I had the opportunity to ask questions of my good friend Jason De La Torre over at Bucs Nation. Here's his answers!
Dave Choate: What do you think is behind Josh Freeman's resurgence this season? Did he just get unlucky last year, or is this part of the maturation process?
Jason De La Torre: There are three major factors in Freeman's return to the quarterback the franchise hoped he'd be. First, an offense that fits his skillset. Freeman was never a west coast quarterback - he simply didn't have the accuracy to be that guy. The offense that offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan brought to Tampa Bay is similar to the Giants in that it allows Josh to go down field a lot more, take advantage of mismatches and use his big arm with the play action.
Second is the arrival of Vincent Jackson. He may not appear on the stat sheet every week, but Jackson's presence is felt all over the football field. He's made Mike Williams better by taking the attention off of him. He's made the running game better by - and forgive me for the cliche' - "blowing the top off of defenses" and he's made Freeman better by giving him confidence to throw up the football even if Jackson is covered - because 9 times out of 10, he's coming down with the football.
DC: The Buccaneers are the worst in the NFL against the pass. How will you attack Matt Ryan and his receivers to try to tamp down on a big game?
JDLT: The Bucs are bad against the pass, no denying that. But their numbers are skewed a bit by two really bad games against the Giants (501 yds) and Oakland (414 yds). Tampa Bay has done away with the Tampa Two and is playing a lot more man-to-man. Ronde Barber moved inside to safety (playing at a Pro Bowl level there) and with Aquib Talib suspended then traded away and Eric Wright injured, it's been a bunch of young kids back there trying to find their way.
It doesn't help that the Bucs are blitz happy...and when the blitz gets picked up, their guys are left on an island and it's led to some big plays against them.
With that said, the Bucs secondary isn't completely without talent. The Bucs are third in the NFL with 15 interceptions. Rookie Leonard Johnson and Barber are tied for the team lead with 3.
DC: Do you think the Buccaneers will ignore the ineffectual Falcons ground game, or will they give it special attention regardless?
JDLT: The Bucs constant blitzing is the reason why Tampa Bay is number one against the run. The Bucs lead the league in TFL's (tackles for loss). They're not impenetrable if you catch the right run at the right blitz, the Bucs can be gashed, but this Tampa Bay team is a much better tackling team then the bumbling Bucs from last season.
DC: How does Doug Martin cause so much havoc?
JDLT: He's just special, man. The Dougernaught can do it all. He can run with power, he can shake and bake you. He has the vision to see a hole and hit it or just lower his head and churn for yardage. He's an excellent receiver out of the backfield and deadly when you get him in space. He's a great blocker in pass protection, too. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound and he kicked Chuck Norris' ass. Sorry...I'm going a little overboard here - but Doug is just special. If the Falcons find a way to slow him down - count yourself among the few who have. Whether it's in the running game or as a receiver - Doug will make a play at some point.
DC: Who's the winner in this one, what's the score and what's the winning play?
JDLT: I see this one being a high scoring, whoever has the ball last may take it kind of ball game. Both teams were caught looking ahead to this match up and survived, but in reality, I think this game has been on everyone's mind since the Bucs got hot. With the Falcons coming in a little banged up and slumping a bit, I think Doug Martin can have a big day, Freeman will make enough big throws in the passing game and the Bucs defense will force one or two turnovers to squeak out a thriller. I have it Tampa Bay 31, Atlanta 28. BTW, as a preemptive strike to those Falcons fans who say, "They're not going to put 31 points on OUR defense..." the last six Bucs opposing fanbases have said the exact same thing. We're still getting used to it, too but the Bucs offense IS prolific.
Thanks to Bucs Nation!