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OPPONENT: Atlanta Falcons
WHERE: The Georgia Dome
WHERE THE FALCONS STAND: The Falcons are 1-0 and are tied with the New Orleans Saints for first 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: 31st (142.0 ypg) RUSHING: 32nd (26.0 ypg) PASSING: 28th (116.0 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 13th (271.0 ypg) RUSHING: 17th (T) (103.0 ypg) PASSING: 13th (168.0 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta in two games by a total of six points in 2005?
SCOUTING THE FALCONS
Quarterbacks Atlanta QB Michael Vick still hasn’t proven to be a good fit for the West Coast offense, but his rocket arm and explosive speed still impress opposing defenses. Although he completed just 55.3 percent of his passes in 2005, Vick had two of his better games against Tampa Bay’s No.1-ranked defense last season, throwing for a total of 467 yards and tossing four touchdowns and no interceptions in two games vs. the Buccaneers. Last week in Carolina, Vick completed 10-of-22 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns en route to an impressive 20-6 win over the Panthers. The Bucs defense, particularly its front four, must get after Vick quickly and limit his production via the ground game. Tampa Bay’s defense has the speed and tackling ability to contain Vick in the running game, and this unit has to accomplish that feat Sunday
Running Backs The Falcons had the league’s most potent ground attack last year, and they’re off to a good start this season. Last week, the Falcons rushed for 252 yards on 47 attempts (5.4 avg.) in their win over the Panthers. Former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn led the way with 132 yards on 29 carries (4.6 avg.). Although he’s got a small frame, Dunn’s elusiveness makes him tough to tackle. He rushed for 1,416 yards (4.6 avg.) in 2005 as Atlanta’s feature back in 2005. The Falcons traded power rusher T.J. Duckett to Washington, and taking his place as the team’s situational-type back is rookie Jerious Norwood, who had an impressive debut last week, rushing 10 times for 66 yards (6.6 avg.) vs. the Panthers. Tampa Bay’s defense was able to contain Vick and Dunn in two games last year, and it will have to shut down Atlanta’s ground game early and force Vick to pass in order to win this contest.
Wide Receivers Atlanta has a talented group of wide receivers, but Vick’s unpredictable arm has held this group back. Falcons WR Michael Jenkins caught three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown last week in Carolina. Last year, Jenkins managed to get open quite often vs. Bucs Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber, catching a total of nine passes for 123 yards in two games. Barber will have to do a better job of defending the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Jenkins near the line of scrimmage and re-routing him. Bucs CB Brian Kelly will go up against Falcons WR Roddy White, who caught 29 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2005. As if facing those two former first-rounders wasn’t a tall enough order, Bucs nickel CB Juran Bolden will be charged with the difficult task of covering former Denver Broncos first-round pick Ashlie Lelie, who was traded to Atlanta this summer. The Bucs will have to rely on linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, and strong safety Jermaine Phillips to help cover Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler, who is a solid run blocker and has shown the ability to find the soft spots in zone coverage against Tampa Bay in the past. Phillips needs to rebound from his sub-par performance vs. Baltimore, where he allowed Ravens TE Daniel Wilcox to get open too often. Tampa Bay can’t afford to bring eight and nine players in the box to defend the run since Atlanta’s receivers are so dangerous. That said, the Bucs front four must limit the Falcons’ ground attack and get after Vick early and often.
Offensive Line Last season, Bucs right defensive end Simeon Rice notched a total of three sacks in two games vs. the Falcons. That’s one of the reasons why Atlanta traded for New Orleans left tackle Wayne Gandy, who will attempt to hold off Tampa Bay’s speed rusher on Sunday. Rice’s name was rarely called last Sunday, and it will be critical for him to get around Gandy and after Vick early. Rice and the rest of Tampa Bay’s defensive line, made up of nose tackle Chris Hovan, under tackle Anthony McFarland and defensive end Greg Spires, will have to beware of the blocking technique implemented by offensive consultant Alex Gibbs. Left guard Matt Lehr, center Todd McClure, right guard Kynan Forney and right tackle Todd Weiner have embraced Atlanta’s cut-blocking strategy, which creates backside running lanes for Dunn and Co. and has played an integral role in Atlanta’s ability to produce impressive numbers via the ground game. However, with the exception of Gandy, Atlanta’s smaller offensive linemen struggle in pass protection.
