WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 4
WHERE THE FALCONS STAND: The Falcons are 8-3-1 and are in second 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: Joe DeCamillas
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 24th RUSHING: 31st PASSING: 16th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 6th PASSING: 1st
HOW THE FALCONS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 13th RUSHING: 3rd PASSING: 24th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 15th RUSHING: 20th PASSING: 15th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick vs. Tampa Bay right defensive end Simeon Rice: Tampa Bay's defense recorded four sacks against Atlanta on October 6th and Rice had two of those. One of Rice's sacks put Vick out of the game when these teams first met. Rice currently leads the league in sacks with 14.5 and he'll need to get after Vick often Sunday. Vick is the arguably the best athlete in the league. He leads his team in rushing with 648 yards and is averaging 8.1 yards per carry. While Falcons head coach Dan Reeves has designed running plays for his starting quarterback, Vick is probably at his best when passing plays aren't there and he takes off with the ball. Vick is a lefty, which means Rice will be rushing opposite of his blind side, but look for Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to move Rice over to left end on occasion as they did in the first contest. While Vick is mobile, he has attempted to become a solid pocket passer, which has translated into too many sacks this season. He's been taken down 27 times this year.
DID YOU KNOW…
…Tampa Bay can clinch a playoff berth with a win against Atlanta and a loss or tie by the NY Giants?
STOP FALCONS' DIVERSE RUSHING ATTACK:
Not only does Atlanta have Vick, who is averaging 8.1 yards per carry and has scored eight rushing touchdowns this season, but they have two very different types of backs in rookie T.J. Duckett and former Bucs RB Warrick Dunn. Duckett is a powerful back and the fact that he weighs 250 pounds means he's a tough player to bring down. Duckett has rushed for 451 yards and four touchdowns this season. Dunn is, as Bucs fans will remember, a smallish back and he is also averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Dunn has rushed for 627 yards and he's produced six rushing touchdowns this season. Dunn sprained his ankle last week against Minnesota, but he will probably play against Tampa Bay. While Atlanta rushed for just 70 yards on Oct. 6, Duckett averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 11 attempts. Don't be surprised if Reeves gives Duckett some more carries this time around. Dunn was ineffective against Tampa Bay's defense in the last contest, rushing for just 14 yards on nine carries (1.5 avg.).
TURNOVERS WILL BE KEY:
Tampa Bay's defense has recorded a whopping 25 interceptions this season and they notched four of those against Atlanta on Oct. 6, but Vick didn't thrown any of them. When Vick was injured, backup QB Doug Johnson came in and tossed all four picks. Believe it or not, Vick has thrown just three interceptions this season. Reeves has done a great job of having Vick progress quickly through his reads. Vick also likes to dump the ball off to Dunn on swing and screen passes. Dunn has hauled in 36 passes, which ranks second on the team. He has gained 281 yards and scored two touchdowns via the passing game. The Bucs' defense did a nice job of eliminating Dunn from Atlanta's game plan in October. He only caught two passes for 13 yards.
ESTABLISH THE RUNNING GAME:
Tampa Bay's offensive rushing attack hasn't gotten on track this season, but they had some success pounding the ball against Atlanta's 3-4 defense in October. Bucs running back Michael Pittman carried the ball 19 times for 62 yards (3.3 avg.), which was one of his better outings this season. Pittman's long was an 11-yarder, but he came close to breaking some big ones. While Pittman received the majority of carries against Atlanta in October, don't be surprised if fullback Mike Alstott, who received just two carries in that contest, receives the majority of carries this time around.
