This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
OPPONENT: Atlanta Falcons
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE FALCONS STAND: The Falcons are 6-6 and are in second place in the NFC South division. FALCONS HEAD COACH: Jim Mora Jr. FALCONS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Knapp FALCONS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ed Donatell FALCONS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Joe DeCamillas
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 30th (254.2 ypg) RUSHING: 28th (93.6 ypg) PASSING: 29th (160.6 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 19th (334.5 ypg) RUSHING: 19th (118.4 ypg) PASSING: 21st (216.1 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Atlanta ranks tied for 5th in the NFL with a plus-8 turnover ratio.
SCOUTING THE FALCONS
Quarterbacks Atlanta’s offense has been quite productive, but it’s been led by its running game, not the passing attack. However, Falcons QB Michael Vick plays an integral role in both parts of Atlanta’s offense. He’s struggled connecting with his receivers, completing just 51.1 percent of his passes for 1,892 yards and tossing 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. As usual, Vick’s biggest impact in Greg Knapp’s version of the West Coast offense has come in the running game, where he’s used his mobility and speed to rush 105 times on 929 yards (8.8 avg.) and two touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s defense is well aware of the fact that Vick is arguably the most dangerous player in Atlanta’s offense. Vick rushed for 14 times for 127 yards while using the college-style option to keep the Bucs defense off balance and gouge them for big yardage in Week 2. He also completed 10-of-15 passes for 92 yards in that contest. But if Tampa Bay can contain Vick and force him to throw, it will stand a good chance of winning this contest. Vick is an inconsistent passer, which is one of the main reasons why the Falcons offense, which is averaging 342 yards per game, is scoring just 19 points and converting just 34.3 percent of their third down attempts per contest.
Running Backs Vick isn’t the only offensive weapon Tampa Bay’s defense must concern itself with Sunday. Former Bucs RB Warrick Dunn is having an impressive season. He’s rushed for 952 yards (4.2 avg.) and four touchdowns while hauling in 14 passes for 98 yards. In Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay, Dunn carried the ball 21 times for 134 yards. While the Falcons did a good job of keeping the Bucs off balance by featuring the option play quite often, Tampa Bay’s defenders also had a sub-par outing in the tackling department. That’s not something they can afford to do again Sunday. Atlanta has been working rookie Jerious Norwood into his ground attack as well. He’s carried the ball 77 times for 518 yards (6.7 avg.) and two touchdowns. Atlanta’s offense is averaging an impressive 203 rushing yards per contest, and while Tampa Bay’s defense struggled to stop the run earlier in the season, it has actually done a better job in that area as of late.
Wide Receivers Although Atlanta has three former first-round picks playing at wide receiver, Vick’s favorite target is tight end Alge Crumpler, who has caught a team-leading 39 passes for 588 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Crumpler is a solid blocker, but he is also able to work the seams, especially against a young and injured secondary like Tampa Bay’s, which features struggling safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips. Falcons WR Michael Jenkins is Atlanta’s short-to-intermediate threat. He’s caught 32 passes for 365 yards (11.4 avg.) and six touchdowns. Jenkins will be covered by Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who has had mixed outings this season, but did help hold Jenkins in check in Week 2. The matchup to watch might be Falcons WR Ashley Lelie vs. Bucs CB Juran Bolden, who has really struggled as of late. Bolden has been banged up and vulnerable, especially when quarterbacks have tested him deep. That’s exactly what Lelie, who has caught 20 passes for 324 yards (16.2 avg.), could do Sunday. It will be critical for Tampa Bay’s front seven to contain Vick and Atlanta’s ground game so Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin can leave Allen and Phillips back in pass protection to help Bolden and Barber. Atlanta No. 3 WR Roddy White has caught 20 passes for 283 yards. If the Falcons to go three-receiver sets, Bucs nickel CB Torrie Cox will be covering him most of the time.
Offensive Line While Vick is a dangerous running threat, some of his runs haven’t been by design. Atlanta’s offensive line, which features left tackle Wayne Gandy, left guard P.J. Alexander, center Todd McClure, right guard Tyson Clabo and right tackle Todd Weiner, has struggled in pass protection, allowing Vick to get sacked 33 times in 12 games. The Falcons likely will come out running in an attempt to test Tampa Bay’s defensive line, which is without under tackle Anthony McFarland and right defensive end Simeon Rice, both of whom played against the Falcons but were part of a unit that simply didn’t put enough pressure on Vick in Week 2. McFarland was traded to Indianapolis, and Rice has since gone on injured reserve with an ailing shoulder. Rice’s replacement, Dewayne White, will have a tough time getting to Vick since he’s got to get by Gandy first. Weiner will also give Bucs DE Greg Spires a challenge, especially in the running game. Tampa Bay’s best chance to get after – and contain — Vick might come from defensive tackles Jon Bradley and Julian Jenkins, and Chris Hovan, who will be going up against Clabo and Alexander, respectively.
