the offense switched to the no-huddle and a second-down pass to Roddy White for 15 yards and a first down. On the very next play, a 14-yard pass to Roddy White went for a first down. All the momentum was with the Falcons at this point in the ball game.
Then on third-and-seven at the Tampa 38, Ryan found Roddy for the third time on the drive for 15-yards and a first down. The Falcons simply have been picking on EJ Biggers for the entire drive. Following an offsides penalty, a seven-yard completion to Julio Jones gave the Falcons a first down at the Tampa Bay 11-yard line.
A roughing-the-passer call made it a first-and-goal at the five, but a sack coupled with a holding penalty against Justin Blalock had the Falcons in second-and-goal at the fifteen. An incomplete pass in the back of the end zone had Matt Bryant and the kicking unit out on the field, and the always-cool Bryant kicked it good from 33 yards out.
With 4:06 left and all three timeouts, the Falcons defense simply needs one more stop to give the offense a chance to either tie things up or take the lead outright. Let's hope and pray the Falcons can complete this amazing fourth-quarter comeback. At this point, the Bucs only lead 16-13.
Another heavy dose of Blount carrying the football had the at midfield with 2:41 left. After two more decent runs and two Falcons timeouts, the Bucs had a third-and-two at the two-minute warning (two!).
Somehow, a third-down carry by Blount came up short. If you were to ask me how, I couldn't tell you. It was that close. Upon further review, the play stood. Mike Smith spent Atlanta's final timeout, and the Bucs were left in a fourth-and-inches situation. They showed motion before the snap, obviously trying to draw Atlanta offsides. To my absolute horror, it worked. They drew a defender offsides.
It's a terrible, gut-wrenching way to lose. The way the offense had been playing in the fourth quarter, perhaps they could have come back and scored on their final drive. Alas, we'll never know. The Falcons will drop to 1-2, and head into week four in serious need of both some improvement and a win. With the Saints also winning today, this one hurts.
Sometimes, it just takes one play to turn the tides of a ball game. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Falcons got just what the doctor prescribed: William "C4" Moore intercepted Josh Freeman and returned it for 27 yards to about midfield. Suddenly, the Falcons had some passion in their step.
Matt Ryan would quickly go to work and hook up with Julio Jones three times on the drive, marching the offense all the way down to the Tampa Bay seven. Then on fourth-and-two with the Falcons down by two scores, Mike Smith elected to go for the first down instead of kicking it. To this blogger's utter and complete disappointment, Ryan's pass to Jacquizz Rodgers was knocked incomplete by the backup safety Corey Lynch.
The Falcons had a shot, but for the second time this season they've simply not been able to end their drives in touchdowns. The defense, however, still showed they had some life by forcing a quick Bucs three-and-out. With only ten minutes left in this one, the Falcons started this drive knowing they absolutely need to score or else go home.
Remember that explosiveness we had been desperately waiting for all season? Well, the Falcons finally displayed some of that awesome potential they have on offense. On first down, Ryan went deep to Julio Jones and connected with him on a beautiful 49-yard pass. On the very next play, Ryan found Tony Gonzalez in the end zone for a ten-yard touchdown pass.
And just like that, the Falcons pulled to within just six points of the Buccaneers. I don't know how they're still alive in this one, but in it they are! Falcons now trail Bucs only 16-10.
The Falcons may have played a pretty poor first half, but this game is definitely within reach if the offensive can step things up.
Well, the Bucs came out running in the second half, and the defense saw a lot of LeGarrette Blount. Then about five plays into the drive, the Falcons had Tampa in a third-and-four situation. Josh Freeman fumbled the snap, and yet somehow heaved the ball into the hands of Earnest Graham for a first down. A late hit penalty pushed the Bucs across midfield into Atlanta territory.
Later on another third-and-four, Dunta Robinson- who thankfully has returned to the game- made a great tackle to prevent a first down. But wouldn't you know it, the Bucs went for it on fourth down, and recognizing that Brian Van Gorder was blitzing everybody they simply had Freeman rollout and run for a first down.
Thankfully, the defense again came up strong in the red zone and held the Bucs to another field goal. That score stretched Tampa's lead to 16-3. Still, the frustration has been mounting in a pretty palpable way all game long, and it only continues to with plays like that. The Bucs continue to maintain possession of the ball, that last drive having lasting for almost eight minutes, and the Atlanta defense is simply wearing down.
