Kevin C. Cox
Put down your leftovers, and let's talk about the Buccaneers.
As we all slowly emerge from our tryptophan-induced food comas, it's time to focus on Sunday's game, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After a complete implosion last season under former coach Raheem Morris--best known for coining the unfortunate term "youngry" to describe his team--the Buccaneers hired Greg Schiano from Rutgers University, and his leadership has made a difference. The Bucs are 6-4, and very much in the picture for a potential playoff bid this season.
Tampa Bay's offense has been successful this season, largely due to running back Doug Martin's exceptional season. Martin has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards so far this season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and has 319 yards receiving on the season as well, making him a dual threat.
The Bucs made some smart personnel moves in the offseason, adding receiver Vincent Jackson, cornerback Eric Wright and offensive guard Carl Nicks. Unfortunately for the Bucs, Carl Nicks was placed on injured reserve with a torn plantar plate in his foot requiring surgery, and Eric Wright has not practiced yet this week as he deals with an Achilles injury. Vincent Jackson, though, is the team's leading receiver, with 863 receiving yards and 7 receiving touchdowns. Josh Freeman is much improved, with 21 touchdowns compared to 7 interceptions, compared to 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions last season.
Hopefully the Falcons will have Sean Weatherspoon back on the field to help contain Doug Martin, but Atlanta's injury report is somewhat discouraging today. On defense, John Abraham (back) and Jonathan Babineaux (neck) have both been limited in practice. Vance Walker has been limited with a rib injury, and Peria Jerry has not practiced this week with a quad injury, so Atlanta's defensive line is not at 100%. Chris Owens is limited with a thigh injury, and Asante Samuel has not practiced with the shoulder injury sustained during last week's game against Arizona, so Atlanta's secondary, lacking depth to begin with, is a little shakier this week. And, as far as Spoon, he did practice Wednesday, much to the collective glee of Falcons fans, but he did not practice Thursday, and is listed with a combination of illness and the lingering ankle injury.
Tampa Bay's run defense has been solid this season, currently first in the league, allowing just 81.8 yards per game on average, making this a challenging matchup for Atlanta's struggling running game. Tampa's pass defense, however, is dead last in the league, allowing 312.6 yards per game. This is where Matt Ryan can take advantage of the Bucs, especially considering that the Falcons have become a team that is more heavily dependent upon the pass. As of this morning, Julio Jones (ankle) and Kevin Cone (groin) are both listed as limited, and Michael Turner is limited with a groin injury as well.
There is no reason the Falcons can't win this game, and the Tampa Bay crowd may not be much of a factor for Atlanta's offense, as the game is blacked out, as per usual. If the Falcons happen to lose, they'll walk away with a two game lead in the division. Obviously, though, with New Orleans not being as delightfully terrible as they were early in the season, and Tampa Bay looking like a legitimate playoff contender, it's a much better scenario for the Falcons to win on Sunday. Here's hoping the biggest problem the Falcons have on Sunday is worrying about whether or not Schiano is going to send his guys across the line of scrimmage into Atlanta's victory formation.
What are you expecting from the Falcons against the Buccaneers? How confident are you about the Falcons walking away with a win on Sunday?