NFL Week 2 NFC South: Will Someone Stand Up & Play Defense

Although this division has won one NFL championship in the last two years, its amazing how pedestrian this division is playing defense. With Cam Newton showcasing out of this world talent, it doesn’t bode well for the Panther’s division mates. The Saints finally showed up against Chicago but ask yourself : Was it the strength of the Saints defense or a Bears offense still searching for an identity?? Division favorite Atlanta won a shootout with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night yet gave up 30 points for the second consecutive week. They cannot keep going at that rate and expect to win the division. A trip to Tampa to reprise last year’s bloodbath against the physical Buccaneers awaits.

NFC South Team W L T  Pct PF PA Net Pts TD Home Road Div Pct Conf Pct Non-Conf Streak Last 5
New Orleans Saints 1 1 0 .500 64 55 9 7 1-0 0-1 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 0-0 1W 1-1
Atlanta Falcons 1 1 0 .500 47 61 -14 6 1-0 0-1 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 0-0 1W 1-1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 1 0 .500 44 47 -3 5 0-1 1-0 0-0 .000 1-1 .500 0-0 1W 1-1
Carolina Panthers 0 2 0 .000 44 58 -14 5 0-1 0-1 0-0 .000 0-2 .000 0-0 2L 0-2

All that withstanding, the Buccaneers could prove to be the early season favorite if they can knock off the Falcons this Sunday. Last year these two played in the most physical game of the season.  One with so much hitting that the personal foul calls caused Roddy White of the Falcons to be pulled out for awhile by his coach and saw  Tampa QB Josh Freeman get a personal foul call after an interception. Even the cheerleaders left that December game sore. Get some nachos, beer, popcorn and get ready for this one. We promise you this will be the game to watch because these two teams hate each other. Who are we leaning toward?  Check in later this week, right Falcons Jennifer?? She’s a little biased by the way.

New Orleans is still in a state of flux after giving up a plethora of yards to the Green Bay Packers in the opener along with 42 points. The “Who Dat” nation better learn how to tackle before the Panthers and Cam Newton come to town. If you can’t bring down DeAngelo Williams and Jonathaon Stewart, you’ll hate having to bring down a 250 lbs quarter back who has set the NFL on it’s collective ear. When he first threw for 422 vs Arizona, most of us scoffed “well that was the Cardinals”.  Then the Panthers threw for over 400 yards against the defending NFL champions and now you have to say “OK Cam Newton is for real”. Others would think it’s premature, we don’t. Ever since the midway point of last year’s college season,we knew he was going pro, so you know defenses were gearing themselves for him. He had some growing pains against the Packers with 3 interceptions, but face it, he bounced back and almost tied the game in losing 31-24. So here the Panthers are, a defensive football team who now wakes up after two weeks not taking care of their end of the bargain.

Ron Rivera’s defense is the reason this team is 0-2, they didn’t know what they had on offense. Now that they do, expect more solid game plans and wins to mount up. Has there been a more dangerous 0-2 team than this one?? Face it there isn’t a lot of film on Newton and they still have Williams and Stewart to help pound the rock before we get to a rejuvenated Steve Smith.  Do you realize after 2 weeks Steve Smith has 14 rec. for 334 yards and 2 touchdowns?? He’s the wrong guy to let him start “feeling it”. If you project those numbers over a full season, that would be 112 receptions and 2,672 yards and 16 TDs. This is the wrong time for the NFC South to forget how to play defense. Seriously!! After losing a close tussel to the world champions, Carolina is licking it’s chops looking at the rest of the division and the lack of defense being played. Seriously, has an 0-2 team ever been this optimistic when looking at the rest of their schedule??

2011 NFC South Previews & Predictions

First things first, we’d like to welcome you to the best division in all of pro football. Although the NFL’s marquee rivalries exist between it’s glamour teams, no division is as competitive from week to week like the NFC South. Do you realize that since the division’s inception in 2002, there has been NO repeat champion in it’s history??  It also has the distinction of being the only division in the NFL, where each team has played for the conference championship and a right to go to the Super Bowl in that same time. Not even the NFC East can match that because neither Dallas or Washington have sniffed the NFC Championship in the last decade. This division is defined by physical, spirited play punctuated by last year’s bloodbath between the upcoming Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons in week 13. The hardest hitting game of the NFL season came down to a game sealing interception by Falcon CB Brent Grimes with under a minute to go. As a going away present, Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman was given an unnecessary roughness, personal foul for hitting him several yards out of bounds. Man, you have to love football season!!