So with a score now absolutely needed, the Falcons offense took over for the first time in the second half. Matt Ryan found Harry Douglas twice for a first down, and later rushed for a first down himself. Then just as the Falcons were finally starting to move the ball, Todd McClure botched a snap on third down that led to yet another Tampa sacking of Ryan. So frustrating.
And then the Falcons simply got unlucky: on third-and-11, a Brent Grimes tipped pass went backwards and somehow found its way into the hands of Kellen Winslow. It was great coverage, and yet the defense just could not get off the field. Tampa ran a few more offensive plays before the end of the quarter, but I think it's safe to say that the Bucs owned that quarter well before that point: they won the battle of possession 11:00 minutes to four.
Barring a fourth-quarter comeback of some sort, or rather any sign of offense, the Falcons will have a tough time winning this one. Atlanta now trails 16-3 going into the final quarter of this game.
Sound the alarm, the Falcons have switched to the no-huddle! And wouldn't you know it: the Falcons have actually started moving the football. On second-and-11, Ryan was able to hook up with Julio Jones on an 18-yard pick up that pushed the Falcons all the way up to midfield.
Another long connection with Roddy White on third-and-three, this time good for 30 yards, pushed the Falcons all the way down to the Tampa 14. The pass, which somehow floated over E.J. Biggers and into the hands of a tip-toeing Roddy, was an absolute thing of beauty.
Then in an attempt to recreate some of the magic from last week, Ryan then looked at a wide-open Tony Gonzalez in the endzone, but the pass sailed incomplete over everyone. The Falcons would settle for a field goal, which Matt Bryant nailed a from 26 yards out. With that score, the Falcons pulled to an even 3-3 with the Bucs.
Following that possession, the penalties continued. An Atlanta offsides, followed by a holding call against Tampa, had the Bucs in a second-and-15. But with a gameplan that looked as if it was taken right out the Falcons playbook, the Bucs began driving down the field on a series of short completions and LeGarrette Blount running plays. A 24-yard pass to Luke Stocker had the Tampa offense to the Atlanta 30.
Then on first and goal from the eight, Freeman found Earnest Graham on a dump-off pass that came up just short of the goal line. Freeman finished off the drive by taking it in himself on a sneak, making it 10-3 Bucs.
What's worse, Dunta Robinson was seen getting checked out on the sideline after getting shaken up on the previous play. He has been diagnosed with a neck injury, and his return is questionable. With Kelvin Hayden out, that would mean leave Chris Owens as the starting right cornerback.
And in response, the Falcons offensive line fell apart. Sam Baker got embarassed by the rookie Adrian Clayborn, who then promptly nailed our quarterback and caused another fumble inside the ten that was recovered by the Buccaneers. By the grace of some higher power, the Falcons defense came up big yet again and held the Bucs to a field goal.
The Falcons took over on offense, but more penalties on special teams led to the starting field position at the seven. This is getting a little ridiculous. However, with their backs against the wall Ryan and the offense really started moving the ball. Two big completions to Roddy White, among others, had the Falcons at midfield with 0:30 to go in the half.
Then with only 0:10 left in the half on a quick slant to Roddy, the pass was tipped and then intercepted by Ronde Barber. Nothing seems to have gone right for Atlanta this half, but they should consider themselves very fortunate to only be down by 10 points.
Going forward, the offensive line needs to respond with some better protection in the second half. We were promised "explosiveness" this offseason, but how can Ryan make plays when he has no time to throw? Falcons trail 10-3.
Wow, this game has been sloppy so far: Penalties, turnovers, and incompletions galore in only one quarter. Hopefully the Falcons can move away from this stagnant offensive gameplan (I'm looking at you Mularkey *cough cough*). I don't know about everyone else, but 10 yards of offense in 14:00 minutes of football doesn't quite cut it for me.
Tampa Bay began their drive at their own 32, and very quickly the Falcons had the Bucs offense in a third-and-six situation. However, an encroachment penalty via Ray Edwards would indirectly lead to a Tampa Bay first down. Later that drive, a 49-yard Connor Barth field goal that would give the Bucs a 3-0 lead early in this game.
So, the Falcons took over at their own eight-yard line following (you guessed it) a holding penalty on the kickoff. Thankfully, the offense finally realized they actually had some good football players, as Matt Ryan was able to connect with Roddy White for 22 yards on the last play of the first quarter.
