Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.
How the Bucs start. The Bucs continue to struggle early in games. They have scored only 37 points in the first half this season. That ranks last in the NFL. They’ve allowed opponents to score 135 points, which ranks 30th in the NFL. That point differential of minus-98 ranks last in the NFL.
How the Falcons finish. While the Bucs have struggled at the start of games, the Falcons have struggled at the end. They’ve scored just 24 fourth-quarter points while allowing 84. That minus-60 point differential ranks last in the league.
Devin Hester. The Atlanta return man burned the Bucs in the first meeting, returning a punt for a touchdown. The Bucs have had punter Michael Koenen doing a lot of directional punting and are also having him kick high to force fair catches. The Bucs need to use those same tactics to prevent Hester from getting any shots at big returns.
Josh McCown. The quarterback is making his first start since suffering a thumb injury in Week 3. The Bucs went 1-4 with Mike Glennon as the starter. The hope is that McCown can provide a spark for an offense that has had trouble getting into any sort of rhythm. But McCown also struggled in his first three starts and needs to do a better job of protecting the ball.
Tampa Bay’s running game. The Bucs rushed for 113 yards against Cleveland last week. That snapped a string of five games in which the Bucs failed to reach 100 rushing yards. Starter Doug Martin is likely to miss his second straight game with an injury. Bobby Rainey, who is more elusive than Martin, is likely to start. The Bucs also might use rookie Charles Sims for the first time. Sims was on injured reserve, but he’s had several weeks of practice. The Bucs could use Sims as their third-down back.