The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have roughly half the time to prepare for their next game as they would in a normal week but, counter-intuitively, they need to do less with that available time than usual.
That's true in a physical sense, at least. The Buccaneers' only real practice of the week was on Tuesday, a day the players would normally spend resting at home. Installing a game plan for Thursday night's critical division matchup with the Falcons – a process that would normally include three days of on-field work – will mostly be a mental exercise this week.
"The mental aspect, you have to double up on your game prep," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "You've got to manage, you've got to forget the last game whether you won or you lost, and you've got to double up on your prep mentally. Physically, you've just got to do the best you can. It is what it is, the nature of the beast. Either you're going to complain about it or you're going to recover and get a win. That's how I look at it."
McCoy and some of his teammates came directly back to team headquarters on Sunday night to take advantage of the team's three cryo-chambers, which help speed up a body's recovery. Many have taken care of massages, and of the rehab services provided by a training staff working around the clock. The Falcons, of course, are facing similar scheduling difficulties after their win over Green Bay in Atlanta late Sunday afternoon. Both teams did have the advantage of being at home before the short week, and even though the Falcons have to travel it will be a quick strip from Atlanta. In addition, the two teams know each other well, having just met eight weeks ago in the Georgia Dome.
"Rest," said center Joe Hawley, listing the players' top priority for the week. "Try to get your body right as quick as you can. Mentally, we feel lucky it's a division opponent. We're very familiar with them, so the game plan and the mental part of it isn't too tough. But physically you've just got to get your body right."
As a time-saving measure to allow adequate game-planning for the Falcons, the coaching staff skipped the process of evaluating the previous game with the players. In this case, given that the Bucs lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Oakland on Sunday, that was a welcome change.
"It's very difficult," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith of managing a short week. "These guys are going through a whole lot, not only mentally, but physically. It's very difficult physically and it's very difficult mentally too because they didn't get a chance to process the last game. We haven't even talked to them about the last game, haven't talked one word about the last ball game. We've moved on to the next one because that's the challenge that we have. We can't do anything about the last one.
"So, I think the physical part of it, they've got to do a great job of resting, with the trainers, getting in the cryo, all the things that they can do. And the most important thing is to be rested. And I think the team that is most rested is going to have a step up on the other group."
The Bucs won't be lacking from a motivational standpoint, which should help on Thursday night. The short week allows for the possibility of a quick erasure of Sunday's disappointment. It also gives Tampa Bay a chance to pull back within a half-game of the division lead, and to remain undefeated in games against NFC South opponents.
"The energy comes from the fact that it's the next game and we just lost at home. We haven't won at home yet. That's where the energy comes from. It's added incentive that it's Atlanta. They're on a roll, they got their mojo back. It's just a good team."
- When the Buccaneers won in Atlanta in the Week One, they scored on touchdown catches of 23, 30 and 45 yards and also had two additional pass plays that covered more than 20 yards. That helped the visitors forge a 31-13, but Atlanta eventually narrowed that gap to seven points, in part due to a 25-yard catch-and-run touchdown by wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta had four 20+-yard completions of their own.
The Bucs may have been plus-one in 20+-yard explosive plays on that afternoon, but in the seven weeks since the Falcons have emerged as the NFL's best big-play attack while the Buccaneers have dropped to the bottom half of the league in that category. Atlanta leads the NFL with 134 players of 10 or more yards and 39 plays of 20 or more yards (tied with Oakland and Washington in that latter category). Tampa Bay ranks 18th and 26th in those categories, respectively.
The Buccaneers have rebounded from early giveaway issues and actually lead the NFL since Week Five with a +7 turnover ratio. That will be important on Thursday night, but so will the ratio of explosive plays between the two offenses.
Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Tuesday, November 1st.
"An explosive play is defined for us [as] about 18 yards for a pass," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. "We had 10 for 342 [yards] in the ballgame last week. Totally unacceptable, no doubt about it. Some of them are missed leverage and missed tackles, there were some that were short throws that we did not tackle well, there were some that we had miscommunication where we had the wrong guy hung on the receiver when he shouldn't have been there. So, there's a myriad of things that we have got to get better at. And I don't think we should try to blame it on one player, one group."
Smith took responsibility for play-calling and preparing the players in the defensive scheme. Some breakdowns are obviously the result of miscommunication, and that too is a team-wide concern.
"Everybody's responsible," said Smith. There are three levels on our defense: we have up front, we have linebackers and we have the secondary and we're all getting communication from each other. There are audibles that we have, based on formations, based on splits and we're going to get better at it. We're not mastering it the way I would've liked. Some games we are. The previous week, all good. This week, not so good. Again, totally unacceptable."
- The Buccaneers held their only full-speed practice of the week on Tuesday, roughly following a typical Wednesday schedule but limiting that field workout to just over 90 minutes. Even in that brief time, though, the team's**injury report**had a couple of welcome developments.
Defensive end William Gholston and wide receiver Russell Shepard were held out of Monday's light walk-through due to biceps and hip ailments, respectively. Both took part in Tuesday's practice in a limited fashion, theoretically increasing their chances of suiting up on Thursday night against Atlanta.
Running backs Doug Martin (hamstring) and Jacquizz Rodgers (foot) remained out on Tuesday. If neither can go, the Buccaneers will likely turn to a committee approach in the backfield between rookie Peyton Barber, Week Seven signee Antone Smith and the just-returned Mike James.
"When you have three guys who have been here short-term – other than Peyton [Barber], the rookie – your roles aren't very clearly defined right now," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "So, we're trying to patch it together, one week at a time until we get some reinforcements back."
The Falcons' injury report did not change on Tuesday, with running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring), defensive end Dwight Freeney (quad) and tight end Jacob Tamme (shoulder) all remaining on the sideline. The team has already ruled Tamme out for Thursday's game. Prolific wide receiver Julio Jones has been limited on the practice field this week by a knee injury but the Buccaneers have no doubt he will suit up for the game.
"Julio Jones is going to play," said Smith with a laugh. "Is he going to play his normal snaps? I don't know that, but we're going to see Julio Jones and we're looking forward to competing against him. He is obviously one of the top three receivers in the league, there's no doubt about that. Maybe number one. I think he's probably one of the toughest guys to defend and we're going to see him, it's just a matter of how many snaps we're going to see him. I hope he plays every one of them."