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3 Matchups to Watch During Falcons at Bucs

Tampa's LBs/SS versus TE Hooper

With Jacob Tamme sidelined due to a shoulder injury, Austin Hooper will be the Falcons' No. 1 tight end on Thursday. Hooper has been productive when called upon, notching 11 receptions for 195 yards — a 17.7 average — and a touchdown so far in 2016.

"I think Austin has done everything that we've asked of him this year," Matt Ryan said. "As a rookie, he's come in and he's played a lot of snaps for a young guy. I think his snaps have kind of increased week in and week out, which is always good to see. He's a guy that has been getting better for us.

"His personality is conducive to playing well early. He's laid back and nothing is too big for him. He goes about his business during the week. He gets prepared and then just goes out there, cuts it loose and plays. I've been impressed with him early on."

QB Winston versus Atlanta's front seven

Although Jameis Winston has struggled of late, he has won all three matchups with the Falcons so far in his career. In three games against Atlanta, the Bucs QB has completed 57 of 88 passes for six touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also rushed for two touchdowns in those contests.

The Falcons' pass rush has improved since they faced the Bucs in Week 1, and bringing Winston down behind the line of scrimmage can go a long way towards earning a victory on Thursday night.

"One thing that jumps out when you watch him play is he's a terrific competitor," head coach Dan Quinn said. "It shows on where he can extend plays, how he can convert a play where he seems like he's hemmed up, and then all of a sudden he breaks a tackle and escapes out so that part's there.

"You've seen him just throw some dimes outside on the run for touchdowns so I think it's his competitive spirit that he plays with that kind of energizes everybody else around them. I've got a lot of respect for his toughness. You see him stand in there; he'll take the hit, stare right down at it, and make the throw. He's got a lot of confidence in his receivers. He's going to give them a shot at the ball."

DE Spence versus Atlanta's OTs

Noah Spence has ignited Tampa's pass rush with a sack in each of his past two games. His latest highlight occurred on Sunday, when he created a turnover by strip-sacking Oakland's David Carr in Raiders territory. A second round pick last spring, the 6-foot-2, 251-pounder lines up on both sides of the line, so it'll be up to Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder to contain him.

"He's done a good job," Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said about Spence. "I think you can somewhat look at Noah how the Atlanta folks looked at Beasley a year ago. These guys come into the league as fast pass rusher guys out of college; it maybe takes them a little bit of time to adjust to the linemen in the NFL and the speed of the NFL game. We are hoping that Noah continues to improve just like Beasley has done."

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