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OPPONENT: Atlanta Falcons
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
WHERE THE FALCONS STAND: The Falcons are 3-10 and in last place in the NFC South division. FALCONS (INTERIM) HEAD COACH: Emmitt Thomas
FALCONS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Hue Jackson FALCONS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Zimmer FALCONS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Jerry Rosburg
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 19th (323 ypg) RUSHING: 10th (116 ypg) PASSING: 17th (207 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 3rd (289 ypg) RUSHING: 15th (103 ypg) PASSING: 4th (185 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Tampa Bay has won 10 of its last 14 meetings with Atlanta?
SCOUTING THE FALCONS
Quarterbacks Atlanta didn't know who its head coach was going to be after Bobby Petrino stunned the team Tuesday resigning to take the head-coaching job at Arkansas.
The Falcons named defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas the interim head coach on Wednesday morning, but that doesn't remedy all of Atlanta's problems, particularly at quarterback.
Without Michael Vick, who was recently sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in a dog fighting scandal, Atlanta has leaned on Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich, but to no avail.
The Falcons are now on their third quarterback, Chris Redman, who has done job over the past two games.
Redman (6-3, 223), a former third-round draft pick with the Baltimore Ravens, has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 479 yards and tossed four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Redman played for Petrino at Louisville. Although Petrino is no longer in Atlanta, the Falcons will continue to run the same offensive system, which is producing just 14 points per game and ranks 24th overall in the NFL.
Running Backs Inconsistent quarterback play and the absence of Vick have hindered Atlanta's running game, which is led by Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood.
The Falcons currently rank 27th in the NFL in terms of running the football.
Dunn has rushed for 601 yards and is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. He's scored three touchdowns while catching 33 passes for 213 yards.
Norwood is Atlanta's change-of-pace back. He has had trouble staying healthy. Norwood has rushed for 463 yards (6.2 avg.) and one touchdown while hauling in 25 passes for 240 yards.
Tampa Bay's defense, which is allowing 103 yards rushing per game this season, held Atlanta to 49 yards rushing on 19 attempts (2.9 avg.) when both teams met in November.
Wide Receivers Atlanta's primary weapon in the passing game is wide receiver Roddy White (6-0, 208), who has hauled in a team-leading 65 passes for 995 yards and five touchdowns. White likely will be covered by Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who is part of a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 4th against the pass. White caught just four passes for 28 yards vs. the Bucs in their first meeting.
The Falcons were without veteran WR Joe Horn when they clashed with the Bucs in November. Horn (6-1, 213) has since recovered from his hamstring injury and has caught 24 passes for 211 yards this season. Horn, who is no longer in his prime, likely will be covered by Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon.
Atlanta's offense features quite a few three-receiver sets. That means Falcons WR Michael Jenkins will be on the field and early and often. Jenkins who like White is a former first-round draft pick, has caught 51 passes for 512 yards and four touchdowns this season. Jenkins caught a team-leading nine passes for 73 yards vs. the Bucs in November. Tampa Bay CB Brian Kelly likely will spend a significant amount of time covering Jenkins.
One target Tampa Bay's defense, particularly linebackers Cato June and Derrick Brooks, and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson must account for is Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler.
The Falcons have been forced to use Crumpler more as a blocker due to key injuries along the offensive line, but he's still a threat to stretch the field and find soft spots in zone coverage. Crumpler (6-2, 262) has caught 37 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns this season. He was limited to three catches for 28 yards vs. the Bucs in November.
Atlanta is converting 37.3 percent of its third down attempts this season.
Offensive Line Injuries have hit Atlanta's offensive line hard this year. The Falcons are without both of their starting tackles, Wayne Gandy and rookie Renardo Foster, both of whom are out for the season due to their respective injuries. As a result, the Falcons offense has struggled and allowed 42 sacks through 13 regular season games.
The Falcons replaced Gandy with LT Quinn Ojinnaka, who also was injured, which prompted Atlanta to move right tackle Todd Weiner over to the left side. Weiner (6-5, 300) will be responsible for anchoring the left tackle position and protecting the blind side of Redman. He will go up against Bucs right defensive end Greg White, who notched two sacks vs. the Falcons in November.
The most physical player along Atlanta's undersized offensive line is left guard Justin Blalock. His 6-foot-4, 329-pound frame and center Todd McClure (6-1, 286) will be tough for Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan to handle, especially in the running game. However, Hovan did a good job vs. the Falcons in their first meeting.
Tampa Bay under tackle Jovan Haye will need to take advantage of the double teams Hovan takes on and win some one-on-one matchups with Atlanta right guard Kynan Forney (6-3, 307). Forney excels as a run blocker, but he is inconsistent in pass protection. Haye had an excellent outing vs. Forney in November.
With Weiner over on the left side, the Falcons have second-year player Tyson Clabo playing right tackle. Clabo (6-6, 314) will be matched up with Bucs defensive ends Kevin Carter, Greg Spires and Gaines Adams throughout most of the game.
