ATLANTA (WFLA) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to get back on the winning track today against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This is the first meeting between the two teams in 2019 after the Bucs have already completed their NFC South series against both the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
Both teams enter the day at 3-7 with the Falcons boasting a two-game winning streak after impressive road wins at New Orleans and Carolina. The Bucs were the bounce back victim of the Saints a week ago, losing 34-17 at Raymond James Stadium.
Today’s game is a reunion with not one but two former Bucs head coaches. Dirk Koetter has resumed offensive coordinator duties in Atlanta this season while Raheem Morris made the switch from offensive staff to his more familiar defensive side, leading the Falcons defensive backs.
Here are three things to watch today:
A re-energized Falcons “D”
The way both teams have performed the past two weeks, it is safe to say that there is huge momentum on the side of the Atlanta defense against an inconsistent Bucs offense. Against Carolina, the Falcons forced four turnovers and sacked quarterback Kyle Allen five times. The week before that? Six quarterback sacks in the Superdome.
The most incredible stat from those two weeks, however, may be the touchdowns allowed: zero. Atlanta’s defense has come to life, allowing 12 points total in two weeks. The Bucs offense is still up and down. Last week, 3rd down plays were longer than preferred and led to a time of possession difference of nearly one full quarter of football against the Saints.
The Falcons want to pressure quarterback Jameis Winston and either force mistakes or hit him as he deals with a bad ankle suffered during last week’s loss. If the Bucs can run and find balance in their play calls, touchdowns are on the table but only if the Bucs can cash in inside the red zone.
Jameis must protect the ball
Part of the Bucs issues on offense last week were turnovers. While that is hardly a secret, the Bucs offense still suffers from inconsistent play and decisions. Head coach Bruce Arians generalized an explanation of quarterback Jameis Winston’s 18 interceptions, saying that only 10 of them were his fault. With passes being bobbled by would be targets, that is certainly believable but Winston simply must stop throwing interceptions.
Winston has accounted for 17 turnovers in the past five games. Fault or not, he is the common factor in the mishaps. Against the Saints, he spent much of the day under duress, giving the Falcons the blue print on how to attack the Bucs offensive line. Atlanta’s defense will come full and try to force bad throws but it could open room across the middle or even better for the Bucs, downfield.
Can O.J. get out of the doghouse?
No one felt worse a week ago than Bucs tight end O.J. Howard, receiving a pass only to have it bobble away from his hands, then deflect off his back, into the arms of a Saints player. New Orleans scored on the very next play, setting the stage for the Bucs to scramble offensively to try and catch up.
That was the last of Howard in the game and now Bucs fans are wondering if this is the latest step on yet another high draft pick not working out for Tampa Bay.
Howard has shown he is very capable of playing at a high level. Praised for his blocking skills, Howard can catch as well, having snagged a laser pass from Jameis Winston in the win over the Cardinals. He is still recovering from a hamstring injury that limited his participation in practice for more than two weeks.
One positive that came from a struggle was the performance of tight end Cam Brate, who finished the Cardinals game with 10 catches.
It is a talented group of tight ends but not deep. Injuries have plagued this position group but the combo of Howard and Brate should actually be plenty for the Falcons defense to deal with.
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