This week we head up to Atlanta and hear from Roger Hendler and get his analysis of the Falcons. He has some very interesting opinions on how the Buccaneers will fare in the Georgia Dome.

LH:The Falcons are off to their best start in years with almost the same core players as last season. Is Head Coach Dan Quinn making that much of a difference?

RH:In some ways he is but, you know as well as I, it’s all about the players. They have made some changes in the offensive line. Plus, they signed former first-round pick Jake Long to step into the offensive line soon. The Falcons knew he had injury issues but, when healthy, he is a good football player and the Falcons still need help on the offensive line. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line has improved immensely and the secondary has improved quite a bit as well. They picked up CBs Desmond Trufont and Robert Alford along with FS Willie Moore so they really upgraded their defensive backfield. The bottom line is the defensive line is improved and the offensive line, though better, is still in transitional mode.

LH:Is there one guy we can look at that has been that game-changer for the Falcons?

RH:The one guy who has carried the ball, literally and figuratively, is Devonta Freeman. He was just voted Offensive Rookie of the Month especially after starting RB Tevin Coleman was injured. That’s one spot they didn’t expect to see huge production and the Falcons are getting it from the Florida State product.

LH:Is the Falcons receivers as beat up as we’re hearing ?

RH:Yes they are. Julio Jones is suffering from the normal wear-and-tear of being a wide receiver in the NFL but he says he feels good. Roddy White is hoping to get healthy enough to be the major contributor that he was in the past. Leonard Hankerson is the one who may not play this week due to injuries and his place will be taken by Justin Hardy if he can go.

LH:Atlanta doesn’t use their fullback in a traditional sense, do they?

RH:That’s correct. Patrick DiMarco is the fullback but his main job is to catch passes thrown by Matt Ryan. He’s really a fullback in name only.

LH:Roger, the Falcons are going to go as “Matty Ice” goes. True statement?

RH:Leo, there’s no doubt about it and it’s been like that since the 2008 season. You got to give credit to Mike Smith and his coaching staff. They really turned it around when they came into town. If you just look at the offensive side you had Mike Mularkey as the offensive coordinator and Bill Musgrave as the quarterbacks coach.   That was a great staff to tutor Ryan in his early development and Dirk Kortter continued that development. You see his influence on a weekly basis in Tampa now with QB Winston. I was so impressed when he took ownership for making the mistake on the goal-line call that cost the Bucs the game.

LH:Has anyone had a better start to the season than Julio Jones?

RH:Maybe there has been but, I’m with you on this one. He’s had a great first six games even with the talk of him not being completely healthy. He seems to be dealing with any injuries and answers the bell ever week. He’s also a very bright young man. Not brash or outgoing when you talk to him. A pleasure too deal with.

LH:Last week the Falcons only score 10 points against Tennessee. Last year they would have had no chance of winning but their defense holds the Titans to seven. Are the two Clemson draft picks having an effect on the Atlanta defense?

RH:Yes, Beasley and Jarrett have been huge additions. I think what your going to see from Victor Beasley are greater contributions as he learns the Falcons system especially when it looks like they’re going to use him all over the place. Inside and outside. Yes, he’s thin right now but the range he has is phenomenal. The only problem we have with him is he is such a quiet young man. You have a dickens of a problem getting anything out of him. Grady Jarrett is in the rotation at nose tackle and is starting to develop as well. Considering right after he was drafted his family’s house burnt down, he’s making great strides.

LH:Roger, who wins Sunday and why?

RH:I have to pick the Bucs to win even though the game is in the Georgia Dome. Falcons are really banged up and I expect the Buccaneers to come back with a great effort after the way they lost to the Redskins last week. It’s going to be a close game and I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta wins. It’s an NFC South division game and the Falcons are only a game behind the undefeated Panthers. I don’t see the blowout that we rsaw in Atlanta last season. The Georgia Dome has become the Bucs “House of Horrors” lately but their biggest fear is to have the Falcons within a score at the end of the game with the football. Then we’ll probably see why they call him Matty Ice and that doesn’t bode well for Tampa Bay.