As we make our way toward the 2011 season, there are several questions about the teams in this division. Are the New Orleans Saints poised to reclaim the divison from the Falcons?? Are the Buccaneers and the aforementioned Josh Freeman for real after a 10-6 season?? Have the Buccaneers improved enough to unseat them both and become the 10th different division winner in so many years?? How will the Carolina Panthers progress under new coach Ron Rivera and develop Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton?? What will become of last year’s #1 draft pick, quarterback Jimmy Clausen??

To answer a few of these questions, you’ll have to read deeper into this article. As for our picks


Atlanta Falcons 12-4 *

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5 +

New Orleans Saints 9-7

Carolina Panthers 3-13

We look to the Atlanta Falcons to end the revolving door of NFC South Division Champions. Head Coach Mike Smith has them playing mistake proof football behind a power rushing attack that is augmented by the play action passing of Matt Ryan. With the NFL’s leading receiver (Roddy White) in the fold, it will be interesting to see how potent the offense can become with 1st round draft pick Julio Jones from Alabama. The Falcons overspent for Jones’ services but it seems as though they figure to score with Green Bay if they see them again in the playoffs. They still need a player to emerge to rush the passer along with John Abraham. It was this glaring weakness that was exposed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the 48-21 loss to the eventual world champions. Last year’s big splash was CB Dunta Robinson. He needs to play up to his potential and not be overshadowed by his Pro Bowl counterpart in Brent Grimes. That embarrassing playoff loss should keep this team motivated and working hard to improve.

It’s time for Matt Ryan to win his first playoff game.  He has amassed a regular season record of 33-13 and has led his team to 2 division championships. Going into his fourth season should be able to handle the entire playbook as well.  He still has workhorse running back Michael Turner and now has 3rd down back Jacquizz Rodgers from Oregon State to add to the explosive Jones. The Falcons are primed for a Super Bowl run and on the Georgia Dome turf this team will  be hard to catch. Right now they still have the lone weakness of rushing the passer that hasn’t been addressed.

The Buccaneers young signal caller, Josh Freeman.

Now buoyed by the fact that they learned how to win last season will propel the Buccaneers into the playoffs in 2011. Coach Raheem Morris has to get some early pressure from draft picks Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, and Mason Foster to help cover secondary deficiencies until CB Aquib Talib gets back from suspension. Where did they learn how to win? Well last year going into week 15 they hadn’t won a game against a team with a winning record. They had lost several close games to teams with winning records but when it counted in the last two weeks, they beat the playoff bound Seahawks 38-15. Then in the last game of the season they outhit and beat the defending champion Saints 23-13 in the Super Dome. In that game the Saints were trying to catch the Atlanta Falcons to steal the NFC South but called off the dogs when they realized the Bucs weren’t going away.

What has been lost in this offseason is how good this team was playing when the season’s final seconds ticked away. Did you know that Josh Freeman completed 61.4 % of his passes and finished the season with 25TDs thrown to only 6 interceptions?? Or how about Freeman was second only to Tom Brady with an interception percentage of only 1.3% with 474 passing attempts?? Right, we know you didn’t. The NFL pundits are too busy talking about Manning and Brees than to actually see what is happening on a week to week basis right in front of them. Consider that he is only going into his 3rd season. Yikes!! Now add to that battering rams RB LaGarrette Blount, then FB Earnest Graham, and you can see this team overpowering the weak tackling New Orleans Saints as they did last January.  They have to approve against the run and they addressed their defensive front 7 with 3 picks and several free agents. On the rise and will make the playoffs this year. Possibly the promised land next year.

Descending back to the pack are the New Orleans Saints. The light defense that couldn’t tackle Marshawn Lynch in last year’s playoffs is still in tact. Why they are returning to the pack?? Try the fact that in their Super Bowl season when they had Darren Sharper, they led the NFL with 26 interceptions. Those numbers fell to less than 10 for the 2010 season and the last time we saw the Saints secondary?? Matt Hasselbeck threw for over 400 yards, 4 touchdowns and had a perfect passer rating in the Seahawks WildCard 41-36 win. They added DE Cameron Jordan in the draft to help the pass rush but the team returns with 10 of 11 defensive starters who underwhelmed last year. So the last two times we saw this defense was when division rival Tampa took their lunch money and Matt Hasselbeck throwing a 7 on 7 skeleton drill. Listen, Drew Brees can pass for 6,000 yards and wouldn’t be able to right this ship.

