WHERE: The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia
SPREAD: Bucs by 2.5
WHERE THE FALCONS STAND: The Falcons are 1-2 and in last place in the NFC South Division.
FALCONS HEAD COACH: Dan Reeves
FALCONS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Dan Reeves
FALCONS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Wade Phillips
FALCONS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: John DeCamillas
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 20th RUSHING: 26th PASSING: 14th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 5th RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 7th
HOW THE FALCONS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 19th RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 26th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 11th RUSHING: 24th PASSING: 6th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Falcons QB Michael Vick vs. Bucs WLB Derrick Brooks: Atlanta QB Michael Vick is the read deal. He's a first-year starter and second-year player, but he's playing well and staying away from rookie mistakes. Vick can beat teams with both his arm and his feet, which makes him hard to defend. Vick leads the team in rushing with 184 yards on 24 carries (7.7 avg.). He's completed 62.2 percent of his passes this season, mostly because Falcons head coach Dan Reeves encourages Vick to make his progressions quickly and to throw to running back Warrick Dunn on swing passes and screens.
Vick is getting help from his supporting cast, but if Tampa Bay's defense can contain the former Virginia Tech superstar, they'll stand a great chance of stopping Atlanta's offensive attack. Tampa Bay's linebackers will play a huge part in containing Vick. Derrick Brooks, MLB Shelton Quarles and SLB Al Singleton have all played well this season, but they'll have to be on their A game in order to stop Vick from moving the chains. Brooks has had a sensational year. He's recorded 25 tackles, three interceptions and one sack and scored two touchdowns. If Tampa Bay's defense is going to contain Vick and the Falcons offense, Brooks and Co. will need to make tackles in the open field in stay disciplined in their pursuit of Vick in the backfield.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Falcons have lost their two games by a total of four points this season?
CAN TAMPA BAY'S OFFENSE MOVE THE BALL AGAINST ATLANTA'S 3-4 DEFENSE?:
The Buccaneers offense scored four touchdowns against the Bengals last Sunday, which was a big step in the right direction for that unit. But how will they fare against Atlanta's 3-4 defense? Well, the Falcons are playing a 3-4 scheme, but the Bucs have faced that type of defense twice this season (at Houston, at Baltimore) and played fairly well. Atlanta's defense is allowing an average of 305 yards and 18 points per game. While its defense is only allowing 178 yards passing per game, the Falcons defense is allowing nearly 130 yards rushing per game, which bodes well for Tampa Bay's struggling rushing attack, which is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season.
TAMPA BAY'S SECONDARY MUST CONTAIN WR FINNERAN:
Atlanta wide receiver Brian Finneran is a big reason why Michael Vick has been successful this season. Finneran has caught 14 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns in three games this season. His 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame will make it difficult for 5-foot-10, 184-pound CB Ronde Barber to contain him. He's quick, but so is Barber. Tampa Bay's Pro Bowl cornerback also leads the defense in tackles this season and plays against taller receivers very well.
ATLANTA'S RUSHING ATTACK ONE OF THE MOST DIVERSE IN THE LEAGUE:
Some teams might have to pick their poison when they try to stop Atlanta's rushing attack. The Falcons backfield features Michael Vick, who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and is arguably the fastest quarterback in the NFL. It also features former Bucs tailback Warrick Dunn, who has carried the ball 38 times for 121 yards (3.2 ypc.) and he's also caught nine passes for 52 yards this season. Dunn has scored four touchdowns in three games this season. And last, but not least, rookie RB T.J. Duckett is an all-around back. He's rushed 29 carries for 138 yards (4.8 avg.). He's not as much of a threat in the passing game, but his 6-foot, 250-pound frame makes him a tough player to bring down. Tampa Bay's defense is only allowing 84 yards rushing per game, but Atlanta's rushing attack has averaged 148 yards per game this season. Something has to give on Sunday. Which unit will it be?
BEWARE OF ATLANTA'S KICKOFF RETURN MEN:
The Falcons have two solid kickoff returners, which will make it difficult for the Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia's troops, who have been solid in coverage this season, to give Atlanta's offense a short field to work with. Allen Rossum is averaging 26 yards per return and has a long of 43 yards this season. Travis Jervey is averaging 35.8 yards per return and has a long of 67 yards. While they haven't returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season, both Rossum and Jervey are fast and capable of bringing one to the house on any given return.
