Dave Choate: It seems to me like Jameis Winston has been dealing with some issues with his supporting cast (and perhaps coaching), but how has his second year gone? Is he improved, declining, or about the same with some mitigating outside factors?
Sander Philipse: He more or less looks stagnant to me, though he's improved in some areas and worse in others, and the supporting cast is an inconsistent factor in all of this as well. Basically, his mechanics and footwork look a little better, and his deep ball is slightly improved as well. But he's slightly less aggressive, especially in recent weeks, and seems to have regressed in how he deals with pressure, and isn't reading the defense as cleanly as he was last year.
What this means going forward, I don't know. I'm still fairly confident he'll be a very good quarterback, but it may take a little more time than I initially expected.
Dave Choate: Your running back situation looks a little grim. Who can we expect to see on the field against the Falcons, and how will Dirk Koetter and company attack a so-so Atlanta defense on the ground?
Sander Philipse: The Bucs will probably go with a running back by committee approach, now that they're down to their fourth-string starter. In fact: none of the backs available for this game were on the roster in week one. Thew newly-signed Mike James will probably get a decent load of carries, there's also Antone Smith (who y'all should know), and undrafted rookie Peyton Barber, who has actually looked pretty decent overall.
The Bucs like to rely on the running game, but that's obviously easier said than done with the available group of backs. The Bucs have struggled to consistently produce anything through the air, though, looking great one game, and terrible the next. Whatever happens, expect Mike Evans to get a decent amount of targets at least.
Dave Choate: The Falcons are averaging over 30 points per game, which is kind of absurd. Can the Bucs put the brakes on them, and if so, how will they do so?
Sander Philipse: No.
The Bucs defense isn't horrible, but it's struggled against good offenses all year, and the Oakland Raiders would have demolished them had it not been for them setting the penalty record. The Bucs will presumably tilt coverage toward Julio Jones and they did have a decent amount of success in week one in stopping the Falcons offense overall, but this will be a very tough game for Tampa Bay's defense.
Dave Choate: What's the single biggest thing that has changed since we last saw the Buccaneers? I figured you guys would be better at this point of the season than you are, given how thoroughly the Bucs cleaned the Falcons' clocks the last time around.
Sander Philipse: Injuries, injuries, injuries. The Bucs have been wracked by injuries like nothing I've seen before. They're down to their fourth-string running back, have not had a completely healthy defensive line at any point this season, lost starting receiver Vincent Jackson for the year, have not seen their star free agent guard even practice with them all year -- I could go on, it's not pretty. Obviously there's more going on, and the Bucs just played better football in week one than they have since, but injuries are a massive factor in their struggles.
Dave Choate: I ask this every time, but I'm curious given the way the season has gone: Who wins this game, and how does the Tampa Bay season end up?
Sander Philipse: I think the Falcons win this one, 28-21 or so. They're just the better team. As for the season, I expect Tampa Bay to finish with a 7-9 record or so, as they usually do. The team just isn't good enough at this point to do much more, and injuries have hit them so hard that a winning season would almost be a miracle.