5 key subplots in Sunday's Falcons-Bucs game

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:59 PM ET

TAMPA - 1. How banged up is Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan

In one word, plenty. Although he is still listed as probable, nobody expects Matt Ryan not to start. This week Ryan took it easy due to a an injured left knee and was limited in practice. However, he fully participated in Friday’s final practice and is expected to start on Sunday. So far, the Falcons offensive line has not done a very good job of protecting its quarterback as Ryan has been sacked nine times and taken 17 hits in the opening two games.

2. Can Tampa Bay’s rush get to Ryan?

So far it hasn’t got to anybody as the defensive line has yet to record a sack. On the season the Bucs have registered just two sacks, one by a linebacker (Mason Foster) and the other by safety Sean Jones. It’s an issue that plagued the Bucs last year when they ranked 30th in sacks with just 26. The Bucs can ill afford to have Ryan sit back and not be hurried. If that happens it’s going to be a long afternoon for Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ defensive line has simply got to turn it up a notch.

3. Will the Bucs get off to a faster start

They better. In their first two games the Bucs did next to nothing in the opening half. Last week against Minnesota when they trailed 17-0 at the half, they were simply dreadful in the opening 30 minutes. Offensively they had just three first downs and 23 yards rushing. They only managed to enter Vikings territory for one play and that was a punt. “Maybe it’s a good thing we’re starting at 4 because we usually don’t get started until 3:30 anyway,” offensive tackle Donald Penn joked. Added wide receiver Mike Williams: “We want to start fast because we know we can finish. If we get a good start, we think we can beat anybody.”

4. Can the Falcons get rookie receiver Julio Jones more involved?

So far Julio Jones has been more decoy than a game-breaker as he has caught seven passes for 100 yards. He has yet to score a touchdown. However, the addition of Jones along with veteran Roddy White has caused the opposing defences to keep their safeties deep and that in turn has opened up the middle of the field for all-world tight end Tony Gonzalez, who in two games has 12 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns. It also gives a lot of open field for running back Michael Turner once he cracks through the line of scrimmage. “I think Julio’s done a great job for us, and he’s going to continue to improve,” Ryan said.

5. Can the Bucs stop Tony Gonzalez

No team really can. When in doubt or when they need long yardage on third down, Ryan often looks Gonzalez’ way. And why not, he has been the best in the business for the past 15 years. “You can pretty much throw it wherever you want,” Ryan said of Gonzalez. “He seems to come down with it. He made an unbelievable catch the other night, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from him. He tells me all the time: ‘If I get this guy in this position, just put it up there and I’ll come down with it.’ More often than not, he does that.”


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