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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Bucs to Watch Against Atlanta

The Buccaneers have a couple Alabama boys who view Atlanta more like a homecoming and play accordingly. Hint: one of them is making his first start of the 2018 season.


1. QB Jameis Winston

This is for obvious reasons. Quarterback Jameis Winston will be making his first start of the 2018 season on Sunday in a place he almost considers home. Winston grew up in Bessemer, Alabama, which is only about an hour's drive from Atlanta. He grew up watching the Falcons and then-quarterback Michael Vick. He's not shy about sharing that these games mean a little extra to him for those reasons, and that a lot of his family will be in attendance. His stats show that as well. He's 3-2 against the Falcons in his career with a combined 14 touchdowns in those games. His last outing against them in Week 15 of 2017 saw him go 27-of-35 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. That's a 77.14 completion percentage and 130.5 passer rating. Couple that with that aforementioned first start this season and it could be a big game for the franchise quarterback.

2. LB Kwon Alexander

Speaking of guys who have good games against Atlanta, linebacker Kwon Alexander is another. He's also from Alabama and usually has his family in attendance when the Bucs make the trip. Alexander has the most tackles against the Falcons than any other team with 65, but it's the amount of solo tackles that's even more impressive. Fifty-one of those 65 are solo, which is by far and away his most against any one team, and it's not close. His second-highest solo tackle total is against the Saints with 34. Alexander also had perhaps the best game of his career against the Falcons in Week One of 2016, where he racked up 17 combined tackles, 15 of which were solo, one sack and two tackles for loss in one game. His last outing against them yielded 13 tackles, all of which were solo. Simply put, Alexander is a tackle monster against Atlanta and will need to be again on Sunday going against the Falcons' run game. The good news is that running back Devonta Freeman has been ruled out so Alexander will have to be more concerned with running back Tevin Coleman and slot receiver Mohamed Sanu, than anything.

3. RB Peyton Barber

Following the bye week, the biggest thing to come out of all the self-scouting the coaches did concerning the offense was the running game. As in, it needs to get better. The passing game is off the charts, with the Bucs still owning the number one passing offense in the league because of their 375.3 yard-per-game average. It seems that a lot of teams have started to buy into the 'pass-first' mentality but what cannot go overlooked is how much an established run game can actually aid in the passing game, more specifically explosive plays. Head Coach Dirk Koetter has said this week how good of a play action team he thinks the Bucs are. The thing is, to sell play action, you have to have a running game that makes the run option of play action believable. Enter Peyton Barber. Both he and the Bucs are due for a 100-yard rushing game and there's an opportunity to do it against Atlanta's 25th ranked rushing defense. Barber could get help from rookie running back Ronald Jones who made his NFL debut against the Bears and should see some more playing time this week as well. The Bucs' offensive line also knows it's time to get the ground game involved with both newly extended guard Ali Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith saying this week that they need to be the ones to create more opportunities for the running backs. Especially with Atlanta defensive tackle Grady Jarrett out for the second week in a row, there may be some more holes there in the middle for the offensive line and either Barber or any of the other backs to take advantage of.

4. DE Jason Pierre-Paul

Defensive tackle Beau Allen was back practicing this week. Though it was on a limited basis, the fact that rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea is healthy and the Bucs signed another tackle in Rakeem Nunez-Roches means that they are no longer hurting for interior depth. This could mean a true defensive line rotation which would pay dividends up and down the line. Considering defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has been successful already this season, registering four sacks through four games even with a shallow interior, I'm anxious to see what he looks like when the defensive line is working in total concert with each other. With the thought that the opposing offensive line will have to stick three guys between defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Beau Allen, that leaves less guys on the outside to account for defensive ends, like Pierre-Paul, unless Atlanta wants to go into max-protection to make the numbers work more in their favor. Max protection leaves their secondary vulnerable, though, and knowing the offensive weapons the Bucs have with Jameis Winston at the helm, that may not be super advisable. It'll be imperative that Pierre-Paul does create disruption because Atlanta is really only as good as quarterback Matt Ryan plays. If you can get pressure on Ryan, that will be your best bet in stopping their passing game and taking away threats like wide receivers Julio Jones and newcomer Calvin Ridley.

5. CB Brent Grimes

And the natural progression here is to think about who is directly accountable for one Julio Jones, and that would conceivably be veteran cornerback Brent Grimes. It's no easy task given that Jones is a bona fide 'game wrecker' and seems to do well against the Bucs, in particular. He seems to be especially dangerous this year given the young receiver that now lines up on the opposite side in Calvin Ridley. The Alabama-product leads the league in touchdown receptions with six so far this season. Jones is actually waiting on his first, despite being tied for third in the league for receiving yards with 564. Yeah, not even halfway through the season and Jones already has well over 500 yards. Grimes will most likely be tapped to be the one to stop him from adding much more to that total and it

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