TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris has talked about how much P/K Michael Koenen has been a "game-changer" in his first season in Tampa Bay. And no team knows Koenen's factor in field position than Sunday's opponent, Atlanta, where he spent his first six NFL seasons.
"It'll be good to see them," Koenen said, smiling.
Koenen has delivered since signing a six-year, $19.5 million free agent deal in the offseason. He ranks third in the NFL with a 45.2 net average on punts, regularly booms touchbacks on kickoffs and converted an onside kick Sunday.
"Koenen has been spectacular," Morris said. "He's been lights out. He's changed field position; he's changed the game. Great job by the scouting department going out and getting him in free agency. He's certainly been a differencemaker in how we want to win games."
With Koenen, the Falcons were the top team in the league in defensive field position after kickoffs last year (opponents began drives, on average, from the 22.2-yard line). Atlanta saw enough value in Koenen to put the franchise tag on him in 2009.
But since the Bucs signed him this summer, the difference has been immediate. Falcons rookie P Matt Bosher has a 35.1 net average, 26th in the league, including a shanked 18-yarder Sunday.
"The most important thing to me is we are winning games, and I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing; I'm affecting field position the best I can," Koenen said. "Whatever the numbers look like, they look like. You really can't control them a lot of the times. As long as we're getting the W's, that's the only stat I really care about."
ON GUARD: Versatile offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah started Sunday in place of G Ted Larsen and played so well he could hold onto that position against the Falcons.
"Zuttah really stood out; he was a game-changer," Morris said. "He went out there in the running game, played really physical, played tough, played nasty. You've got to like his effort and everything he gave us in the run game, everything he gave us in pass protection. I don't think he gave up a quarterback hit or quarterback pressure. … Those guys up front, they played like a core, so I liked that."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Morris didn't know the full extent of LB Quincy Black's ankle injury but said he's comfortable if Dekoda Watson has to go in his place.
Morris benched Black in Sunday's game after finding out he had an injury, which presumably led to some of his missed tackles.
"Watson did a good job (Sunday)," Morris said of the former Florida State standout. "He's gonna play fast. That's who he is and what he's about. … If we've got to go with Dekoda, I feel good about that position."
STEPPING UP: Rookie LB Mason Foster also could get more snaps. Foster racked up a team-high 10 tackles, including a sack, quarterback hit and forced fumble. But Morris said he's also impressed in his understanding of mistakes and showing the ability to correct them.
"I feel like he's a vet already," Watson said. "He's really proving himself, is a very intelligent football player. His future is looking very bright."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.