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Buccaneers at Falcons: Five Game-Changing Players


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By Bailey Adams/FanSided via The Pewter Plank

Published September 07, 2016


Nov 9, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line and Atlanta Falcons offensive line at the line of scrimmage during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers will finally open up the 2016 regular season on Sunday against the Falcons. Here, we break down five players that could decide the outcome of Tampa Bay's matchup with Atlanta.


The Dirk Koetter era gets underway for the Buccaneers on Sunday in Atlanta, where the first-year head coach spent three years as an offensive coordinator before coming to Tampa. The Bucs swept Atlanta a year ago, winning 23-20 on the road and 23-19 at Raymond James Stadium. While beating the Falcons alone would be big for Tampa Bay, a season-opening win at the Georgia Dome would also go a long way for the team's confidence.

The Bucs haven't made the playoffs since 2007, but there are a lot of reasons to believe that they will be better this year. A new head coach, new defensive scheme and some new talent is what could get the franchise back on track. Starting fast this year would be key, especially after last year's season-opening debacle against Tennessee.

Tampa Bay's roster features a lot of game-changers on both sides of the ball, but so does Atlanta's. Here, we have five players that could decide Sunday's game between the two division rivals.



Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons strong safety <a rel=

Doug Martin

One of the biggest moves of the offseason for Tampa Bay was signing Doug Martin to a contract extension. The 27-year-old running back is coming off of a huge year in which he rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns on 288 carries. His resurgence certainly helped the development of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston as it kept the offense balanced.

That's why he is such a key player in Sunday's game against the Falcons. Whether or not the Bucs can get their ground game going will decide how they run the offense. Martin's success can open things up for the passing game, which provides the balance that can make the Buccaneer offense successful.


Atlanta's run defense was nothing special last year, allowing an average of four yards per carry and 105 rushing yards per game. Those marks left them in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the league. In two matchups with the Falcons last year, Martin rushed for 71 yards in one and 95 in the other. He should be able to put up a solid game on Sunday, which Tampa Bay needs if it wants a season-opening win.





Julio Jones

The biggest weapon that the Falcons possess is wide receiver Julio Jones, one of the top receivers in the NFL. The Bucs likely won't stop him, so they will have to hope that they can contain the three-time Pro Bowler. He had big games against Tampa Bay last year, but the defense contained him just enough to get two wins. In the first matchup last year, Jones caught 12 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Against the Bucs later in the year, he caught eight for 93 yards and no scores.

Sunday will be the regular season debut of the Bucs' new-look secondary that features Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner and Vernon Hargreaves. They won't be met with an easy task. If Jones gets on the same page with Matt Ryan early, it could be trouble. But if Tampa Bay gets some pressure on Ryan, it might force some bad decisions and throws, which would slow down Jones.

Atlanta lost eight games a year ago. Jones caught a total of one touchdown in those eight, meaning the other seven of his touchdown catches came in wins. Obviously, if the Bucs can keep him out of the end zone, their chances of leaving with a win are much higher. That puts a lot of pressure on the red zone defense, but even keeping him under two scores is sufficient. Jones has eight multi-touchdown games in his career and in those eight games, Atlanta is 8-0.



Gerald McCoy

Tampa Bay hasn't had a consistent pass rush since its days of fielding dominant defenses in the early 2000s. That could change this year with the continued development of Jacquies Smith as well as the additions of Robert Ayers and Noah Spence. However, Gerald McCoy will still be the leader of the defensive line and with less pressure on him, he could be an even more destructive force in opposing backfields.


Forcing Matt Ryan to make mistakes is one of the biggest keys for the Tampa Bay defense on Sunday. Ryan no longer looks like the same quarterback from his impressive early years, throwing 14-plus interceptions in each of the last four years. But, even at 31, he is still capable of picking apart a defense. With a heavy pass rush comes forced throws and big mistakes, so McCoy needs to force his way into the backfield and disrupt the Atlanta quarterback. Not only will his presence affect the passing game, but also the effectiveness of the Falcons' ground game.

If the Bucs want to beat Atlanta on the road, they need a strong defensive effort. That has to start with pressure up the middle from McCoy.





Devonta Freeman

A year ago, the Bucs were weak against the passing game, but the defense did finish in the top half of the league in rushing yards allowed per game. The defensive line now has a new look and the linebacking corps is one of the league's most underrated as far as playmaking abilities are concerned. That should translate into another solid season for the Tampa Bay run defense, but they face a tough opponent on Sunday.

2015 was a breakout year for Devonta Freeman. The former Florida State running back totaled 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns on 265 carries, providing the Falcons with a strong rushing attack. Against the Bucs, however, Freeman had some mixed results. In the first matchup, he rushed for 88 yards on 21 carries while catching six passes for 43 yards. When the two teams met again in Tampa, he ran for just 47 yards on 14 carries but caught 10 passes for 56 yards. His ability to run routes out of the backfield is what makes him such a strength for Atlanta.

The Bucs will have to limit Freeman on Sunday if they want to keep the defense fresh. If they allow him to get into a rhythm, he has the ability to wear them down. But if Tampa Bay can stop him, it'll make the Atlanta offense more one-dimensional. That would leave Matt Ryan vulnerable for a Bucs defense that is eager to prove itself.



Roberto Aguayo

The Bucs' kicking game cost them a couple of games early in the season last year. To solve their kicking issues, they traded back into the second round of this year's draft to select Roberto Aguayo. After some struggles in the preseason, it looks like he has settled in, which is big for Tampa Bay.

Not only will Aguayo need to be accurate on his extra point and field goal attempts, but also on kickoffs. As the preseason progressed, he began to routinely send kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. This is key for Tampa Bay as its defense tries to stop a Falcons offense that can be dangerous. If he can keep Atlanta deep in their territory, the job gets a little more manageable for the Buccaneer defense.

And of course, any game can come down to a field goal. Aguayo's confidence seems to be back, which makes him someone who can change the outcome of Sunday's game. If he continues his recent string of success, Tampa Bay has a weapon of its own to counter Atlanta kicker (and former Buc) Matt Bryant. If Aguayo can't get it going, the Bucs will be in trouble.


Who do you think has the ability to change the outcome of Sunday's game, Bucs fans? Let us know.





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1 hour ago, birdz4i said:


not if they continue to miss kicks like they were in the preseason. missing easy kicks can take the wind out of a team pretty quickly.

I get that (Kickers are people too), but you don't put Boy Wonder on the list because he missed a few kicks during preseason. That's like saying if you don't score more points than the other team, you're gonna lose (a la John Madden), falls under the "No **** Sherlock" category. Trufant or Mike Evans could have been where he was. 

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11 minutes ago, A Dog Named Brian said:

I get that (Kickers are people too), but you don't put Boy Wonder on the list because he missed a few kicks during preseason. That's like saying if you don't score more points than the other team, you're gonna lose (a la John Madden), falls under the "No **** Sherlock" category. Trufant or Mike Evans could have been where he was. 


i get what you are saying, but they also had kicking problems last year leading to drafting him, then he starts missing kicks. kinda funny.

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