Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Keys to a Buccaneers victory over the Falcons
ROY CUMMINGS Bucs, 28-27 A late field goal by Connor Barth allows Bucs to continue their stunning rise from the ashes.IRA KAUFMAN Falcons, 34-27 Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak ends as Roddy White has his way with an undermanned secondary. No words needed to be spoken. Everyone inside the Bucs locker room knew all week that today's game against the Falcons was about as big as they come, at least in November. This, of course, is when coach Greg Schiano's one-week-at-a-time approach to keeping the team focused on the task at hand really gets tested. His approach this week was to try to speak only of players' individual duties and not the potential fallout from a win or loss. There is little doubt, though, that thoughts of that fallout crept into the locker room as the week dragged on. The Bucs are relevant again, and a win today will force people throughout the league to take notice. It is safe to say that for one of the few times in recent memory, the Bucs are playing for a lot more than just a victory. REGAIN YOUR RHYTHM Though they managed to win, the Bucs have not looked all that sharp offensively the past two games. After a sluggish performance against the Chargers two weeks ago, the Bucs looked out of sync for the better part of four quarters against the Panthers last week, and their struggles nearly cost them the game. Tampa Bay began the season in a similar offensive malaise and lost three of four games. It's imperative they regain their offensive rhythm. Whether it's through a series of runs or short throws, the Bucs need to get QB Josh Freeman and RB Doug Martin rolling early. The Falcons are likely to produce a hefty point total, so the Bucs must match that output and take some pressure off their defense. MIX AND MATCH The Falcons aren't likely to run much. They don't run well to begin with, and it has long been established the best way to beat the Bucs is through the air. To combat a Falcons team that could throw 40 or more times, the Bucs will want to mix up their coverages to keep QB Matt Ryan guessing. Ryan is not easily fooled, but Tampa Bay can make it difficult for him to make sound pre-snap reads by showing eight-man fronts and switching up. The Bucs have the speed at linebacker and safety to fill the box early and then drop back into coverage at the snap. Launching the occasional blitz will keep Ryan and his receivers from getting comfortable, too. GET OFF THE FIELD The Bucs struggle to get opponents off the field on third down. In their past two games, the Chargers and Panthers converted 19 of 32 third-down plays, or 59.3 percent. The Bucs need to cut that figure in half to slow the Falcons. Atlanta converts 47 percent on third down, which keeps drives alive. The Falcons are good in the red zone, but not great, so holding on to the ball limits the opponent's chances. The Bucs offense is capable of winning a shootout, but they won't win a shootout if their defense doesn't provide them with enough opportunities. Key matchup Bucs MLB Mason Foster vs. Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez Foster is having a much better season overall than a year ago, but has struggled lately in coverage against tight ends. Foster had a rough day against San Diego's Antonio Gates two weeks ago, and you can bet the Falcons took notice. Gonzalez is nearing the end of his career, but still plays at a high level. He makes up for any loss of speed with smarts and a concentration level that is virtually unmatched. Gonzalez catches just about everything thrown his way, so Foster's best bet is to limit yards after the catch. Foster is an aggressive tackler, so he has a good chance of holding his own or even winning this matchup. But he has to do a better job reading routes and anticipating where the ball is going to go. 5 questions with Bucs Lb Dekoda Watson Q: Who are you named after? A: I'm named after my daddy. Gregory is his first name, so I took his first name, but Dekoda is after some kind of white man off some soap opera my mom used to watch. That's what she told me. Q: After growing up in Aiken, S.C., why did you pick Florida State over South Carolina? A: South Carolina was definitely too close to home. It was time to get out and experience more of the world. FSU was a great choice and I knew if I wanted to go to the NFL, Florida State was where I needed to be. Q: Will you have a fashion statement ready for Sunday's game? A: Without a doubt, always. Mr. Bowtie's always ready. I can't tell you what's coming, I'll just show everyone when I get there. Q: What kept you strong during last year's 10-game losing streak? A: First, keeping faith in God. Also, just being a proper example for kids, showing them that when things go wrong, that doesn't mean you give up. I wanted to make sure I set the right example for everybody. Q: What's your favorite part of Thanksgiving, and least favorite? A: Favorite part has got to be the family and the desserts. And nap time. Least favorite is rutabagas. Squash and rutabagas, ech, no.