That brought Ryan up to 38 yards passing for the quarter. Let's keep it going, Falcons!
And we're under way in a somewhat rainy Raymond James Stadium, as the Falcons elect to receive the ball on the opening kickoff against the Tampa Bay Bucs. Notable gameday inactives for Atlanta include DT Jonathan Babineaux and LB Stephen Nicholas, along with nickelback Kelvin Hayden. In their place, we'll see Peria Jerry and Mike Peterson get the starts on defense.
Well, it was quite an interesting start in this one. For the Falcons, this game started off exactly how they didn't want: on third-and-long, the Bucs blitzed and recovered a Matt Ryan fumble deep in Falcons territory. The offensive line yet again let our banged-up QB get hit pretty quickly. Alas.
However, on first and goal just as everything seemed to be pointing to a Bucs score of some sort, the Falcons reminded everyone of their dominance of Josh Freeman by picking him off in the endzone. Thomas DeCoud, who got the start today after sitting against Philadelphia, came up with a huge interception that bailed the Falcons out of allowing an early score.
But the Falcons wouldn't make much of this next possession, either. The offense did manage to pick up a first down, but some great third down coverage of Tony Gonzalez by the rookie Mason Foster forced Atlanta to punt the ball away. Poor special teams coverage, another issue that has plagued the Falcons this season, would allow the Bucs to set up on their own 46.
And yet that awesome linebacking duo of Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon flashed that athleticism early on in this one, making some great plays that forced a quick Bucs three-and-out. The Falcons followed that drive with a short six-play drive of their own.
This is looking like a real "slug-it-out" game early on, folks. With such poor field conditions and more rain possible, I wouldn't expect a lot of scoring in this one.
The Atlanta Falcons have had to play without the strengths of their respective lines so far this year, lacking defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and center Todd McClure. Babineaux is still out, giving his spot to a resurgent Peria Jerry, while McClure is active for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Nickel back Kelvin Hayden won't play, which could be the most significant challenge besides Babineaux's continued absence. Stephen Nicholas is out, meaning Mike Peterson will get the starting linebacker spot opposite Sean Weatherspoon. Tampa Bay likewise is missing a linebacker -- Dekota Wilson is set to spell Quincy Black.
The complete inactives list for both teams:
26 - CB Kelvin Hayden
29 - CB Darrin Walls
54 - LB Stephen Nicholas
66 - C Brett Romberg
79 - G Mike Johnson
95 - DT Jonathan Babineaux
98 - DE Cliff Matthews
94 Peria Jerry will start at defensive tackle for 95 Jonathan Babineaux.
53 Mike Peterson will start at linebacker for 54 Stephen Nicholas.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18 - WR Sammie Stroughter
21 - RB Allen Bradford
22 - S Larry Asante
24 - CB Anthony Gaitor
58 - LB Quincy Black
73 - T Derek Hardman
77 - T James Lee
56 Dekota Watson will start at linebacker for 58 Quincy Black.
The NFL's Week Three kicks off at 1 p.m. EST, and there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Once again, the point spreads are here, and we'd love to help you wade through the jungle.
The time has come and the wait is over. With both the Falcons and Bucs at 1-1 by the end of today one team will be relegated to the bottom part of the NFC South with current cellar dwellers Carolina (4:15 pm ET, FOX). On the injury front both teams look to be facing off without a few key figures; for Atlanta they'll be without Jonathan Babineaux and Kelvin Hayden, but a late addition to the injury report, LB Stephen Nicholas throws a wrench in the works, he's questionable for this afternoon's game. Meanwhile for Tampa, they'll definitely be without James Lee or Sammie Stoughter, with Quincy Black listed as questionable.
This is likely to be an extremely offensive dominated game. Let's look at several areas of this game to see who has the edge this afternoon:
While neither Matt Ryan, nor Josh Freeman have looked 100% themselves in 2011 make no mistake they're still elite QBs, and likely to finish regarded as top 10 at their position. It's very difficult to know who will play better on Sunday, but this should be one of the more entertaining aspects to the game.
Both Michael Turner and LeGarrette Blount have the ability to put up 100+ yard games, but it'll be the strength of their lines which determines their ability. When it's all said and done I think Turner gets the edge because he's a more self-sufficient RB, whereas in order for Blount to have a big day he'll be more reliant on his offensive line.
Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn may be very good in the future, but they're still a little too young as it stands. While Julio Jones still needs seasoning it's Roddy White who will really test the Bucs secondary today. I think he will have a big day again the Tampa secondary.
Both teams are playing pretty abysmally on defense. The Falcons are ranked 27th in the NFL, while the Bucs are ranked 28th. The only thing separating the team is 2.5 yards per game... in the end, they'll both get better as the season goes on, but right now they're struggling.
Make sure you tune into Fox this afternoon for all the action in what figures to be an excellent divisional matchup. And remember to head to each team's blog for game threads and recaps.
If you've spent any time watching the NFC South on a regular basis you know to expect the unexpected. Whatever logic you can place on a game pretty much flies out the window when these teams play. Even last year the 2-14 Carolina Panthers were a missed FG away from beating the New Orleans Saints, that's the kind of division it is.
So when the 1-1 Atlanta Falcons travel to the 1-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers it's easy to understand why experts are having an impossible time picking the game. There are plenty of logical reasons why either team should win, but in the end this game could come down to something random like fumbles or missed field goals, that's just how it is.
Here on SB Nation our own Andrew Sharp is picking Atlanta to win, but his assessment is hardly a glowing endorsement of the Falcons
One of these teams is going to win this game and spend the rest of the year in the hunt for a playoff spot. The other one's going 7-9, at best. But Atlanta looked good Sunday night, and Tampa hasn't looked great all year. So... yeah. Right?
Over on ESPN we have a 5-3 split among experts in favor of Atlanta, while the computer is taking the Bucs and fans are backing the Falcons.
Unlike other outlets CBS Sports is invoking the 'strength in numbers' methodology as all five experts are taking the Falcons to win on the road.
Finally, Peter Schrager of Fox Sports is predicting a 34-24 win in favor of Tampa Bay. He cites Atlanta's lackluster defense through two games as being the difference maker in Sunday's game.
Given all this information, who should you pick on Sunday? Among our sources with have a 11-4 split in favor of the Atlanta Falcons, and I feel this is right on the money. Even away this Falcons team simply has more talent than the much younger Bucs. In time the NFC South will dread Tampa Bay, but much like 2010 I don't think they're there quite yet. Tampa are still fairly inconsistent on both sides of the ball, and a veteran team like Atlanta thrive on inconsistency.
My pick: Atlanta 30 - Tampa Bay 24
With the Falcons only one day away from their week three matchup, Atlanta remains a one-point road favorite over the division-rival Bucs in the eyes of Vegas. The over/under is also still hovering right around 45.5 and 46 points, very much unchanged from the beginning of the week.
However, it's also worth noting that with this looking to be such a highly contested game, not every betting site is in complete agreeance on the outcome: some have the Bucs being favored over our beloved Birds by one to one-and-a-half points.
As for overall outlook, I expect this game to involve more scoring than the over/under would indicate, especially given how poorly both units have performed so far in this very short season. Add in the fact that both quarterbacks have excellent command of their respective offenses, along with both teams possessing incredibly strong running backs that can aid said QBs quickly and efficiently.
If I were forced to pick a this Sunday, I'd also have to go with the Falcons. Raheem Morris has yet to beat the Falcons as a head coach, and over the past few years Atlanta has consistently had the Bucs' number. Look forward to some continued success against the Bucs tomorrow!
Last week, we saw the Falcons offense put up 35 points on what many consider to be, at the very least, one of the better defenses in the league. For the most part, the big performers were no surprises either: Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez. Both had matchup advantages, and both ran wild Sunday against the Eagles.
This week against the Buccaneers, however, we can perhaps expect Matt Ryan to spread the ball around more so than last week. Tampa's defense has disappointed thus far in 2011, ranking 19th against the pass and 31st against the run over the first two games. While I'd be surprised if the Falcons just completely stomp the Bucs, as they remain a solid defense in my eyes, there are a few guys who have some interesting matchups in this weeks' game.
Without further ado, let's get into to start 'em sit 'em, week three:
numberFire Projections: 16.11 Points (22.73 carries, 100.49 yards, 0.84 TDs)
No surprise here. While some (myself included) though he might begin to take a step back this season, clearly this has not been the case so far. He's hit the century mark in both games this season, and while Tampa's run defense may be a little skewed by Adrian Peterson they're certainly not the Jets.
