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Tampa to meet ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ Falcons on Sunday


 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Howard Jones (95) pulls at Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) causing a fumble during overtime of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in Atlanta. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won 23-20. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Bucs will open the season in Atlanta and take on a curious Falcons team that started last season 6-1 only to see the season fall apart and end up 8-8. Will Tampa see the Falcons team that was the only one to beat the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, or will it be the team that got swept by the Saints and lost six in a row after winning 6 of their first 7?

Some of the reason for this slide was due to the regression of Matt Ryan, who has gone from a top-tier quarterback to an above- average player who had the propensity to throw interceptions in the red zone last year. Ryan had 21 touchdowns to 16 interceptions last year. If you think about Jameis Winston who was a rookie starting from game one he had 15 interceptions, one less than the eight-year veteran.

In 2012 Ryan had a quarterback rating ten points higher than last year and threw 32 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. The lack of touchdowns last year is puzzling and disappointing when you see how Julio Jones has become a top wide receiver recording 136 receptions for 1,871 yards. The running game was also strong as Devonta Freeman had an outstanding year running for over a thousand yards and rushing for 11 touchdowns.

If Ryan regains his old form this could be trouble for the Bucs and their new secondary consisting of Brent Grimes and rookie Vernon Hargreaves. Tampa’s defense led all teams in sacks in the preseason and they will need to bring the pressure against Ryan to make him work for everything.

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The games between the Bucs and Falcons last year were nail-biters as Tampa swept the series winning by three in Atlanta in overtime, then needing a late touchdown to come back and win in Tampa. If the game is like last year it should go down to the wire and be another close affair. We will see if Ryan is able to find Jones in the Bucs secondary, or if Mike Smith has something in store for his former quarterback and force more turnovers in the red zone.

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About Ryan Leighton