CB Ronde Barber and the Bucs' special teams know that Falcons return man Tim Dwight (83) is difficult to tackle
The National Football League recently made it clear that it is moving ahead with realignment to coincide with the introduction of Houston as the league's 32nd franchise, so maybe East will eventually mean East in the NFL and West will mean West.
In the meantime, an NFL scout can study two NFC West teams without going any further than Georgia, which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers advance scout did this past weekend. Since the Bucs' next assignment is the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay's scout zipped up to Atlanta to get a closer look at the Dirty Birds.
The Bucs' scout saw Atlanta defeat intra-division rival Carolina 13-12 to run its 2000 record to 3-6. The Falcons have unattractive league rankings (30th in offense, 29th in defense), but are less than two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Among the players our scout identified as issues for the Buccaneers were:
· RB Jamal Anderson, who is working his way back into his stellar 1998 form after missing most of the 1999 season with a knee injury. According to our scout, Anderson may not be all the way back to 100% of his former self, but he is getting a lot of carries and the Falcons are trying to work him into the offense more and more. Anderson is still a very versatile player and still has strength and power, even if the jury is still out on when he will be fully rounded back into shape. · QB Chris Chandler, the former Buccaneer who has put up some impressive numbers in Atlanta, continues to throw the ball well to all areas of the field. However, he has been hit repeatedly (the Falcons' offensive line has surrendered 32 sacks in nine games), and it appears as if that experience is making him get rid of the ball quickly on most snaps. · The Falcons' return men have helped Atlanta's special teams excel in 2000. Derrick Vaughn leads the league with a kickoff return average of 32.1 yards per runback and has taken it to the house twice already. Vaughn, says our scout, isn't the type of returner to make a lot of plays in traffic, but has excellent speed and quickness and can really 'hit it and go.' Vaughn needs a seam from his blockers but is very dangerous if he gets one. In addition, the Falcons have Tim Dwight, fourth in the NFC in punt return average (13.6) and always a threat to go the distance, as he has once this year. Dwight also has good vision, and that combined with his quickness allows him to make the first man miss on many occasions. After that, it's a matter of how hard Dwight runs every time he has the ball. · On defense, the Falcons' strength is at cornerback, where Ashley Ambrose and Ray Buchanan form an excellent coverage duo. Ambrose and Buchanan don't have the ideal size a scout is looking for, but they have all the necessary athletic skills and experience, says our advance man. The Falcon corners play a lot of man-to-man, but they don't press much in the manner of the Dolphins. Ambrose and Buchanan generally play off a bit and try to make sure the plays stay in front of them. · The Falcons' defensive line has undergone a bit of an overhaul since last season, but DT Travis Hall remains its strength. Hall is the line's best run-stopper, says our scout, and he leads the team in sacks as well. · At linebacker, injuries to Jessie Tuggle and Keith Brooking will probably lead the Falcons to play a lot of very young players, such as Mark Simoneau, a rookie, and Jeff Kelly, a second-year player. Kelly has been moved inside due to the loss of Tuggle, and that position is the one our scout believes he is best suite for. Simoneau was listed as Kelly's backup, but may have to move into Brookings' RLB slot.
The Bucs head up to Atlanta in just a few days to find all of this out for themselves firsthand. Meanwhile, the team's scouting department, having finished its work for this game, will head off to Green Bay for the Packers' Monday night showdown with Minnesota.