Also keep in mind that Turner has actually caught four passes for 72 yards this season, which is a big deal for him. If he starts catching the ball, that's a definite bonus to consider. All in all, there's absolutely no reason you should sit No. 33 this week. Enjoy your guaranteed 75+ yards and a TD.
Although he remained relatively quiet against the Eagles (as expected), Roddy still proved that no one can completely shut him down. While three catches for 23 yards and one TD might seem modest, in fantasy that consistency is very welcome. Despite likely being matched up with the dreaded Aqib Talib, he's still a must-start guy in any league.
numberFire Projections: 16.96 Points (21.90 completions, 254.54 yards, 1.62 TDs, 0.7 INTs)
I take back what I said earlier: there was one big surprise last Sunday, and it was Matty Ice. A career-high four TD passes was not something I was expecting, but for those of you who started Ryan (as I did), it was a nice surprise.
As for this week, as long as Ice-man doesn't try to pick on Talib as he did against Nnamdi Asomugha last week I think he'll be okay. Talib consistently seems to have Ryan's number in these matchups, and he always seems to make a mistake or two against the Bucs. However, with so many other options available Ryan can simply bypass Talib if he feels so inclined. Feel inclined.
It's also worth mentioning that Ryan has been limited in practice for a couple of days, but he is fully expected to start against the Bucs. Fortunately for Ryan, Tampa Bay also doesn't possess the pass rush of either Chicago or Philly. Maybe he can make it through one game without his face constantly in the turf for once.
numberFire Projections: 6.23 Points (4.27 recs, 45.17 yards, 0.28 TDs)
As is the case with Turner, Gonzalez has simply been too good this year for you to not start him. Last week's performance was spectacular, and he showed us he still has a good bit of gas left in his tank. While Tampa Bay's linebackers and safeties are a step up from the guys Philly marched out onto the field, Gonzalez should still get his share of catches and red zone opportunities. Gonzo's started off hot, and you should stick with him until he cools off.
Julio was also very quiet against the Eagles, but when a rookie is matched up with the likes of Nnamdi and Asante Samuel in only his second game there's only so much to expect. This week, he'll get a somewhat easier assignment in Ronde Barber.
Now, Barber is no slouch. He's still got a bag of veteran tricks up his sleeve. But there's a definite size advantage (6'3 to 5'10) favoring Julio. Jones will definitely start getting some looks in the red zone, and Ryan should have much more time to get the ball to him this week.
Do I think Julio will bust out for 100+ yards and two TDs? No. But I think he'll be good for at least 50 yards and possibly a score. Nothing elite as of yet, and you very likely have better options, but he's at least worth considering.
Here's another guy you have no reason to sit. Bryant is automatic, and should the offense start firing on all cylinders his fantasy value should rise even further.
numberFire Projections: 7.93 points (23.76 points allowed, 2.19 turnovers, 2.19 sacks, 0.23 TDs)
The unit forced some turnovers against the Eagles, but as a whole were not very impressive. Josh Freeman is a very capable quarterback, and the Bucs also have a bruiser of a back in LeGarrette Blount. This group's start status has been put on hiatus for now.
I'm sure none of this is particularly big news or a shock to your system. Don't start these guys simply because thet don't see the ball enough to warrant a start. Douglas is talented, but at the moment he's receiving option No. 4. Rodgers has gotten a few carries, but overall not enough to make a fantasy impact.
This time last week the Atlanta Falcons were heading into a pivotal week two match-up, and slated to be missing many of their key players. Today the story is much brighter as starting center Todd McClure returned to practice among others. For Tampa Bay the team practiced Wednesday without starting strong-side linebacker Quincy Black, and are continuing to be without slot receiver/kick returner Sammie Stroughter who needed minor surgery on his foot roughly a week ago.
QB Matt Ryan (knee) - Limited
DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee) - DNP
CB Kelvin Hayden (hamstring) - DNP
WR Roddy White (knee) - Limited
DE Ray Edwards (foot) - Limited
C Todd McClure (knee) - Limited
S Shann Schillinger (neck) - Full
DT Corey Peters (back) - Full
While there are some big names on Atlanta's report I wouldn't worry too much. After all, this is only mid week and the prime time for teams to hold out players as precautionary measures. Now, if we see Matt Ryan, Roddy White or Ray Edwards listed as 'limited' on Friday, I'd be a little concerned, but for now let's chalk it up to being careful.