DefensiveLine Atlanta’s defense couldn’t stop the run last year. In fact, Bucs running back Carnell ‘Cadillac” Williams rushed 50 times for 266 yards (5.3 avg.) and two touchdowns in two games vs. the Falcons in 2005. But this unit received some much-needed help when the Falcons pulled off a trade that sent New York Jets defensive end John Abraham to the Dirty Birds. Abraham had an impressive debut last week, recording five tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles vs. Carolina. But Tampa Bay might receive a lucky break as Abraham could be sidelined for this game with a groin injury. That would allow Bucs left tackle to go up against rookie Paul Carrington. Despite the fact that left guard Dan Buenning will have his hands full with 6-foot-2, 245-pound nose tackle Grady Jackson, don’t be surprised if the Bucs attempt to establish the ground attack behind Davis and Buenning. With rookie right guard Davin Joseph out, the Bucs likely will give Sean Mahan the nod on Sunday. Mahan was inconsistent in his 17 starts at right guard last year, but he played well, particularly in the running game, vs. Atlanta. Center John Wade, Mahan and right tackle Kenyatta Walker will have to help account for Falcons left end Patrick Kerney and under tackle Rod Coleman, who notched 10.5 sacks in 2005. Cadillac Williams carried the ball just eight times last week, and he missed practice Thursday with back spasms. The Bucs need Williams to carry the ball 20-plus times to establish the ground game and win this contest.
Linebackers With Atlanta starting middle linebacker Ed Hartwell likely to miss this game with a knee injury, the Falcons will probably move weakside linebacker Keith Brooking into his spot, which would allow Demorrio Williams to crack the starting lineup on the weak side. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden likely will attack Williams with his playcalling since Williams is known to get out of position often. Brooking, who has made five straight Pro Bowls, is better in pass coverage than he is vs. the run. He had four interceptions last year, including two against Bucs quarterback Chris Simms. Michael Boley will occupy the strong side of Atlanta’s defense. Bucs tight end Alex Smith should find himself in some favorable matchups with both Boley and Williams on Sunday.
Secondary Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway was held without a catch in last Sunday’s 27-0 loss to Baltimore. Atlanta managed to accomplish a similar feat in Week 10 last season when Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall held Galloway without a catch. However, Galloway bounced back in Week 15 when he caught eight passes for 97 yards. But most of Galloway’s production came after Hall left that game with a shoulder injury he sustained while returning an interception just before halftime. Hall recorded a team-high six interceptions last season and is considered an excellent cover corner. Simms struggled last week, tossing three interceptions that led to 17 points for the Ravens. He can’t afford to make those types of mistakes in this contest and must get Galloway and Michael Clayton, who will go up against CB Jason Webster, involved in this game in order to keep the chains moving. Atlanta’s secondary is improved from last year. It added safeties Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker, and second-round pick Jimmy Williams, who is the team’s nickel cornerback. The Falcons only allowed the Panthers, who were playing without WR Steve Smith, to convert just 16.7 percent of their third down attempts last Sunday. The Bucs will have to do better than that if they hope to escape Atlanta with a win over the Falcons.
Special Teams Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta twice last season, and both games were decided by last-minute field goals by kicker Matt Bryant. The Bucs enter this game without long snapper Dave Moore, who suffered a rib injury last Sunday. Keep an eye on TE Doug Jolley, who will attempt to replace Moore as the long snapper in this game. Tampa Bay’s kickoff and punt coverage units will have to account for Allen Rossum, who averaged 22.6 yards per kickoff return and 8.5 yards per punt return last season. Atlanta’s long-snapping position isn’t much stronger as former Bucs LS Boone Stutz is handling that job for the Falcons. Stutz is a quick long snapper but gets blown off the ball too easily, which could help the Bucs block a punt in this game. Atlanta Matt Koenen has made just 2-of-4 field goals this season, but both of his misses were beyond 50 yards last Sunday. Koenen also handles punting duties for the Falcons and is averaging 41.8 yards per attempt this season.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Falcons 17 Buccaneers 13
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