Defensive Line Atlanta’s defense has got two of the league’s most dangerous pass rushers in Patrick Kerney and John Abraham. However, the good news for the Bucs is Kerney, who had notched 4.5 sacks this season, is out for the year due to injury. That means Kerney’s backup, Chauncey Davis, will be matched up with Bucs rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Tampa Bay rookie right guard Davin Joseph will have it much worse – he will go up against Falcons under tackle Grady Jackson, whose 345-pound frame will be a handful to say the least. Jackson is at his best against the run, but the Joseph and the Bucs need to find a way to get Cadillac Williams going early and often Sunday. Joseph could spend most of the game in one-on-one situations with Jackson as the Bucs likely will have center John Wade help left guard Sean Mahan double team nose tackle Rod Coleman, who has given the Bucs fits in the past and recorded three sacks this season. Tampa Bay lucked out in Week 2 when Abraham missed the game due to injury, but he’ll play in this contest. Abraham will go up against Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis, who has had mixed outings this season. Abraham is a quick and relentless pass rusher. He’s recorded three sacks and three forced fumbles. Davis must be able to hold off Abraham, who will be attacking rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski’s blindside. The Bucs would be wise to use Gradkowski’s mobility to move him around and out of the pocket on Sunday.
Linebackers Atlanta’s linebackers are better against the run than they are against the pass. Outside linebackers Michael Boley and Keith Brooking are known to blitz on occasion. They’ve combined for 4.5 sacks. Brooking also leads the team in tackles. Middle linebacker Ed Hartwell has battled injuries this season, but will play in this contest. If, for some reason he is re-injured, Falcons LB Demorrio Williams likely would play in his place. Tampa Bay will attempt to get tight end Alex Smith, who is battling an ankle injury, involved in the passing game early as Atlanta’s linebackers are suspect in pass coverage.
Secondary Tampa Bay would like to establish the running game early with Williams and possibly fullback Mike Alstott, but Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will be tempted to come out passing against Atlanta’s secondary, which has struggled this season. Atlanta is allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 40 percent of their attempts this season. Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall is the team’s best corner, and he’s healthy. Hall has recorded a team-leading four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Hall will be matched up with Bucs WR Ike Hilliard, who is replacing Michael Clayton (injured reserve). While this might not be a favorable matchup for the Bucs, the other side of the field could present one for WR Joey Galloway, who hauled in nine passes for 161 yards vs. the Falcons in Week 2. Atlanta cornerbacks Jason Webster (groin) and Jimmy Williams (ankle) are injured. Webster, who has recorded two picks, is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Williams, a rookie, likely will start in Webster’s place. Although Williams has good speed, Galloway appears to have an extremely favorable matchup here, and the Bucs need to exploit it. The Falcons won’t make it easy for the Bucs to do that, though, as strong safety Lawyer Millloy could be left in the defensive backfield to help protect the secondary for most of the game unless the Bucs can get the running game going, which would prompt the Falcons to bring Milloy up to play near the line of scrimmage.
Special Teams Atlanta has one of the league’s most dangerous return specialists in Allen Rossum. He’s averaging 25.4 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards per punt return. Rossum hasn’t reached the end zone yet this season, but he’s completely capable of doing that each time he touches the football. Atlanta’s kicking game struggled mightily in the beginning of the season. In fact, Michael Koenen missed four field goal attempts vs. Tampa Bay in Week 2 and went 3-of-9 before being replaced by Morten Anderson. Despite being 46 years old, Anderson has made 17-of-20 (85 percent) of his field goals, including 5-of-6 attempts from the 40-49-yard range. Koenen is still on the team, carrying out the punting duties. He’s averaging 42.6 yards per attempt with a net of 36.4. Koenen has pinned 22 of his 58 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tampa Bay has been changing up its return men, using Ike Hilliard and Phillips Buchnan to handle punts and Torrie Cox and Michael Pittman to return kickoffs. FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 20 Falcons 17
Looking for the best selection of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise? Pewter Report endorses Sports Fan-Attic, with 9 Tampa Bay area locations in most major malls. To shop for Bucs merchandise on the Internet, as well as the largest selection of NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB and NASCAR, visit SportsFanAtticShop.com.