As a passer he has been on a roll ever since arriving in New Orleans. Brees has won a Super Bowl, passed for over 5,000 yards in a season and has been regarded as one of the best in football.  All of this after the Chargers left him unsigned with a shoulder that needed surgery, it seemed his career was over. So here we are several seasons later in the midst of Brees’ renaissance, will he take the ball out of his hands and hand it off to a Mark Ingram as often as he should?? A question no one is really asking. If Ingram provides a more stout running game, it will rest the Saints defense, but will it knock the Saints passing game out of it’s rhythm?? Last year, the Saints were knocked out of a good passing rhythm by their own defense’s inability to get off the field. It’s one of the reasons Brees tossed 22 interceptions last year. Interesting questions that we think it will take New Orleans beyond this year to figure out. So no playoffs trip this year.

In Cam they trust. Coach Rivera has decided to go with Newton in their final pre season game and we know what that means: He’s going to start the season barring a subpar performance. Somehow this could be the vanguard of introducing the spread offense as a pro football attack. With power backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart still in the fold, we know the Panthers will be running the football. Against some 8 man fronts this season, Newton or Clausen should have 1 on 1 opportunities to showcase their arms. If Clausen gets in the game he needs to hit on those since he’s auditioning for his next NFL stop with each throw. Its a mistake if the Panthers start Newton right away. They should let him get into the season first before inserting him into the lineup, somewhere around week 5. Right now the Panthers have a great young group of defensive linemen and building a solid defense around MLB Jonathon Beason. They just need to trade QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Steve Smith for draft considerations and bring in some weapons on the outside. Right now, they’re in last place in the NFC South.

Next up, the NFC North!!

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2011 New Orleans Saints Preview

Its amazing what happens in pro football when a team becomes Super Bowl champion.  Every little nuance is studied and every small flaw gets worked on until it becomes a crack, then transformed into a team’s Achille’s heel.  However when you think about it, the same problems the Saints had in 2009 were there in 2010.

In ’09 the ball just seemed to keep bouncing their way, from the Robert Meachem stealing the ball from a Redskin who intercepted Brees then ran it in for a TD, to the tipped pass to Darren Sharper who returned it for a clinching TD in a struggle with the Dolphins. What goes up must come down and all those you climb over to get that ring are all of those who will give you their best shot on your way down.  Does it wear on a team? Week after week everyone takes their best shot and the war of attrition sets in…yes  By the end of the 2010 season the New Orleans Saints were running on empty.  We at the Taylor Blitz Times are still waiting for the Saints to tackle Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch.  With the additions and target on someone else’s back, can they liberate the NFC South mantle from the Atlanta Falcons??

Quarterback: Aside from Green Bay and New England, no team is in better shape at the quarterback position.  You could argue that Drew Brees is still the NFC ‘s best quarterback over Aaron Rodgers.  Hell the NFL for that matter. Without his steady play this team would have slid into the abyss with a running game that wasn’t as formidable as the title run the year before.

Although Brees passer rating dropped to 12th, (90.9) he threw a whopping 658 times completing 448 for 4,620 yards, 33TDs yet had 20 interceptions. Having to overcompensate for the anemic running game and being forced to throw, contributed to the high turnover totals.  Sounds like a down year coming off of his 5,ooo yard masterpiece two years before but get this… He was still 3rd in yards passing, 2nd in touchdowns thrown while leading the league in completion percentage at 68.1%.  Even in the 41-36 playoff upset loss to the Seattle Seahawks he was forced to hoist 60 passes. Far too many.  He completed 33 for 404 yards and he was masterful in that game throwing no interceptions.  He now ranks 1st in every Saints  career passing category: yards, completions, attempts and touchdown passes.

What hasn’t been showcased is how to get the best of Drew Brees as a defense.  Even last season he threw several interceptions late in games when he was forced to take chances.  Sean Payton has constructed a passing game that gets the ball out of Brees hands the instant his back foot hits the turf.  They make great use of 3 and 5 step drops and bubble screens to get the jump on opposing defenses.

Teams may be better suited to come up and press his receivers and send overload blitzes at him because the way the rules are now, he’s going to go up the field throwing 5 to 6 yard throws.  Send a series of zone blitzes and overload blitzes to rough him up seems like the only way. Otherwise its basketball on grass and you won’t stop him.  He is in his prime and barring catastrophy should have another 5 years left in him.  Without question quarterback is Super Bowl quality in New Orleans.

Offensive Backfield: After being derailed by backfield injuries, the Saints pulled the second biggest coup of the 2011 draft landing Heisman winner Mark Ingram from Alabama.  They stole a lot of thunder being made on draft day by their NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, for trading up for Julio Jones, Ingram’s teammate from the 2009 National Championship team.  This solves a tremendous problem the Saints have had for several years now: running consistently tough between the tackles.

