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Falcons vs. Buccaneers: Three things to watch

The Atlanta Falcons are still the class of the NFC South, but the upstart Bucs are looking to push for a Wild Card.

Kevin C. Cox

Three months ago the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a young team, looking to make strides, and perhaps lay the groundwork for their semi-rebuild. Now they're the upstart team, leaning on a talented running back and a solid defense to make a possible wild-card push. Here are three things the Falcons need to do if they hope to win on Sunday.

1. Stop Doug Martin

The Atlanta Falcons are one of the worst run-stopping teams in the NFL, while Doug Martin is one of the league's best backs this season-- even as a rookie. With 1,000 yards through ten games, Martin is on pace for a staggering 1,600 yard season, all while averaging an impressive 5.1 yards per carry.

Atlanta's issue has been their linebacking corps. Marred by injury, when backs have squeezed between the tackles they have been unable to bring down ball carriers. This is of paramount importance in order to stop Martin, because unless they do, the Falcons open up the chance for Tampa to run their play-action offense.

2. Hope Sean Weatherspoon is back to full strength

This week marked the first in time in a month the Falcons' star linebacker has been able to practice. To most teams a good outside linebacker is a boon, but in Atlanta's case he may be as important as any 4-3 OLB in the league; with the exception of Von Miller.

Josh Freeman isn't a mobile QB, but he moves very well inside the pocket. Weatherspoon is a key not only to stopping Freeman, but also help diffuse Doug Martin. He is a defensive wild card, and provided he can play it will make a huge difference.

3. Don't fear-- throw deep

Following Matt Ryan's five interception game last week against Arizona, the natural tendency would be to ease him into Sunday's game, and not put too much pressure on him. This is a model that makes sense, unless you're playing against the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay have the worse pass defense in the NFL, and Julio Jones specifically could have a huge day. Last week against the Carolina Panthers, the Buccaneers managed to contain #1 receiver Steve Smith, but Brandon LaFell was able to have a 100 yard day. Julio Jones is infinitely more talented, and this is a game where Matt Ryan could regain his confidence following last week's game.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.