Reggie Roberts: Give us your take on how things are going in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are obviously much better than their 0-5 record in that they have dropped three games by a combined six points. What’s happening with Tampa Bay and what kind of game are you anticipating on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome?
Ira Kaufman: A team with eight Pro Bowl players on its roster never thought it would be 0-5 heading into Atlanta. Three of the setbacks were close, with the Jets, Saints and Cardinals all rallying late to frustrate the Bucs. A defense which had yielded only five TDs in the first four games didn’t play particularly well Sunday against the Eagles in a 30-21 setback. Poor QB play was the primary culprit in September, prompting the switch from Josh Freeman to rookie Mike Glennon. Defenses are stacking the box against Pro Bowl RB Doug Martin, daring Tampa Bay to beat them downfield. This will be Glennon’s first game on the road and the Falcons are sure to give him lots of different looks.
RR: What kind of season is second-year running back Doug Martin having and do you think Mike Glennon is the club’s long-term answer at the quarterback position?
IK: Martin has done a good job keeping his frustrations to himself. He knows he is a marked man and his rushing average has plunged from 4.6 to 3.5 yards per carry in year two because he’s running into 8-man fronts every Sunday. You can bet he will be the focus of Atlanta’s defense on Sunday. Glennon looked every bit like a rookie in his NFL debut against Arizona, tossing a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions to Patrick Peterson in a 13-10 loss, but he played better against Philadelphia with 273 yards and a pair of TD passes to Vincent Jackson. The key for Atlanta will be getting Glennon out of his comfort zone in the pocket because his mobility is suspect. He has 11 more games to prove to coaches, management and ownership that he is the right man under center going forward.
RR: Atlanta enters the game on a three-game losing skid and has lost back-to-back home games. What are your impressions and thoughts of head coach Mike Smith’s Falcons?
IK: Atlanta’s high-powered attack camouflaged some weaknesses in 2012 and the Falcons have been exposed a bit this year in the trenches. The last time I looked, Atlanta wasn’t overstocked with stellar performers up front on either side of the ball. Now injuries have hit hard and
RR: Are you at all surprised that the Kansas City Chiefs are 6-0 based on the fact that they were 2-14 just one year ago?
IK: KC had a terrible record in 2012, but everyone knew that roster had untapped talent. Along comes a seasoned head coach like Andy Reid and an effective game manager like Alex Smith under center and the Chiefs appear on their way to the AFC postseason. Look no further than that plus-12 turnover ratio and a ball-hawking defense that is superb on third down (24.1 percent conversion rate). Arrowhead Stadium is once again one of the tougher NFL venues to venture into. It’s too bad late owner Lamar Hunt isn’t around to witness this stunning turnaround.
RR: Let’s switch back to Sunday’s matchup in Atlanta. What are the key for the game for Atlanta and what are the keys of the game for Tampa Bay?
IK: The key for Tampa Bay is to spring Martin loose against Atlanta’s average rush defense. The Bucs are 1-20 in the past three seasons when they fail to rush for 100 yards as a team. If they can establish the run, the Bucs can use play-action to freeze Atlanta’s linebackers. A big priority for the Falcons is to get their defense off the field and let Ryan go to work. Opponents are converting 50 percent of their third-down opportunities against Atlanta, the worst mark in the league. A defensive coach like Mike Smith also has to be wondering why the Falcons have forced only four turnovers in five games.
RR: What’s your opinion of Denver and Kansas City – the lone two teams in the NFL who are both 6-0 right now but have taken different routes to achieve the same record?
IK: The Broncos are averaging 44 points, so that makes up for a lot of deficiencies. And now Denver gets pass-rush terror Von Miller back. His presence will help a defense that has yielded the most passing yards in the league. The Chiefs are thriving on defense, averaging five sacks, but KC is a bit vulnerable against the rush. The one major question surrounding the Chiefs is their ability to come from behind in crunch time through the air. Alex Smith certainly doesn’t have the kind of weapons Peyton Manning can call on.
RR: And finally, give us your prediction for Sunday’s game in Atlanta?
IK: I see a relatively low-scoring game ending in Atlanta’s favor. The Bucs desperately need a win to relieve some pressure off embattled coach Greg Schiano, but the Falcons see this matchup as a springboard to vault back into playoff contention. I like the Falcons, 24-17.