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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Bucs to Watch vs. Atlanta

QB Jameis Winston suits up against the Falcons for the first time this season under the lights of Monday Night Football.


1. QB Jameis Winston

Perhaps the biggest difference between the Buccaneers that faced Atlanta in Week 12 versus the Bucs that will face them this week is the player under center. Quarterback Jameis Winston was sidelined with an AC join injury, so it was Ryan Fitzpatrick that got the start last go around. This will be Winston's first opportunity against the Falcons this season. Winston has a 104.3 average passer rating against the Falcons, his highest against any team he has played more than once in his career. He's thrown nine touchdowns in four games against Atlanta, with only two interceptions and a 64 percent completion rate in those games. And although Winston was on the sidelines in Atlanta, he was sure to be taking notes- an advantage his opponent doesn't have on him. The quarterback was excited at the opportunity to play on Monday Night Football. The last time the signal caller got the same opportunity resulted in a 17-14 win over another division opponent in Carolina. Here's to hoping for the same result at home.

2. LB Kwon AlexanderWith linebacker Lavonte David held out of practice the past two days, it will be up to Kwon Alexander to step up even more so. Luckily, the veteran starter has had his share of success against Atlanta as an opponent. In the Bucs and Falcons first meeting during Week 12 this season, Alexander led the team in tackles with eight. In 2016, Alexander recorded 17 tackles during the Buccaneers Week 1 win. In 2015, he recorded 11 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception, earning him Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 8. He then followed that performance with 10 tackles, one forced fumble, one pass defensed and one sack when the teams met again later in the season. Point is, Atlanta is a familiar opponent for Alexander that seems to bring out his best performances. The upcoming game on a national stage during Monday Night Football should be no exception.3. RB Peyton Barber

Tampa Bay's run game has been on the uptick the past few weeks. The Buccaneers recorded consecutive 100+ yard rushing efforts for the first time this season. Running back Peyton Barber was the team's first 100-yard rushing performer in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers, nabbing 23 carries for 102 yards. The Georgia-native also had two touchdowns during the last meeting with the Falcons in Atlanta. Injuries to the offensive line with both center Ali Marpet and offensive tackle Demar Dotson going down in Green Bay, have forced the Bucs to make some adjustments up front. However, the line was able to block for 133 total rushing yards in last week's game against the Lions, following the team's 165-yard rushing performance against the Packers. Running back Doug Martin will also be there to complement Barber as he is fully healthy and recorded the first touchdown of the game for the Bucs last Sunday. The one-two punch of Barber and Martin will be a key component to making the Buccaneers' offense multi-dimensional and effective against a good Atlanta defense.4. CB Brent Grimes and the Bucs' secondary

The sting of 253 yards and two touchdowns by Atlanta receiver Julio Jones has not worn off in the weeks since the teams' first meeting this season. It was a major topic of conversation in press conferences and locker room scrums: how are the Bucs going to contain Jones this time around? A large majority of the responsibility will fall on the secondary, and should the Bucs choose to match up, cornerback Brent Grimes would presumably be the guy tapped for the job. Whether or not the Bucs will match up or opt for more zone coverage has yet to be determined, as both players and coaches have been very hush-hush on their plan of attack, and rightfully so. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith did have this to say during press conferences this week: "[…] I can assure you this – we looked very hard at what we did last time and we probably won't be doing that."5. The Bucs' defensive line

Part of the responsibility to keep Falcons' receiver Julio Jones in check, as well as the potent Atlanta offense in general, will also fall on the defensive line in the frame of making quarterback Matt Ryan uncomfortable. With Ryan's ability to get the ball out before pressure gets to him, finding a pass rush will be even more crucial to disrupting his rhythm. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was kept out of practice the second straight day on Friday, but his status is still questionable, with the lineman doing everything possible to suit up on Monday Night. Save for the injury to McCoy, the defensive line looks to be healthy and ready to go, seemingly getting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald back, who was practicing in a limited capacity this week.

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