The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's a matchup that could prove critical to both team's playoff hopes – Tampa Bay is trying to improve to 3-2 with a 2-0 mark in the NFC South, while the Falcons are trying to avoid falling into a 1-5 hole. The Falcons have won the last three games in the series but the Buccaneers have prevailed in two of their last three trips to Atlanta.
Throughout the week, Buccaneers players and coaches have discussed the upcoming matchup with their division rivals. Here's some of what they've had to say:
1. Head Coach Dirk Koetter on Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, who he worked with for three years as the Falcons' offensive coordinator:
"I know Matt well. I have a lot of appreciation for his game, for his toughness, for what kind of a leader he is, for his understanding of this game and understanding of defenses. When you’re playing against him, all that stuff goes out the window. You’re just trying to beat him and I’m sure he feels similar to both myself and to Smitty (Coach Mike Smith). He’s a good quarterback. I mean, he was MVP of the league. He’s a good player and they have a good football team, but we’re going to try to get after him on Sunday."
2. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken on Buccaneers rookie RB Ronald Jones, who made his long-awaited NFL debut against Chicago in Week Four and could be part of the Bucs' attempts to improve their rushing attack in Week Six:
"He’s fine. He’s only going to continue to get better and he has shown that. He’s continued to work awfully hard at it, so it’s week-to-week for everybody that we have – we said that a few weeks ago. All of our players in terms of who gives us the best chance to win. I think he continues to improve and will continue because he’s got talent. He’s got a chance to be a really good player. Now, it’s just putting it all together."
3. QB Jameis Winston on why he has generally performed well against the Falcons:
“Every time I play Atlanta, I just imagine growing up in Bessemer, Alabama, being an hour away from Atlanta, seeing Michael Vick running around [doing] his thing. It’s always been a dream to compete against Atlanta and win against Atlanta. Definitely going back to Atlanta is like a home game for me. That’s how I view it because all my family, they come up. They show up and hopefully I’ll show out for them.”
4. WR Mike Evans on playing against Atlanta's defense and how badly both teams want to get the win:
"It’s pretty much the same. They’re a one-high team. They’ve added a little more two-high safeties to their game plans, but they’ve been playing a lot of good receivers. That might be it. They might do the same against us. They’ve lost two really good players on the backend. We’ve lost some good players on our defense as well. I think we’re both desperate. We haven’t won in three weeks – Bye Week and two games – so we want to win bad."
5. Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith on the difficulty of limiting Falcons WR Julio Jones:
"Julio’s had some big games against a lot of folks. I’ve been on both sides of it. He’s an outstanding wide receiver. He is a mismatch. He creates mismatches. They do a good job in moving him around. They don’t play him every snap. He’s not an every-down player. He’s going to play upwards of 75 percent of the snaps. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got great hands and he’s got great zone awareness. He has a knack for sitting down in zones and then again playing him one-on-one and if Matt [Ryan] has got the time to the throw the ball, he’s going to put it in the tight spots – Julio’s going to catch it."
6. S Justin Evans on how much harder it is to defend Jones after the Falcons add WR Calvin Ridley in the first round of the draft:
"He's great also. They've got him, Julio and [Mohamed] Sanu, so they've got a pretty good receiving corps, but everybody's got a good receiving corps. That's how I look at it, so we've just got to be on our details and ready to go."
7. WR Chris Godwin on Head Coach Dirk Koetter asking the players for feedback on several issues prior to leaving for their bye week:
"Where we're trying to go as a team, I think it's crucial that we're all on the same page. I like the open dialogue between coaches, players and everyone in the organization. I think that makes things easier and makes everyone more productive. I think everybody had some feedback, and I think that's important that we're all open about how we feel about where we stand and the direction of the team."
8. G Ali Marpet on what it means to him that the Buccaneers signed him to a new long-term contract, and how it feels to have the most lucrative deal ever given to a player from a Division III school:
"It feels good knowing that they have trust in me, from the ownership, [General Manager] Jason [Licht], the coaches. That feels really nice. I'm really grateful for that. I don't know if that's true or not [about the DIII record] but if it is, it's great. It feels really good knowing that I've proven myself in the NFL. It's a difficult thing to do, especially coming from a Division III school, and I'm always happy to represent Division III players everywhere. It's possible for them to succeed at the next level."
9. DE Jason Pierre-Paul on his goal for the season after racking up four sacks through the first four games:
"Unlimited. Yeah, unlimited. How much I can get 'em. But that all starts by playing the run, locking down the run game and making them convert to a pass. That's any team – you can't get sacks unless you stop the run."
10. Koetter on how well Pierre-Paul is playing:
"I think that goes back – he told me in the offseason when he didn’t come to OTA’s he said, ‘I know what I’m doing. I’ll be fine. I’ll learn it.’ Basically, don’t worry about it. And I’ve got to admit I kind of thought, ‘Just wait. I’ve heard that before,’ but he’s done it. A guy that backs up what he says, I have a lot of respect for that. He has played very consistently not only in practice, but in the games. As I’ve said before, I’ve been impressed with him as a vocal leader and a leader that sets the example by how he works. Can’t say enough good things."