Tampa Bay at Atlanta Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the Tampa Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons battle in week-three of the NFL season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1)


KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman

SERIES: 20th meeting. Bucs lead 11-8. Tampa Bay swept both games last year, the first time the Bucs and Falcons were in the same division, winning 20-6 in Atlanta and 34-10 in Tampa Bay. The first game was very competitive, and the Falcons lead 6-3 in the third quarter until

Keyshawn Johnson caught a long touchdown pass to break it open. The Bucs knocked QB Mike Vick out of the game, and returned an interception for a score after that.


2003 RANKINGS: Bucs: offense 5th (26th rush, 1st pass); defense 3rd (25th rush, 1st pass). Falcons: offense 20th (16th rush, 18th pass); defense 32nd (24th rush, 29th pass)


KEYS TO THE GAME: After committing 17 penalties last Sunday, the Bucs need to play a cleaner game if they want to get more balance in their offense. Coach Jon Gruden is forced to call more passing plays when penalties cause long second and third down situations. Tampa

Bay needs positive yards on early downs for their quick timing patterns to be effective. The Bucs' defense again struggled with a power running back in Carolina's Stephen Davis last weekend, so expect the Falcons to pound RB T.J. Duckett more often. Facing a defense allowing 105.5 passing yards per game, Atlanta can't afford to get stuck in long passing downs.


FAST FACTS: Bucs: Tampa Bay has created at least one turnover in 43 consecutive games. ... The defense has not allowed a touchdown in six of the past nine road games. Falcons: Coach Dan Reeves is trying to become just the sixth coach to reach 200 career victories.




--QB Brad Johnson practiced Thursday on a limited basis Thursday and is expected to play despite a strained right groin.

--CB Ronde Barber returned to practice Thursday and is probable with a right hamstring strain.

--C John Wade could move to LG on the field goal team, replacing Cosey Coleman, who allowed penetration during a blocked extra point that cost Tampa Bay the decisive point in a 12-9 overtime loss to Carolina.

--WR Keyshawn Johnson, who caught nine passes for 109 yards against the Panthers, is becoming more involved in Jon Gruden's offense this season.

--DT Warren Sapp will continue to be used as a tight end on offense, mostly in short yardage situations.

--RB Michael Pittman is the only Bucs rusher averaging more than 4 yards per carry.



--S Kevin McCadam, the second-year pro who got his first start at FS last week against the Redskins, was downgraded to doubtful for the Falcons' game against Tampa Bay. Atlanta will miss him most on special teams, where he's become a very good player.

--CB Tod McBride remains probable on the Falcons' injury report, but his chances of playing Sunday against Tampa Bay may not be that good. He and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips both pointed out Thursday that McBride has not yet put weight on his right hand/wrist. That's fairly important for a big cornerback who counts jamming receivers among his strengths.

--RB T.J. Duckett, who strained his right quadriceps muscle in practice Wednesday, was back at practice Thursday. He's listed as probable for the Falcons' game Sunday against the Bucs.

--FS Keion Carpenter, who missed the Falcons' last game with a strained left hamstring, practiced against Thursday and is expected to start Sunday against the Bucs.




The Bucs devoted a larger than normal portion of their practice Wednesday and Thursday toward correcting the collapse of protection for place-kicker Martin Gramatica.


But this may astonish: No major changes in personnel or blocking schemes are anticipated for Sunday's pivotal game against the Falcons in the Georgia Dome.


The only possible twist was that center John Wade moved from right to left guard Wednesday on some place-kicks, the spot where Cosey Coleman was overpowered by Panthers defensive tackle Kris Jenkins on the blocked PAT.


"There's not a lot of personnel you can change honestly," said Bucs coach Jon Gruden. "You don't have a lot of options once you start the season. "We're going to work on the physical-ness of our protection on our field goals and our PATs. We left seven points out on the field the other day that obviously were pivotal to the outcome." Coleman, who will start again at left guard for the Bucs in Sunday's game at Atlanta, took responsibility for blocked PAT.


"There's no excuse," said Coleman. "That's very atypical of me as a player to let something like that happen. Like I said, I've been on the unit for three years and that's never happened with me before. For this to happen in that crucial of a situation, having that be the game-winning kick after we fought so hard to get back into the game, it's just a sick,

miserable feeling."



Falcons defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is pleased to have his starting safeties both available for the first time this season, but hell be looking for more than that Sunday when the Buccaneers visit the Georgia Dome.


Specifically, he wants all of his defensive backs to play smarter.


After the Falcons took a 17-0 lead last Sunday against Washington, the Redskins picked apart Atlanta, as second-year quarterback Patrick Ramsey threw for a career-high 356 yards.


Part of the credit goes to Washington coach Steve Spurrier, who shortened up the passing game so that Ramsey could get rid of the ball faster. But Atlanta's defensive backs also helped the situation by playing too aggressively at times. When Ramsey wasn't throwing quick

wide receiver screens, he was taking advantage of CBs Ray Buchanan or Tyrone Williams as they tightened their coverages at the line.


Buchanan, in particular, was guilty of this. "I think getting both our safeties playing will help us. Certainly, Keion will help us," Phillips said. "I just think overall when we got ahead, we

didn't play smart. When you're up 17 points, even if you're playing man-to-man, you play off. I think overall that's what we've worked on. When you're ahead by so many, or behind so many, things have to change."

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