Cover 9@9: Falcons, Bucs in key early NFC South showdown

(Welcome all! With the NFL becoming more of a passing league, the “Cover 9@9” blog will become all of the rage. You can read it here every Wednesday at 9 a.m. throughout the season. We’ll try to get to everything about the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have to stop the run better before they can use the Cover 9! -– D. Orlando Ledbetter)  

1. NFC SOUTH SHOWDOWN: This is a big early season NFC South showdown between the Falcons (1-1) and Buccaneers (0-2) at 8:25 p.m. Thursday at the Georgia Dome.

The loser goes into a deep hole with Carolina off to a 2-0 start. The Panthers face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night and should improve to 3-0. (They squeaked by the Browns and were clobbered by Baltimore.)

The Saints (0-2) play Minnesota, which has deactivated running back Adrian Peterson indefinitely and should get their first win.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Bucs defense could be without three starters in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand), middle linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder) and defensive end Michael Johnson (ankle).

The Falcons want to show they are much better than what they put out there on the field in Cincinnati, but expect a battle from the always feisty Bucs.

“They are very discipline in what they do,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “They don’t give you a ton of different looks. But the looks that they play, they know them inside and out.”

2. LAST MEETING:  The Buccaneers routed the Falcons, 41-28, on Nov. 17, 2013.

The Falcons scored a couple of garbage touchdowns to make game look somewhat respectable. The Bucs, behind the running of Bobby Rainey, jumped out to a 38-6 lead and coasted home.

Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas had 134 yards receiving, which included an 80-yard touchdown reception.

Running back Antone Smith had two carries for 88 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run. (The Falcons need to start using him like the Eagles are using Darren Sproles. Don't be shy, get him the game and get him 10 touches.)

3. WHO'S GOT JACKSON?: In the past two meetings against the Falcons, Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson has 20 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns.

Among active players with a minimum of 200 catches, Jackson has an NFL-best 17.3 receiving yards average.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

4. LOVIE ON RYAN: Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith recalled the game against the Falcons, when he left Matt Ryan 11 seconds on the clock and the Falcons won 22-20 on Oct. 12, 2008.

That was enough time for Ryan to hook up with wide receiver Michael Jenkins to get the Falcons in position for a game-winning Matt Bryant field goal.

“Just personally, he’s caused me a lot of long nights,” Smith said. “Probably one of the toughest losses that I have had as a head coach, of course was orchestrated by Matt.”

5. LOVIE'S REVENGE: The Falcons opened the 2011 season in Chicago and the Bears got some revenge as they routed the Falcons 30-10.

The Bears sacked Ryan five times and had 11 quarterback hits.

“You are going against a well-coached football team when you’re going against a Lovie Smith football team,” Ryan said. “We know that going into it. We have to be on top of our game plan. “

6. HAWLEY ON PASS PROTECTION: Falcons center Joe Hawley took some of the blame for the poor pass protection against the Bengals.

“There were a couple of communication errors, which is on me,” Hawley said.

Ryan was sacked twice, hit nine times and hurried 10 times. He was harassed on nearly 39 percent of his dropbacks.

That was about par for the course last season.

“They came out with a great game plan and it worked,” Hawley said. “They made us throw hot. They had our protections down.”

The Falcons were out of sync all game.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

“We really didn’t get into a rhythm on offense,” Hawley said. “When we do get into a rhythm we can be really dangerous, but we really didn’t find it.”

7. KEY MATCHUP NO. 1 -- Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant. Jackson has eight catches for 87 yards.Since 2013, Trufant has 19 passes defensed which ranks tied for ninth in the NFL. Trufant is currently tied for fifth in overall's grade among cornerbacks. Trufant has only yielded four receptions for 66 yards and 1 reception per 16.8 cover snaps.

8. KEY MATCHUP NO. 3 -- Buccaneers Coverage units vs. Falcons KR/PR Devin Hester. The Bucs have allowed 8.8 yards per punt return with a long return of 23 yards. They have allowed 11 yards per kickoff return. The Bucs will likely attempt to kick away from Hester, who had 125 return yards last week against the Bengals.

9. KEY MATCHUP NO. 2 -- Buccaneers LG Logan Mankins vs. Falcons DT/DE Jonathan Babineaux. Mankins was acquired in a trade with the Patriots and has helped to stabilize the Bucs' offensive line. In 67 snaps he has allowed two quarterback hurries, two hits, but no sacks. Babineaux registered the Falcons only sack this season, but it was nullified by a penalty. He also has the team's only quarterback hit. He has five hurries.


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