Many think Ingram is a “can’t miss” running back and an Emmitt Smith clone.  A patient runner with short choppy steps who runs with a low pad level to prevent him from fumbling while powering forward for the tough yards.  He had a few injuries in his senior season where he rushed for 875 yards, yet dazzled in his Heisman season where he ran for 1,658 yards and 17 TDs.  The running back position in the NFL is not a position where a player grows into it. All great running backs have their best years in the first three.  Running the football, Ingram will prove to be a fit immediately.

Speaking of a fit, time to talk about a running back who doesn’t. This should spell the end for Reggie Bush who couldn’t make it work in the pros unless he was in space. A bust with a few splash plays per year doesn’t merit the $11 million he is scheduled to make this season.  He has had some impact on special teams but face it, his 36 carries for 150 yards rushing and 34 rec. for 208 yards for a combined 2 TDs is nowhere close to enough. After Mike Bell departed for Cleveland, the rushing game was turned over to Chris Ivory, who led the Saints with 716 yards, and Pierre Thomas who gained 269 more.

Yet each proved unable to handle the pounding and the Saints had to bring in former Dallas Cowboy Julius Jones off the streets to man the backfield in the playoff loss to the Seahawks.  These backs just couldn’t stay on the field and when they were, the offense couldn’t sustain drives which caused team wide problems. Having to pass so much led to being unable to control the clock which put an undersized defense on the field too much. (See early 90’s Buffalo Bills) Its a systemic solution that one solid running back, in Mark Ingram, should  solve.  At running back the Saints leaped back to very good. He can also power the ball from in tight and the Saints should improve on 9 rushing TDs.

Receivers: The beneficiaries to all this passing is a receiving corp devoid of stars yet are solid intermediate receivers.  Marques Colston led the way with 84 rec. for 1,023 yards and 7 TDs followed by Lance Moore’s 66 receptions for 763 yards with a team leading 8 touchdowns.  What is unique is Colston, Devery Henderson, and Robert Meachem are the same type of receiver, tall, rangy and they play relatively slow.  Its Brees throwing the ball on time that makes this receiving corp look better than it is.

Yet Moore is quick and darts in and out of small cracks to gain 40 first downs out of his 66 catches. He and Colston  each made 1st downs on their receptions 60% and 67% of the time respectively.  This team runs the bubble screen as affective as any team in football.  This was an extension of their running game in 2010.

Yet this group is slow and defenses should press this group more. Teams are playing so fearful of Brees that they immediately drop into zones when this team has no burners on it.  Defense this receiving corps with combo coverages on their slot players and get physical with your corners on slower receivers and make Brees throw out of rhythm. This pressure on the receivers would make Brees pump fake and pull the ball down allowing your pass rush extra time to sack him.

Looks like the Saints will be moving on at tight end going with Jimmy Graham as Jeremy Shockey’s successor. Their numbers were nearly identical yet Graham reached the endzone 5 times to Shockey’s 3 yet this is a salary cap issue. They get to maintain that production while paying less and thats the NFL we follow now.  Receiver is serviceable to good in the Crescent City.

Offensive Line: In the words of Vince Lombardi, football is always going to be a game of blocking and tackling.  Well this offensive line had some issues with the blocking side of that equation. This team only rushed for 1,519 yards (28th) yet averaged 4.0 yards per attempt yet had problems pushing into the endzone when the team drove down close.  The 9 rushing touchdowns (28th) this team scored is evidence of that. What is unique is between the 20s this team ran off right tackle and gained first downs 67 times which ranked 9th.  You would think that would translate down at the goal line. Puzzling.

The Saints passing statistics from a line standpoint are mixed.  One of the aspects of Sean Payton’s playbook is for Brees to get the ball out quickly with 3 and 5 step drops.  The Saints were 5th lowest in sacks allowing 26th and were ranked 11th in allowing Brees to be hit 67 times.  They need to improve on their pass protection with the Buccaneers building a strong defensive front as a division opponent and the Panthers will be building a defense under former defensive co-ordinator and current Head Coach Ron Rivera.

Teams will be coming after Brees and if he is injured the Saints would be in trouble.  The New Orleans front did have a pro bowl performer in LG Carl Nicks out of Nebraska. This line is average to below average…just doesn’t get the push when close to the goal line and those passing numbers are high for a team that throws from short quarterback drop backs.