PROTECT QB JOHNSON:
Tampa Bay's offensive line played horrible last Sunday, but starting quarterback Brad Johnson was only sacked twice by Atlanta in October. Atlanta left end Patrick Kerney has recorded eight sacks this season, but Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker didn't allow Kerney to record a sack in the first meeting between these two teams. Tampa Bay's offensive line actually did a pretty nice job of giving Johnson time to throw. He threw for 261 yards against Atlanta's defense, which is allowing teams to gain 326 yards (121 rushing, 205 passing) of total offense this season.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks on Falcons QB Michael Vick:
"He had some incredible runs on Sunday. You have to give him credit for his ability. He broke some tackles and made some plays, and you have to give him credit. The bottom line is he is doing what it takes to make plays. And obviously stopping him running is something we need to make him do and force him to throw the ball. We need to make him one-dimensional. I'm going to be myself (on Sunday). I hope they make their adjustments for me. People are trying to knock this guy and you are not going to knock this guy out."
Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson on the Atlanta Falcons:
"They have a very good team. They have not lost since the last time we played them, and we knew then that they were good the first time we played. I'm sure they are feeling confident with what they are doing and it's obviously working on both ends and especially on special teams. But I feel good about how things are going and how we are preparing. We will have to play turnover free, mistake-free football, and that's what has got us to where we are and that is also one of Atlanta's strong points, the turnover ratio."
Brad Johnson on the playoff implications in Sunday's game:
"Playoff spots are always on the line every time you line up, so nothing is different from that standpoint. Obviously it's a division game, it's a game that we feel we need to have, being at home, and we need to step up to the challenge. It is going to be a great week of preparation for us and the looks are going to be very simple, but they are very good at what they do. We need to be able to pound the ball, be efficient in our passing game, and score once we get into the red zone."
Bucs SS John Lynch on the difference between Falcons running backs T.J. Duckett and Warrick Dunn:
"It's different, but Duckett's average is 4.0 a carry and Warrick's is 3.9 so the results are pretty similar. So I would expect them to see two tight ends and try to pound Duckett especially with Warrick a little banged up. But we will see. We will be prepared for everything. That is one thing the Falcons do well, they give you a lot of different looks and a lot of different plays from those looks. So we will have to be prepared for a lot."
Bucs WR Keenan McCardell on his team's game against the Falcons:
"It's a big game for us. With a win we can push ourselves back into a playoff spot and that much closer to a divisional championship. So we need this one in the worst way. I think that we need to go out and execute and cut down on the turnovers."
Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta back in October, 20-6, but this Falcons team will be much different than the one the Pewter Pirates faced then. Atlanta is one of the hottest teams in the National Football League thanks to the phenomenal play of second-year QB Michael Vick. They haven't lost a game in eight straight contests (Atlanta's last loss was to Tampa Bay on Oct. 6).
Vick was obviously intimidated from the start of the last contest. Tampa Bay's defense was in the young quarterback's head before he took the first snap from center. He completed just 4-of-12 passes for 37 yards before getting hurt in the third quarter. All of the hype surrounding Vick has given Tampa Bay's defense plenty of incentive for this Sunday. The Bucs' defensive players grew very sick and tired of talking about Vick this week.
Tampa Bay's defense matches up well with the speedy and elusive Vick. The Bucs have the fastest defense in the NFL and they held Vick to just one yard rushing in October. If Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked defensive unit can contain Vick again, they'll stand an excellent chance of winning this game.
Look for the Bucs to attack the Falcons' defense through the air again, but it might be a little more difficult this time around. Atlanta's defense covered Tampa Bay's receivers in a lot of man-to-man coverage in the first contest, which allowed Bucs receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell to each haul in six passes. But the Falcons will probably have cornerback Ray Buchanan, who was serving a suspension for a league substance abuse violation in Oct., back for this one.
Atlanta is not a team Tampa Bay wants to face in the playoffs, but they can do something about that possibility by downing the Falcons at home Sunday. The Falcons are right in the thick of things in terms of the NFC playoff race and even though the Bucs are 9-3, they need this game in order to stay in first place of the NFC South Division. Tampa Bay is trying to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but they must first win the NFC South Division. The Pewter Pirates can take one step closer to winning that division title by defeating the Falcons Sunday.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 20 Falcons 13
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