TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Wide reciever Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons grabs a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers September 25, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Here are my three key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on defense.
Gerald McCoy vs the Indianapolis Interior Offensive Line
Gerald McCoy has made a big impact in three games, but it hasn't shown up on the stat sheet. He's been especially disruptive against the run in all three games, while he had what felt like a breakout game as a pass rusher last week. Against the Atlanta Falcons he was constantly in the backfield, and he was a major disruptive force despite not notching a sack.
Gerald McCoy needs to continue this quality play against the Indianapolis Colts if the Bucs want to win. The Colts are sure to try to rely on Joseph Addai to carry the offense, and McCoy has the ability to blow up running plays before they really get started. And on passing downs McCoy and the other down linemen should force Curtis Painter into some dumb throws - or simply take him to the ground.
All of this shouldn't be too much to ask, as the Colts offensive line is in shambles right now. Jeff Saturday really is the only good starter on that line, and with an injury to starting guard Joe Reitz it isn't getting any better for them.
Mason Foster vs Dallas Clark
Dallas Clark may be one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. He can be nearly impossible to stop in the middle of the field and down the seam. Of course, he only has 10 catches for 83 yards this season, but he has yet to play much with Curtis Painter who is starting at quarterback for the Colts.
Last week the Atlanta Falcons tried to isolate Tony Gonzalez vs Mason Foster a couple of times, and his touchdown came on one of those plays. The Colts are likely to try something similar with Clark, and Mason Foster is currently too inexperienced to do well in coverage against a tight end like that. He may not have the physical skills to even coverage Clark, although that wouldn't make him an exception among NFL linebackers.
If there's one player on offense for the Colts who can beat the Buccaneers, it's probably Dallas Clark.
Reggie Wayne vs Aqib Talib
Reggie Wayne has lost a step, but he may be the best route runner in the NFL. Wayne is the Colts' leading receiver with 196 yards and Aqib Talib is likely to shadow the veteran receiver tonight. If he does do so, he will have another tough matchup in a short season. He's already had to shadow Calvin Johnson and, surprisingly, Julio Jones.
Of course, both Jones and Johnson racked up a lot of yardage as Talib shadowed them. Most of that yardage did come in zone coverage, so that absolves Talib at least in part. But while Johnson and Jones were mostly physical mismatches, Wayne is a mismatch because of his skillset. He's one of the smartest receivers in the NFL and one of the best route runners. Aqib Talib will have to be at the top of his game, again, to stop Wayne. Or at least he would have to be if Curtis Painter wasn't the one throwing the football.