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OPPONENT: Atlanta Falcons
WHERE: The Georgia Dome
WHERE THE FALCONS STAND: The Falcons are 6-3 and tied with the Buccaneers for 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: 21st (313.4 ypg) RUSHING: 18th (108.8 ypg) PASSING: 19th (204.7 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 2nd (253.8 ypg) RUSHING: 5th (88.0 ypg) PASSING: 4th (165.8 ypg)
ATLANTA FALCONS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 15th (332.9 ypg) RUSHING: 1st (179.1 ypg) PASSING: 28th (153.8 ypg)
ATLANTA FALCONS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 20th (325.2 ypg) RUSHING: 20th (325.2 ypg) PASSING: 16th (208.6 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …the Bucs have won seven of their last nine games vs. the Falcons?
SCOUTING THE FALCONS
Quarterbacks Falcons QB Michael Vick is one of the most exciting playmakers in the NFL. He’s arguably one of the fastest players in the league, and he’s got a cannon for an arm.
Vick, a lefty, has thrown for 1,160 yards and tossed eight touchdowns while carrying the ball 64 times for 364 yards (5.4 avg.) and four touchdowns en route to helping the Falcons get off to a 6-3 start.
While he’s extremely dangerous when he escapes the pocket, Vick is not that effective when forced to throw from it. Vick has completed just 58.8 percent of his passes and tossed six interceptions this season. Vick has completed just 54.3 percent of his career passes.
Tampa Bay’s defense has the discipline, speed and sound tackling technique to contain Vick, but getting pressure on him is critical. He’s fumbled four times and been sacked 18 times in nine games this season. Still, the Falcons are ranked 9th in points scored (24.1 avg.) this season, and Vick has played an integral role in the offense’s success.
Running Backs Vick used to be Atlanta’s biggest running threat, but not anymore. Falcons RB Warrick Dunn, who played with the Bucs from 1997-01, is having a career-type year. He’s rushed for 896 yards (5.1 avg.) and three touchdowns while hauling in 19 passes for 131 yards and one score.
Dunn, who is quite elusive, has been extremely effective on first down and screen plays, which is one of the main reasons why the Falcons are converting 43.8 percent of their third down attempts this season.
The Falcons have made a habit of using Dunn and Vick to get the offense within striking distance. From there, they turn to 260-pound RB T.J. Duckett near the goal line, where he’s scored four times this season. Duckett has also rushed for 214 yards (4.4 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s run defense has been solid this season, but last week was another story. The Bucs allowed the Redskins to produce 185 yards via the ground game on 33 carries.
Missed tackles and bad angles contributed to Tampa Bay’s inability to slow down Washington’s running game. With Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks and starting left defensive end Greg Spires ailing from hamstring and shoulder injuries, respectively, the Falcons’ No. 1-ranked run offense could present some serious problems for Tampa Bay’s defense on Sunday.
Wide Receivers Vick doesn’t have the greatest receivers to work with. His favorite target in the passing game is tight end Alge Crumpler, who has hauled in a team-leading 38 passes for 480 yards (12.6 avg.) and two touchdowns. In its last trip to The Georgia Dome, Tampa Bay’s defense allowed Crumpler to work the seams by catching four passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs will rely on strong safety Jermaine Phillips and LBs Ryan Nece and Derrick Brooks to cover Crumpler, who is one of the league’s best tight ends.
Expect Atlanta offensive coordinator Greg Knapp to attempt to exploit Tampa Bay’s banged up secondary, which will be without starting free safety Will Allen (knee). If Dexter Jackson (hamstring) can’t play in his place, the Bucs will be forced to start Kalvin Pearson or rookie Donte Nicholson, which may prompt Vick to test these young and inexperienced players by throwing deep to Crumpler and Co.
Falcons WR Brian Finneran uses his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame to get himself open in the passing game. He’s caught 31 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns this season. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber will spend most of the game covering Finneran. Although he appears to be at a disadvantage with his 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame, Barber, who has notched a team-high 11 passes defensed and 66 tackles, has the skills to limit Finneran’s production.
