The Buccaneers (1-8) take on the Atlanta Falcons (2-7) and are trying to build upon their first win of the season on Monday night. What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game?
1. STAY AWAY FROM FALCONS SAFETIESBuccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon has thrown nine touchdowns this season and only four interceptions, which is impressive for a rookie. Glennon has become the only Tampa Bay rookie to throw a touchdown pass in six consecutive games, and must continue to limit his mistakes.
In the first meeting between Atlanta and Tampa Bay, strong safety William Moore blitzed on the first third down opportunity and sacked Glennon, forcing a fumble that was recovered by free safety Thomas DeCoud, who scooped and scored from 30 yards out. That defensive touchdown gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
DeCoud, who has 43 tackles on the year, has been in the league six years and has 14 interceptions, four forced fumbles, three sacks and three fumble recoveries. Moore has 49 tackles on the year, one sack, one forced fumble and an interception. During his four-year career, the Missouri product has recorded 252 tackles, 12 interceptions, six forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks. Both safeties are dangerous and Glennon needs to keep a close eye on DeCoud and Moore on Sunday.
2. ON GUARD, ATLANTAOne of the reasons why the Buccaneers have had great success running the ball the past two weeks is improved play at the guard position. Jamon Meredith was inserted at left guard for the injured Carl Nicks after the team tried and failed with different lineups that included Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen and Jeremy Zuttah at that position. Meredith helped the Bucs run for 205 yards on 37 carries (5.4 avg.) in Seattle and 140 yards on 37 carries (3.8 avg.) in last week’s win against Miami.
Right guard Davin Joseph struggled at the beginning of the season, but has gotten healthier as the year has progressed. He’s played great football the last two weeks and has been stout in pass protection and also in the run game. If Joseph and Meredith can move the line of scrimmage and take advantage of some injuries at the Falcons’ defensive tackle position, the Bucs will be able to run the ball between the tackles and protect Glennon.
Atlanta is banged up at the defensive tackle position heading into the Tampa Bay game. Peria Jerry, who has 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2013, has a toe injury and is listed as questionable. Corey Peters, who has 28 tackles and three sacks on the year, has a knee injury and is also listed as questionable. That leaves Jonathan Babineaux as the only healthy defensive tackle with starting experience and production. Babineaux has 26 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble this season.
3. WHICH RUN DEFENSE WILL SHOW UP?Over the past month, Tampa Bay’s run defense has had two of its best outings against the run as well as two of its worst efforts at stopping the run. In the first contest against in Atlanta, the Bucs held the Falcons to just 18 yards on 18 carries (1.0 avg.) without starting running back Steven Jackson. The next week, Tampa Bay surrendered 129 yards on 27 carries (4.8 avg.) and two touchdowns in a home game against Carolina.
The following week, the Bucs traveled to Seattle where the Seahawks ran for 198 yards on 35 carries (5.7 avg.) with one touchdown. But Tampa Bay rebounded on Monday against Miami, holding the Dolphins to just two yards on 14 carries (0.1 avg.) and zero touchdowns. That set a franchise record for the fewest rushing yards in team history.
The common denominator between Carolina and Seattle is mobile quarterbacks. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scrambled for 50 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries (4.5 avg.), while Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson ran for 36 yards on six carries (6.0 avg.) and one touchdown. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan isn’t mobile at all, so the Bucs should be able to limit the Falcons’ ground game despite Jackson’s return.
4. GET JACKSON MORE INVOLVED IN THE PASSING GAMEBucs wide receiver Vincent Jackson had his best game of the season against Atlanta earlier this season, catching 10 passes for 138 yards (13.8 avg.) and two touchdowns, including a season-long 59-yarder. Since that game, Jackson’s production has been on the decline.
The next week against Carolina, Jackson caught just five passes for 79 yards, and followed that performance with a two-catch, 11-yard showing at Seattle, which was his worst showing of the season. Jackson caught just three passes for 28 yards in the win over Miami and needs to get more involved in the passing game. Jackson, who is battling a knee injury and is listed as probable for Sunday’s game, was targeted 22 times against Atlanta, and has only been targeted 25 times over the last three games combined, an average of eight times per contest.
5. RUN RAINEY, RUNBucs running back Bobby Rainey was the surprise hero on Monday night, filling in for Mike James, who suffered a broken ankle on the first drive of the game. Rainey rushed for 45 yards on eight carries, including a big 31-yard run down to the Miami 1-yard line, which set up his 1-yard touchdown on the next play.
While Rainey isn’t ready for a full-time job yet, it is important that he break off a big run or two to move the chains against the Falcons. Rainey has more speed than Brian Leonard, who is more of a short-yardage power back. In order for the Bucs offense to have balance, Rainey has to step up and start becoming Tampa Bay’s lead halfback against Atlanta.
6. SACK ATTACK In their first meeting of the year, the Buccaneers hardly touched Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Atlanta’s QB completed 20-of-26 passes for 273 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Ryan also wasn’t sacked and only pressured a few times. Tampa Bay has had its difficulties getting to the quarterback this year, registering just 19 sacks in nine games, led by linebacker Lavonte David, who has five.
Despite Miami giving up 35 sacks in eight games and missing two starting offensive linemen, the Bucs couldn’t get to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill until the last two minutes of the game where the team recorded two big sacks. It is imperative that defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who each have three sacks, get penetration and get in Ryan’s face to disrupt his rhythm and timing – or better yet, get him on the ground.
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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