Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bucs-Falcons: Five things to watch from Thursday Night Football

TAMPA — So much has changed since Week 1, when the Bucs edged the Falcons 31-24 in Dirk Koetter's NFL head coaching debut. The Bucs' top two rushers, Doug Martin and Charles Sims, are injured. The Falcons' leading rusher (Tevin Coleman) and leading receiver (tight end Jacob Tamme) from that game are out with injuries as well. If the Bucs win, they will be within a half-game of the Falcons for the NFC South lead, with the head-to-head sweep in their favor. Here are five things to watch tonight:

Another vulnerable pass defense against Jameis Winston

Winston had his best game of the season against Atlanta in Week 1, throwing for 281 yards and four touchdowns. Atlanta has allowed an NFL-high 19 touchdown passes and 2,283 passing yards — tied with Oakland for third most.

Atlanta's secondary allowed two TD passes in a three-game stretch before giving up four to Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers Sunday in a 33-32 Falcons win. Remember, Winston wasn't a huge part of the Bucs' Atlanta sweep last year, averaging 202 passing yards throwing one touchdown in each game.

Falcons' Vic Beasley has arrived

In Week 1, Beasley didn't have a tackle against the Bucs. The second-year linebacker is now third in the league with 7½ sacks, including 3½ in an Oct. 9 win at Denver.

Dwight Freeney is out with an injury, but fellow defensive end and former Bucs first-rounder Adrian Clayborn has three sacks and a 5-yard fumble-recovery touchdown in the past two weeks.

The Falcons have 14 sacks in their past four games, so this will be a bigger test for the Bucs offensive line than back in Week 1, when Atlanta had none.

Gators rookies in the secondary

Vernon Hargreaves is an every-down cornerback for the Bucs, but he's still without an interception. His former Florida teammate, safety Keanu Neal, has two and is Atlanta's leading tackler despite missing the first two games. Brian Poole, another Gator and from Bradenton Southeast, has 31 tackles for the Falcons.

The Falcons are also starting two rookies at linebacker. LSU's Deion Jones has 45 tackles and Minnesota's De'Vondre Campbell has 22. That gives them great speed in the middle of the defense but less experience and awareness. Can the Bucs offense take advantage of that?

Deep threat Julio Jones

He averages 20 yards per catch, best of any player in the league with 25-plus catches, and that's way up from 13.8 last year, when he had 136 catches for 1,871 yards. He has 27 fewer catches than at this point last year but only 33 fewer yards, and he still is on pace for more than 1,700.

Jones wasn't 100 percent in the season opener when the Bucs held him to 66 yards on four catches, his second-fewest yards in nine career games against Tampa Bay. But he has had as many as 300 in a game this season and has previous games of 161 and 162 against the Bucs.

The record for receiving yards by a Bucs opponent is 199 by the Giants' Hakeem Nicks in 2012. The Bucs have given up 181 (Carolina's Greg Olsen) and 173 (Oakland's Amari Cooper) already this season.

Watch the deep ball again, Bucs secondary

Tampa Bay gave up 513 yards last week to Oakland quarterback David Carr, most ever against the Bucs and breaking a Raiders record that had stood since 12 years before the Bucs played their first game in 1976.

The Falcons' Matt Ryan already has one 500-yard game this season. He was 21-for-24 for 286 yards and three TDs the last time he faced the Bucs on a Thursday, a 56-14 Atlanta win in 2014.

The Falcons have 19 pass plays of 30 yards or more, most in the league. They had only two in the first Bucs game, a promising sign. Ryan has seven TD passes of 30-plus yards; nobody else in the league has more than four. And it's not just Jones, since Ryan has thrown TDs to 10 players.

Tevin Coleman, who led the Falcons with 22 rushing yards and 95 receiving in Week 1, and Jacob Tamme, who led the team in receptions against the Bucs, are out with injuries. Perhaps Carr's record can stand a full week after all.

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690.

Bucs-Falcons: Five things to watch from Thursday Night Football 11/02/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2016 8:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rowdies shut out at Pittsburgh


    PITTSBURGH — The Rowdies lost their first USL game in nearly a month, 1-0 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

  2. LSU's Paul Mainieri defends FSU's Mike Martin; Gators play Friday


    OMAHA, Neb. — LSU coach Paul Mainieri says whether Florida State's Mike Martin ever wins a national championship should have no bearing on how his long career in college baseball is judged.

    MADE IT: Josh Watson beats the tag of Louisville catcher Colby Fitch during TCU’s 4-3 win in the College World Series.
  3. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101