Bucs CB Brian Kelly will be matched up vs. Falcons second-year WR Michael Jenkins, who has caught 15 passes for 249 yards (16.6 avg.) and one touchdown. Kelly leads the Bucs defense in interceptions with three, and he should be able to contain Jenkins.
Atlanta doesn’t normally deploy three-receiver sets, but when it does WR Roddy White will get on the field. White has caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown this season. Bucs CB Juran Bolden, who spent nearly four years playing with the Falcons, will see action when White does, and he’s looking forward to facing his old team.
Offensive Line Atlanta’s offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the offense’s ability to establish the ground game on a consistent basis. Falcons left tackle Kevin Shaffer, left guard Matt Lehr, center Todd McClure, Kynan Forney and Todd Weiner have each played a part in dominating defensive linemen and engaging defenders at the second level in an effort to open up holes for Dunn, Duckett and Vick.
Neither Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen nor its linebackers did a good job of defending the run vs. Washington last Sunday. If the Bucs are going to halt the Falcons’ ground attack and sustain a potent pass rush, right defensive end Simeon Rice will need to lead the way. Rice, who has notched a team-leading seven sacks this season, had a breakout game last Sunday by recording two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The speed rusher will need to be just as disruptive vs. Shaffer if the Bucs are going limit the production of the Falcons offense.
Bucs defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan should be able to win the majority of battles vs. Forney and Lehr, especially on passing downs. Should Spires not be able to play vs. the Falcons, backup DE Dewayne White, who has recorded two sacks, will start at left end.
If Tampa Bay’s front four can penetrate Atlanta’s offensive backfield, they must be careful not to over pursue or miss tackles on Vick, who has amazing escapability and is capable of breaking off a big run on any given play. The Bucs linebackers must play with great gap control in order to limit the production the Falcons have via the ground game.
Defensive Line Atlanta’s defensive line gave Tampa Bay’s offensive line fits in The Georgia Dome last year by sacking Bucs QB Brian Griese seven times and forcing the O-line to commit a good portion of the 13 penalties the Bucs were called for on that dreadful Sunday.
Of course, the Bucs offensive line looks much different now, featuring three new starters in LT Anthony Davis, LG Dan Buenning and RG Sean Mahan. Whether or not that makes a difference remains to be seen.
The Falcons have a suspect run defense that is allowing an average of 117 yards per game in that department. However, the Bucs have failed to rush for over 100 yards in three straight contests, and they’ll need rookie RB Cadillac Williams to find some running lanes in order to break that dreadful streak on Sunday.
The Bucs can’t afford to fall behind early and/or be forced to throw the ball more often than not. That scenario would put Falcons DE Patrick Kerney in a position to get to Bucs QB Chris Simms, who was not sacked last Sunday en route to victory.
Kerney has notched four sacks and one forced fumble this season. He’ll go up against Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker. Kerney notched a career-high 13 sacks, including 2.5 quarterback takedowns vs. the Bucs, en route to making the Pro Bowl last season. Look for Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden to leave tight ends Anthony Becht and Alex Smith in to help Walker hold off the dangerous pass rusher on Sunday.
The defender that poses the biggest threat to Simms is Falcons under tackle Rod Coleman, who has recorded a team-leading seven sacks through nine games. Coleman made a habit out of disrupting Tampa Bay’s entire offensive backfield, especially in the game played in Atlanta, last season. He recorded two sacks vs. former Bucs G Cosey Coleman. Now it will be up to Mahan to hold off the Falcons relentless pass rusher.
Davis won’t be protecting Simms’ blindside, but he will be attempting to hold off another dangerous pass rusher in Falcons RE Brady Smith, who has recorded three sacks. Look for the Bucs to attempt to run behind the 330-pound Davis as he appears to have a sizeable advantage vs. the 274-pound Smith. The Bucs must find a way to establish the running game in order to keep the chains moving on Sunday. The Falcons are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 29 percent of their third down attempts.