BUCS MUST WIN TURNOVER BATTLE:
Atlanta's defense has created seven turnovers this season. They've forced four fumbles and intercepted three passes in three games. Tampa Bay's defense has created 11 turnovers in four games. The defense has intercepted seven passes and returned three of them for touchdowns. The team that wins the turnover battle on Sunday will stand a great chance of winning the game.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the importance of stoppng QB Michael Vick:
"It's very important. This guy on Astroturf has blinding speed. He can hurt you bad throwing or running. We've got to do a great job of collapsing the pocket and containing Michael Vick. We've got to get to him. That's football and that's the NFL. You have to get after the other team's quarterback the way they do ours."
Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson on Atlanta QB Michael Vick:
"There's always a place for anybody. The last three Super Bowl champs, Kurt (Warner), Trent (Dilfer), and (Tom) Brady they are not those guys. Everybody wants to say Donovan McNabb, Charlie Ward those are great quarterbacks too, but there are different ways to skin a cat. It takes a total team effort and they (the Falcons) are playing to Michael's strengths. He's getting better in time. I thought it was a smart move last year, that they felt like he wasn't ready to play. It's kind of like what happened to Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb, they didn't want to throw him in the fire too quick. His physical tools are unbelievable; you could have said that in middle school with him. Not too many quarterbacks run a 4.3, but I don't think a quarterback needs that. Look at every champion; sometimes the quarterback is a 5 flat guy. But he is incredible to watch. We have actually watched some film of him and sometimes you sit there and are like, ‘wow,' he's impressive."
Bucs DT Warren Sapp on QB Michael Vick:
"Don't be underestimated on (his speed). I think it's his ability to get outside the pocket then throw a rope. He is not throwing lob passes that get behind people. He's throwing it on a rope 45-50 yards and you need to be able to adjust to that and not allow him to do that. It's going to be tough, but that's what we get paid for."
Tampa Bay LB Derrick Brooks on his impression of Vick:
"He looks impressive on film, their whole football team does for that matter. It's another divisional opponent, going on the road, we need to find a way to win and it's going to be a big challenge for our defense, but we're up for it. We need to do our jobs. We can't change our defense up for one player. We are at our best when we go out and execute and make them make adjustments to us, not us making adjustments to them. Some teams (spy him) but we just run our defense and sometimes spying is part of our package. For the most part we run the defense that Monte (Kiffin) calls."
Sapp on whether or not there's extra incentive this week since he's never sacked QB Michael Vick:
Can Tampa Bay escape Atlanta with a win on Sunday? Absolutely. But don't think the Bucs can roll over the Falcons like they did the Bengals last Sunday. The Dirty Birds have assembled a solid team this season and they could easily be 3-0.
It's no secret that Falcons QB Michael Vick is fast, but the Bucs defense is arguably the fastest in the league and they love to play on Astroturf because it's such a quick surface. Atlanta has some weapons on both sides of the football, but if Tampa Bay's defense can contain Vick, they'll likely win this game.
The last time Tampa Bay traveled to The Georgia Dome to take on Atlanta, approximately 25,000 Bucs fans were in attendance. That won't likely be the case this time around, which will make it awfully noisy inside the dome when Tampa Bay's offense has the ball. The Bucs lost its first divisional game to the Saints in Week 1 and they certainly can't afford to lose to the Falcons, but with the Bucs, Panthers and Saints tied at 3-1 and in first place of the NFC South Division, Atlanta can't afford to lose, either. The fact that Atlanta comes into this game well rested due to their bye week bodes well for the Falcons.
The Bucs will have to get better production from running back Michael Pittman in this game. He's only averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season, but he might find some success against Atlanta's suspect run defense.
Tampa Bay's defense has posted two shutouts this season. Both were against teams that had first-year starting quarterbacks (Baltimore, Cincinnati). Atlanta QB Michael Vick is a first-year starter, but hasn't played like one. The Bucs probably won't post a shutout against the Falcons, who are scoring an average of 28 points per game this season, but they need to create some turnovers and get to Vick early and often. Expect the Falcons to blitz often and give the Bucs offense some problems, which means Tampa Bay's defense may be the difference in this one.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 17 Falcons 13
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