Similarly for Tampa Bay their report looks a lot worse that it really is. Black was speaking with reporters today following practice, which is typically a good sign; teams tend to hide players when their injuries are serious. I believe holding him out was a precautionary measure and little more. Similarly, James Lee's injury doesn't appear to be major, and Kellen Winslow should be back in a day or two.
With the exception of the aforementioned Stroughter, or Falcons' DT Jonathan Babineaux who was expected to miss this week, we are set for two healthy teams to meet up this Sunday in their divisional game. Anything can happen in the NFC South, so this should be an excellent battle with one team walking away with a losing record on the season.
Despite being on the road in Tampa Bay, with both teams being 1-1 the betting community are siding with the Atlanta Falcons to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Typically we look for quarterbacks to set the tempo of a match-up, but really this is a game that will be determined by the supporting casts.
Both Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman got off to slow starts, but have now started to hit their stride. Both QBs posted ratings over 90 in their week two games after week one performances under 80. Now, Ryan (85.1) and Freeman (84.4) are looking to continue their winning ways in a tough week three match-up.
Vegas has the Falcons as the 1 point favorites on the road, no doubt convinced by an impressive performance against the Philadelphia Eagles in their week two game. It's surprising pundits aren't giving the Bucs a little more respect after their victory over Minnesota, because they're ostensibly giving the Falcons a 4 point edge on Sunday.
Yet again we're looking at a fairly high scoring game with an over/under of 45.5 points. There seems little doubt these teams can eclipse this number with their potent offenses. Both team's running backs and wide receivers have a chance to have big 100+ yard games, so I would definitely look at taking the over this week.
Despite being on the road it's hard to put my money behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons played two legitimate playoff teams (Chicago and Philadelphia) and went 1-1, while Tampa played a possible playoff team (Detroit) and a team who look like they will struggle (Minnesota). Last week the Falcons were looking to prove they were still a top team in the NFC, now they're looking to secure the lead of the NFC South (provided New Orleans lose to Houston). In this game I think the point doesn't matter- I'm picking Atlanta to win by a touchdown.
Hopefully following a week two win against the much-hyped Eagles, one which would likely catapult the Falcons to the top of the list of teams to beat in 2011, the Birds then march into Tampa Bay to take on the division-rival Buccaneers. Even though the Falcons won both matchups with the Bucs in 2010, neither was what you could call an easy game. They were hard fought games that usually involved alot of grind-it-out football and one play in the fourth quarter that would decide the game. I expect the same type of hard-nosed game this year, as well.
Record: 10-6, missed playoffs
Last Meeting: Week 13, 2010 (Falcons won 28-24)
Notable Additions: P Michael Koenen, DE Adrian Clayborn(draft pick), DE Da'Quan Bowers(draft pick), LB Mason Foster (draft pick)
Notable Losses: LB Barrett Ruud, RB Cadillac Williams, DE Stylez G White, WR Maurice Stovall
For the Bucs, free agency this season was more about building through the draft and keeping the players they deemed important. They brought back O-line starters Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood on multi-year contracts along with signing former Falcon Michael Koenen to a prudent six-year, $19M deal.
The real point to make about the Bucs, however, was that they were really intent on improving a front seven that was less than stellar last season. In fact, with Michael Turner picking up almost 200 yards over the two contests, I'd say their front seven was the deciding factor in both wins. They simply couldn't match up with our aggressive O-line.
Well, with their top three draft picks devoted to defense, expect the Bucs to be an improved team in 2011. Whether that translates to a better record or not, I cannot say, but Raheem Morris certainly has the tools in place to make the playoffs this season. It's all a matter of whether they can beat our Falcons or the Saints.
With Turner possibly seeing reduced carries this season in order to benefit his long-term health, I'd say the key to this game is Matt Ryan. He's pretty much always struggled against Tampa Bay's secondary. For some reason, Aqib Talib practically owns Matty Ice every time the two match up. However, with Ryan maturing as a passer I think this week three matchup will tell us if he's finally overcome his kryptonite in Talib. Julio Jones and Harry Douglas will likely play a big role in this one as well.
Atlanta's first three games of the season are all pretty tough matchups, but if the Falcons can emerge from them unscathed I think we'll have a pretty good idea what this squad is capable of in 2011.
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