With Bucs center John Wade likely to help Mahan double team Coleman, Buenning will have to win some one-on-one battles with Falcons nose tackle Chad Lavalais, who has recorded 1.5 sacks this season.
This week is as good as any for Tampa Bay to get its running game going again. Last Sunday, the Falcons allowed Packers no-name RB Sam Gado to rush for 103 yards on 25 carries (4.1 avg.) and score two touchdowns.
Linebackers Atlanta defensive coordinator Ed Donatell doesn’t just rely on his defensive linemen to get to the quarterback. He uses a variety of blitz packages, too. In fact, the Falcons linebackers have notched five of the team’s 25 quarterback takedowns.
Right outside linebacker Demorrio Williams is the Derrick Brooks of Atlanta’s defense. He’s fast and a sure tackler. Williams has notched a team-leading 78 tackles and three sacks. He’s also dangerous in pass coverage, where Williams has recorded two interceptions and three passes defensed.
One of the reasons why the Falcons are struggling to defend the run is because they are playing without starting MLB Edgerton Hartwell, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Keith Brooking has replaced Hartwell in the starting lineup, and he’s done a decent job, notching 63 tackles and two sacks. Although he’s recorded two interceptions and four passes defensed, Brooking tends to struggle in coverage, which might allow Bucs RBs Michael Pittman and Williams to make some plays.
Falcons WLB Michael Boley is a talented rookie who has been inconsistent thus far. Boley has recorded 24 tackles and one forced fumble, but he’s not great against the run or the pass. Look for Simms to look for Smith and Becht in the passing game if they get a one-on-one matchup with Boley on Sunday.
Secondary The Falcons have one of the best cover corners in the NFL in DeAngelo Hall. A first-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Hall has adjusted to life in the NFL quite quickly. He’s notched 46 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions this season. It looks like Bucs WR Michael Clayton (bone bruise) will be ready to take the field again after missing the Redskins game, but he’ll have a difficult time getting open vs. Hall if he’s not 100 percent.
With Clayton likely to struggle vs. Hall, look for Simms to throw to WR Joey Galloway, who has hauled in a team-leading 51 passes for 862 yards (16.9 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Galloway appears to have a decisive advantage vs. Falcons CB Jason Webster, who isn’t nearly as fast as Tampa Bay’s speedy receiver. Webster has, however, notched 51 tackles and forced two fumbles this season.
The Falcons would like to use SS Keion Carpenter to help defend the run on Sunday. He’s notched 35 tackles, one interception and four passes defensed. But putting him in the box will leave Webster in one-on-one matchups with Galloway, which would be an extremely favorable matchup for the Bucs. That said, the Falcons could use FS Bryan Scott (43 tackles, five passes defensed) to help defend the run, which would allow Carpenter to stay back in coverage.
Gruden said earlier this week that he plans to get WR Edell Shepherd more involved in the offense after his impressive performance vs. the Redskins. That could be difficult to do, though. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard is currently Tampa Bay’s No. 3 receiver, and deploying four-receiver sets would put an awful lot of pressure on the team’s offensive line, which will need help from the tight ends in order to hold off Atlanta’s potent pass rush.
Special Teams For the most part, Atlanta has been sound on special teams. Kicker Todd Peterson is perfect on the season, drilling 12-of-12 field goal attempts. Punter Michael Koenen is averaging 42.2 yards per punt and has pinned five of his 44 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
Bucs PR Mark Jones is serviceable, but neither he nor KR Torrie Cox, who is averaging just 19.3 yards per return, are perceived as dangerous return men. Of course, the Bucs, who have the worst average starting field position (23-yard line) in the NFL, hope that changes on Sunday.
The Falcons rely on CB Allen Rossum to return punts and kickoffs. He’s extremely quick and capable of scoring in just seconds. Rossum is averaging 22.3 yards per kickoff return and 5.7 yards per punt return this season. Although he’s been in a slump, Rossum will likely be licking his chops after watching Tampa Bay’s kickoff coverage unit allow Washington KR Ladell Betts return a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in Tampa last Sunday.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Falcons 27 Buccaneers 17
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