Can Atlanta stop Tampa Bay's running game?

The Falcons will need Paul Soliai and the defensive line to do a better job Thursday night against the run.

Coming into the season one of the things the Falcons had to improve was the rush defense. So far, the results have been minimal, as the Falcons have allowed the seventh-worst rushing yards per game in the NFL (154.5 yards per game).

That is actually more rushing yards allowed per game than was allowed last season by the Atlanta defense, as they finished with the second-worst mark in the NFL by giving up 135.8 rushing yards per game.

The Falcons gave up 139 rushing yards to the Saints in week one, with Mark Ingram getting the most yards with 60 on 13 carries. The Bengals had 170 rushing yards last Sunday, as Giovani Bernard had 90 yards on 27 carries and rookie Jeremy Hill had 74 yards on 15 carries. The longest run from scrimmage against the Falcons was a 21-yard run by New Orleans back Khiry Robinson.

Thursday’s opponent, Tampa Bay, is 11th in the NFL with a mark of 129.5 rushing yards per game in the first two weeks. The Bucs, who will have their first road game of the season when they visit the Georgia Dome, ran for 102 yards against the Panthers in week one. Most of those yards came on one run by fullback Jorvorskie Lane, who had a 54-yard run.

Then against the Rams last Sunday the Bucs did much better running for 157 yards. Bobby Rainey, a third-year player out of Western Kentucky, who was actually born in Griffin, Georgia, ran for 144 yards on 22 carries. Last season, after being acquired from the Browns off waivers, Rainey played in one game against the Falcons. It was really his breakout game as a professional, as Rainey rushed for 163 yards as Tampa Bay thrashed the Falcons 41-28 on November 11.

Two years ago Doug Martin broke out with a spectacular rookie season for Tampa Bay. He had 1,926 yards from scrimmage and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Martin, who was a late-first round pick out of Boise State, also had 49 catches as a rookie.

But Martin missed the final 10 games of the 2013 season with a torn labrum. This year Martin has just nine yards on nine carries, with one catch for seven yards out of the backfield.

Tampa Bay drafted Charles Sims in the third round in May out of West Virginia, but he had an ankle injury and is out for a while.

Can the Falcons contain Rainey and the Tampa Bay rushing attack? Well, considering the lack of success in the first two weeks, this is a big worry. Atlanta is already not getting any pressure on the quarterback, so the presence in the backfield is just not there.

Rainey is a bowling ball, a 5-foot-8 back that has proven in a short amount of time he can do some damage. Can the inside presence of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson stop Rainey up the middle? Their ability to slow Tampa Bay’s running game may determine Atlanta’s ability to win its second game of the season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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