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Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Key Matchups

Each week we’ll take a look at a few of the key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ upcoming game.

When the Bucs have the ball…

Brian Griese vs. Atlanta’s Defense

This could be one of the most important aspects to Sunday’s game. Brian Griese will be starting in place of injured Jeff Garcia against the Atlanta Falcons. Griese has proven to not be a bad choice at quarterback, posting an 83.6 career rating, but since leaving the Denver Broncos after the 2002 season, he hasn’t played a lot either. In the past 3 season, Griese has appeared only appeared in 19 total games. So despite being a slightly above average quarterback, he’s rarely a team’s first choice.

Griese may be in luck though. He’s facing a team with that allowed 246 passing yards in week one – ranking 27th in the league. And that’s pretty typical for the Falcons. Since 2003, Atlanta has only finished in the top half of the NFL in pass defense once. Against a fairly inexperienced secondary – with the exception of Lawyer Milloy – it could be a good day for Griese.

The real issue comes into play when we consider the pass rush. The Bucs’ offensive line didn’t look great in pass protection in week one, while the Falcons pass rush was strong. If the line can take a step forward and provide Griese with the time he needs, he could move Tampa Bay up the field fairly well.

Earnest Graham vs. Keith Brooking

Against the New Orleans Saints, Earnest Graham looked like the running back every Bucs’ fan dreamed he would be. 9.1 yards per carry for a bruiser is phenomenal. As a team, the Bucs averaged 7.3 yards a carry with Graham leading the way. The issue however, was not pounding away enough. Graham only got the ball 10 times despite his yards per carry number. In order for the Bucs to be able to control the tempo of the game, Graham needs to ball more. If the run is working early in the game, Tampa Bay needs to stick with it and control the clock.

The Falcons have youth and inexperience at middle linebacker, but on the outside they have one of the game’s best. Keith Brooking is a model of consistency and will be all over the field on Sunday. Getting a body on him will be crucial for the running game to succeed. He has the speed to catch Graham and the strength to pull him down. On run plays, Tampa must know where Brooking is if they hope to have the success they had against the Saints.

When the Falcons have the ball…

Matt Ryan vs. Bucs’ Secondary

The Falcons can’t expect to run for 318 yards every game. They can try, but the odds are against it from happening every week, especially as they start to face better defenses. That being said, rookie quarterback Matt Ryan will have to throw the ball more than 13 times against the Bucs. Ryan put up decent numbers against the Detroit Lions, but again, he was greatly limited in his attempts. If the Bucs can control the run, you can bet on Ryan having to double the number of times he puts the ball into the air…at least.

Ryan will be going up against a fast, aggressive secondary. Big plays aside, the Bucs’ secondary played well against the Saints. And you know they won’t give up that many big plays every week. Tampa Bay has the advantage in the passing game and will try to bait Ryan into making a bad decision. Only one or two and the game could quickly swing to the Bucs.

Michael Turner vs. Quincy Black/Matt McCoy

There’s a chance Derrick Brooks won’t play and the Bucs have to pray that doesn’t happen. Without Brooks, Tampa Bay will have to go with either Quincy Black or Matt McCoy. Both are unproven and even if they were, neither of them is Brooks – and never will be. The Bucs will still have Barrett Ruud and Cato June on the field – hardly a bad thing – but without Brooks, there is a gap in the defense. A gap the Falcons can attempt to exploit.

Michael Turner put up 220 yards in his Falcons’ debut. It was against a questionable Lions’ defense, but 220 yards is 220 yards. Atlanta will find a way for Turner – and Jerious Norwood – to get yards and if there is even one weakness on defense, they will do their best to take advantage of it.