CB Johnthan Banks vs. WR Julio Jones
Johnthan Banks has looked much improved in recent weeks. He was an unmitigated disaster over the first few games this year, but he's been fairly solid since and last week's game was probably his best of the season. Of course, that came against Brian Hoyer and Andrew Hawkins, so he'll face a tougher test this week -- a test he failed miserably on his first outing.
I don't have a lot of confidence he'll do much better this time around. Julio Jones is one of the very best wide receivers in the NFL and he's much faster than Banks. One mitigating factor is that the defense as a whole is playing better now, such that Johnson just being faster than Banks could be compensated for by the safeties. But if they can't do so, if they can't contain Julio Jones in some way, they're almost certainly doomed.
DE Michael Johnson vs T Jake Matthews
The Falcons offensive line is a disaster, as it's been for a few years now. Jake Matthews is the big new left tackle they drafted in the top 10 this year, and Michael Johnson is going to have to be able to get some pressure against him. He's a veteran defensive end on a sizable contract -- he has to be better than a rookie who's struggled a little all season long.
Of course, previous weeks tell us that Johnson won't do all that much. He hasn't been quite as bad as people generally think, but he hasn't remotely brought what the Bucs want out of him. If he can't, Jacquies Smith has to step up, again. He's getting increased playing time and actually getting some consistent pressure, although he's mostly playing from left defensive end where Johnson plays right defensive end.
Either way, the Bucs need to find a way to get an edge rush combined with Gerald McCoy's interior rush to disrupt Matt Ryan. Because he's the key to the Atlanta offense.
CB Crezdon Butler vs. WR Roddy White
Roddy White has slowed down considerably and is now mostly just a possession receiver -- but he still has the moves to dominate Crezdon Butler. He and Brandon Dixon were repeatedly embarrassed by Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith earlier this season, when they clearly weren't executing their assignment on a down-to-down basis. That outing was pitiful, and if Butler doesn't look better this week, the Bucs are doomed.
Butler isn't completely hopeless, of course. He has four years experience in the NFL and was a fifth-round pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. There's a solid chance he'll do better now that he's been with the team for a longer time. But he'd better show it against Roddy White.