Defensive Line: This line had a fair year yet needs some help. Of the 33 sacks the Saints collected, 21.5 came from a committee of 7 linemen with none totalling more than DT Sedrick Ellis’ 6.  Will Smith needs to stop acting and rapping and get after the damn quarterback.  His sack total of 5.5 doesn’t cut it for a former first round draft pick and is down from 13.5 from the year before. In defensive co-ordinator Greg Williams scheme, DEs are to get after the quarterback and check on the run on their way there.

This is the system Jevon Kearse broke in with. So come on Smith, get after it. The Saints spent their1st round draft pick for the services of Cal DE Cameron Jordan to help bolster the pass rush. At 6’4, 287lbs he has the size and wingspan to rush in the pros.  His father Steve Jordan was a pro bowl tight end with the Minnesota Vikings in the 80s and 90s so the athletic pedigree is there.  They also drafted Greg Romeus out of Pitt to help get after the passer. Veteran DE Alex Brown may be the odd man out.

If the Saints want to regain the NFC South crown one thing they need to do is play a little more stout up front against the run.  This team was 16th against the rush and gave up a mediocre 4.3 yards per attempt. At times this line was shoved into the linebacker and the safeties faces. With big running backs to face in the division with Atlanta’s Michael Turner, Tampa Bay’s Blount, and Carolina’s Jonathon Stewart / DeAngelo Williams combo, this has to be a priority. Surprisingly they didn’t draft a DT, yet right before the lockout they picked up Shaun Rogers, former Cleveland Brown, to help hold the middle.  At 6’3 350 lbs he should eat up blockers and allow Vilma, and Shanle to make plays. Defensive front is slightly below average and they should get another DT when free agency opens up.

Linebackers: The anchor of this defense is Pro Bowl MLB Jonathon Vilma out of the University of Miami.  He led the team with 107 tackles, had 4 sacks and forced 3 fumbles. He’s instinctive and quick yet at 230 lbs can be engulfed by blockers so its imperative the DT play improves.  Scott Shanle (76 tackles) and Danny Clark (59 tackles) are the starters on the outside. They’re solid tacklers yet rarely make big hits or splash plays.

Between the two of them there wasn’t a sack or interception turned in all year…and they still haven’t tackled Marshawn Lynch.  Saint’s brass must be in agreeance with us since they spent two draft picks here on Illinois linebackers Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey in the 3rd and 7th rounds respectively.

Linebacker is below average thanks to the outside ‘backer play.  This group needs to force more turnovers and its puzzling that they don’t since they play pretty fast.

Secondary: When a pass rush can’t get to the quarterback, the play that is most affected will be that of the secondary. The starting quartet only pulled in 5 interceptions among them.  Former Buckeyes Malcolm Jenkins and Jabari Greer each had two interceptions.  The secondary missed the veteran play of Darren Sharper at free safety, however Jenkins is a converted corner and should grow with the position.  Its a good thing SS Roman Harper likes to tackle, he gets many shots at it. Not only did he make the pro bowl in 2010, he was second on the team with 94 tackles, had 3 sacks, and forced 6 fumbles. Thats a tremendous performance.

Tracy Porter only had 1 interception in 2010 while defending 6 passes.  This is as solid a secondary as the NFC South offers.  It rates better than what is shown statistically.  Once the pass rush resumes, this team will pick off more passes.  Porter in particular since Will Smith is on the same side.

It sounds like we’re piling on Smith but one of the recipes for interceptions is for quarterbacks too throw over a disruptive, tall pass rusher. If you can’t get to the quarterback, at least get your hands up.  This is how Lester Hayes once picked off 13 passes in a season behind a 6’8 Ted Hendricks, and an Everson Walls snatched 11 the next year behind a 6’9 “Too Tall” Jones.  Smith did deflect 5 passes last year so keep watching.

Overall: This is going  to be an interesting year for the Saints.  Drew Brees enjoys being one of the faces of the league, will he turn around and hand the ball off to Mark Ingram as much as he should??  Brees like any other good athlete has an ego.  This will be a good watch to see what he audibles to and how he responds if his rhythm is thrown off with a more balanced attack.  Will Ingram fit into the passing game well enough so they can have him as an every down back? If he is platooned, the Saints could suffer from the syndrome that affected the Dallas Cowboys last year.

They telegraphed what they were going to run based on which running back was in there.  Defenses would get the jump on them. We’re still unsure at Taylor Blitz Times if they did enough on the defensive front to solidify themselves against the run.  We see a mixed year coming up with a record of 9-7 to 10-6 and another wild card berth.

Word count: 1256 Last edited by jeftaylor on May 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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