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Pass D Faces Challenge In Improved Freeman


In his three-year career, the Falcons have had Bucs QB Josh Freeman's number. He's 1-5 against the Falcons, averaging 19 completions on 32 attempts for 207 yards with 1.3 TDs and 1.8 interceptions per game. After a down year last season, Freeman, under new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, has bounced back and he's been one of the hottest QBs in the league over Tampa's recent 5-1 stretch.

In that time span, Freeman has thrown 16 touchdowns to three interceptions and has a 106.1 QB rating. Tampa is 11-3 when he has a 100 or better rating. The Falcons are very familiar with their division rival's QB, but they know the QB under center in this upcoming weekend is new and improved. For starters, the big QB that has been tough to bring down in years past is a little slimmer this season.

"I saw him in the offseason this summer," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "I think he dropped a lot of weight. I would say he's more mobile than in past years because he's a little more slimmer and can move around a bit better."

The Bucs have one of the top running attacks in the league, especially over the last six games, fueled by the strong running of rookie Doug Martin. The passing game feeds off of Martin's success on the ground and the Falcons know they must first stop Martin, but Freeman's got a new target in town to help out in the vertical passing game.

Signed in the offseason, Vincent Jackson has 863 yards receiving this season with seven TDs. He's a big reason for the improved passing attack behind Freeman, a passing offense that's ranked No. 14 in the league this season with 240.4 yards per game. Jackson combines with Mike Williams to give Tampa two effective passing targets.

The Falcons are the 10th-best passing D in the league and while stopping Martin is their 1a on the "need to do" list against Tampa, keeping Jackson and Williams in check is 1b.

"If the ball is in the air, it's going to 83 (Jackson) or 19 (Williams), so we have our work cut out," DeCoud said. "They're two good jump ball guys. If the ball is in the air, he's going to trust those guys to make a play so we have to be right there with them to make those plays for us."

Freeman is engineering an offense that is clicking as they enter Sunday against the Falcons. No matter how they've done it, they're getting into the endzone a lot. Their 28.7 points per game is tied for fourth in the league and Freeman is keeping the Bucs offense in positive situations.

"He's running the offense extremely well," head coach Mike Smith said. "They're scoring a lot of points and they're doing it both running and throwing the ball. I think he's throwing with more accuracy. I don't think he's taking off and running with it as much. When he does he's running effectively. I'm not seeing as many negative yardage plays."

The new weapons Tampa's added have helped immensely, but the Falcons will have their eyes trained on Freeman. He's still the centerpiece to the offense and they'll be looking to continue the struggles in his career against the Falcons on Sunday.

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