Before the Tampa-Atlanta game earlier this season, Tampa's rookie head coach Greg Schiano had only seen Falcons QB Matt Ryan up close as a backup. Schiano's Rutgers team in 2004 faced Boston College when Ryan was the team's No. 2 QB. He didn't face Ryan again until Week 12 earlier this season.
Schiano has seen enough of Ryan to know how good the young QB is. In preparing for Ryan earlier this year, he likely watched film of every game this season from Ryan. As the Bucs and Falcons prepare to close out the regular season, he's probably watched the games Ryan's posted since the last meeting.
On Wednesday during a conference call with the Atlanta media, Schiano said just how good he thinks Ryan is.
"I think he's in the elite status," Schiano said. "I think he's at that level. The kind of field command he has and the way he directs the operation. A lot of guys have big arms and there are a lot of guys that are mobile and all that, but it's the way they lead, the commandership they have over their offense makes them elite."
Schiano's Bucs gave Ryan a run for his money during Week 12. The Falcons narrowly slipped out of Tampa with a 24-23 win. Ryan completed 81 percent of his passes that day, his second-highest total of the season, for 353 yards and one touchdown. He also experienced the pressure that Tampa can bring, resulting in a fumble lost and an interception into the hands of Ronde Barber.
Ryan said those were the two areas he hopes to improve on in the second matchup against Tampa.
"We've got to protect the football better," Ryan said. "Two turnovers down there the last time we played. ...I made a mental mistake in terms of our pass protection. Those are two things that I've got to clean up in order for us to have a better chance."
Judging from the glowing review from Schiano, Tampa likely anticipates Ryan will have the weaknesses from the prior game cleaned up before Sunday.