The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have struggled on offense so far this season, giving the ball away at inopportune times and failing to sustain drives against both the Panthers and Rams.
Thursday night's game against the Falcons provides a much easier matchup for the Tampa offense, as the Falcons are one of the worst defenses in the league. Their front seven struggles to get after quarterbacks, and their defensive backfield has some talent, but not enough to win games on its own.
So how do the Bucs take advantage of this soft matchup? Here are three key matchups the Bucs must dominate on Thursday night.
Logan Mankins and Patrick Omameh versus Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai
The Buccaneers' guards were such a weakness in the preseason, but through two weeks, and with the addition of Logan Mankins, there has been steady improvement along the interior of the offensive line. Week 3 provides another chance to put that improvement to the test, as the strength of the Atlanta front seven is at defensive tackle.
Soliai and Jackson aren't dominant players, but they're certainly good enough to get run stops and blow up rushing attempts if the Bucs guards don't do their job. This is especially true of Omameh, who is inexperienced and will be starting his first road game as a Buccaneer.
The Falcons aren't strong against the run or pass, but interior pressure on quarterbacks or failed blocks by interior linemen in the run game will suddenly turn a weak defense into a strong one, and force the Bucs to become predictable on offense.
Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson versus Robert Alford
On any given play, one of the Buccaneers receivers will be lined up with Desmond Trufant, a 6'0" first-round pick out of Washington, who is a rising star at corner.
The other wideout will go up against the shorter, less-heralded Robert Alford from Southeastern Louisiana, who is a good player as well, but gives up even more size and strength compared to the Bucs' receivers.
Last week, Alford was on the wrong end of Mohamed Sanu's long touchdown catch, as he was unable to recover and reach out to break up a pass on a slant, and then failed to tackle Sanu and allowed him to run free into open space. Alford was left one-on-one due to a blitz, something the Falcons will likely do against the Bucs as well.
That means the Tampa Bay offense must use the size and strength advantage they have at receiver to get the ball out of Josh McCown's hands quickly, which means Jackson and Evans must get into good position against the defender as soon as possible. They'll have an easier time against the smaller Alford, and the Bucs must work to exploit this matchup on Thursday night.
Brandon Myers versus Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu
The Falcons don't have a ton of talent at linebacker, where tackling-machine Worrilow and Bartu are the biggest names that will patrol the middle of the field against the run and pass. The Buccaneers have to find a way to expose these players as often as possible, and they can do so with their tight ends.
Brandon Myers is the obvious choice for this assignment, as Luke Stocker is more valuable as a blocker than he is as a receiver. Myers showed against the Rams that he can get down the seam and find open space against the defense, and that same space should be available against Atlanta.
The Bucs can also use Bobby Rainey, Doug Martin and Jorvorskie Lane to target the Atlanta linebackers, who are one of several weaknesses on the Atlanta squad.