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3 Matchups to Watch During TBvsATL

The DTs versus interior O-lines

In 2015, the Buccaneers ended up fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (135.1). Many of the play calls that made their ground attack so effective were inside rushes: According to NFL Game Stats and Information, they gained 1,062 yards when running behind the left guard, center or right guard; their 6.26 yards per carry when rushing behind the LG was tops in the NFL.

Indeed, containing Doug Martin and Charles Sims between the tackles will be an important task for the Falcons. It's a task they'll be well-equipped to handle: Atlanta's run D improved substantially last year and, having added a lot of speed through the draft, is on track to get even better in 2016.

On the other side of the ball, center Alex Mack, along with guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester, will be tested by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who tallied 8.5 sacks in each of the past two seasons. Fellow DT Clinton McDonald can be dangerous, as well — especially when defending the run.

The LBs versus the QBs
Bucs linebackers shined against Atlanta in 2015, picking off Matt Ryan twice (Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David) and forcing two fumbles (both by Alexander). The Falcons are determined to cut down on turnovers this year, and preventing Tampa's LBs from making big plays would help that cause significantly. 

"(Turnovers are) going to happen. That's part of the game. But you want to take back the ones that you feel like you just gave them," Matt Ryan said. "That's kind of been the area that we focused on and I think it comes down to watching the film, talking about it in the meeting rooms, trying to take it from the meeting room to the practice field and now trying to take it from the practice field to games." 

Atlanta's LBs will also be looking for some redemption. Falcons players and coaches remember Winston's third-and-19 run that propelled the Bucs to victory last winter, and with that memory clear in their minds, they'll be motivated to keep the young QB in check.

"It was very disappointing," defensive coordinator Richard Smith recalled Wednesday. "It wasn't like us. Hopefully, we'll be able to correct that kind of play."

The CBs versus the WRs
Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter wants his offense to be explosive in 2015, and his top two wide receivers, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, can make that possible. Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant is prepared for the challenge they present and knows "we have to be ready to make those plays when (Winston) throws it up."

"It's always a great matchup going against (Evans and Jackson)," Trufant said Monday. "They've been doing it for a long time. We always compete, battle, so it's definitely a good matchup. I'm ready for it."

The Bucs' corners will have their hands full on Sunday, too. Julio Jones dominated Tampa's secondary last year, notching 255 yards on 20 receptions. But Jones will face some new corners this year: rookie Vernon Hargreaves and former teammate Brent Grimes.

Drafted No. 11 overall in March, Hargreaves was a ballhawk during the preseason, grabbing two interceptions and allowing one catch for two yards on eight targets. Grimes played his first six NFL campaigns in Atlanta and is listed as a starter on the Bucs’ official website.

"Ultra-competitive would be the first thing you think of with Brent, and certainly I know Vernon better just because I know from his background. Both of them can really get up and go," head coach Dan Quinn said. "Although they're not 6-foot, they play like they are because they can get up and they have length to go get it. Very, very competitive group that loves the challenge, so lot of respect for both of them."

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