Tampa Bay's defense did not do a good job of getting after Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels last week. The Bucs must shut down the Falcons' ground attack and put pressure on Redman early and often in order to create some much-needed turnovers in this contest.
Defensive Line The Falcons have had trouble stopping the run and getting after the quarterback this season. Atlanta is surrendering 124 yards via the ground game per contest and has notched just 19 sacks through 13 games.
Atlanta's defensive line is led by right defensive end John Abraham (6-4, 25). The speed rusher has recorded a team-leading seven sacks, but he's been inconsistent vs. the run. Abraham will go up against Bucs left tackle Donald Penn. Abraham notched one sack vs. the Bucs in November. The good news for Penn is he is at his best as a pass blocker.
Both of Atlanta's starting defensive tackles, Trey Lewis and Rod Coleman, are on injured reserve.
With Lewis on IR, Montavious Stanley (6-2, 308) occupies the nose tackle position in the Falcons defense. Stanley likely will field some double teams from Bucs rookie guard Arron Sears and center John Wade.
Jonathan Babineaux has replaced Coleman at under tackle. He has notched two sacks this season and will go up against Bucs second-year G Davin Joseph.
Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will be matched up with Falcons rookie DE Jamaal Anderson (6-6, 280). The first-round draft pick still has no sacks as a pro and has struggled mightily during his rookie campaign. Trueblood could also find himself in some situations where he goes up against Abraham, who can also play left end.
Linebackers Atlanta has two of the faster outside linebackers in the NFL in Michael Boley and Demorrio Williams. Boley leads the Falcons in tackles and is excellent in pass coverage. In fact, Boley and Williams each have notched two interceptions this season. Boley has also recorded three sacks. These players are two of the mains reasons why the Falcons are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 35.2 percent of their third downs in 2007.
Boley and Williams will make it difficult for the Bucs to get tight end Alex Smith involved in the passing game. Atlanta's lack of a pass rush has prompted the Falcons to blitz its linebackers some, which can leave the secondary vulnerable.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will look to get middle linebacker Keith Brooking (6-2, 245) in some one-on-one matchups with running backs Earnest Graham, Michael Bennett and Michael Pittman. The Bucs could really use Pittman, who has missed a significant amount of playing time this year due to an ankle injury, as he is excellent in terms of picking up blitzes.
Graham is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has scored nine touchdowns. He needs just 202 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. Graham rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries (6.0 avg.) and one touchdown vs. the Falcons in November. He should have similar success this time around.
Secondary Tampa Bay likely will attempt to run the ball early and often vs. Atlanta's suspect run defense, but Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia is returning to the starting lineup after missing two games with a bruised back.
Garcia, who has thrown just three interceptions this season, will have to be careful with the football as Atlanta's secondary is made up of cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a former first-round pick and 2006 Pro Bowler, and strong safety Lawyer Milloy, a seasoned veteran.
Hall, who has recorded a team-leading four interceptions this season, will be responsible for covering wide receiver Joey Galloway. While Hall is considered an excellent cover corner, he does tend to have some trouble defending the deep ball. In their first meeting in November, Garcia threw a 44-yard touchdown strike to Galloway, who beat Hall on the play. The Bucs likely will look to take advantage of Hall's aggressive playing style at some point in Sunday's game.
If Atlanta can defend Tampa Bay's running game with its front seven, Milloy should be in position to help Hall cover Galloway. However, if the Bucs can get the ground game going vs. the Falcons like they did in November, Milloy will have to come up in the box and help defend the run, which should give Garcia and Galloway several opportunities to connect in the passing game.
Tampa Bay likely will be without WR Ike Hilliard, who suffered a shoulder/neck injury vs. Houston last week. That means Bucs wide receivers Michael Clayton or Maurice Stovall will start in Hilliard's place and go up against Falcons CB Chris Houston, who is still looking for his first interception of the season. First-year free safety Chris Crocker will attempt to help Houston cover Clayton or Stovall in the passing game.
Special Teams Despite the fact that he's 47, Falcons kicker Morten Anderson has accounted for most of Atlanta's points this season. Despite his age, Anderson has made 19-of-22 (86.4 percent) of his field goals. However, Anderson does not have the leg strength he used to have, evidenced by the fact that he has not attempted a field goal from 50 or more yards out this season.
Atlanta punter Michael Koenen is averaging 43.5 yards per attempt and has pinned 28 of his 74 attempts inside the 20-yard line. With Bucs wide receiver Ike Hilliard injured, Koenen likely will be punting to Buchanon and/or WR Michael Spurlock. Neither player has been effective in the return game this season.
Running back Jerious Norwood is averaging a respectable 25 yards per kickoff return this season. Tampa Bay's coverage teams will be looking to rebound after allowing Houston to return a 97-yard kickoff for a touchdown last week.
The Falcons use wide receiver Adam Jennings to return punts. He is averaging just 6.4 yards per return with a long of 23. Bucs punter Josh Bidwell is having a Pro Bowl season and will look to give the Falcons a long field to work with.
FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 34 Falcons 10
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