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NFC South Roundup, Week Five

Posted Oct 2, 2012

The 4-0 Falcons have the best reasons to be happy in what has been the most competitive division in the NFL the past decade, but even they are looking at many areas in which they can improve

A quick look at the news being generated by the other three teams in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' division:

 

The story in Week Four was the same as the week before in the NFC South, as first-place Atlanta was the only team to win while the other three squads all had to swallow narrow, last-minute defeats.  Atlanta did the trick itself to Carolina on a last-second field goal; the Bucs suffered the same fate against Washington and New Orleans' comeback in Green Bay fell a single point short.  The Bucs, Panthers and Saints all fell by a combined five points.  The Falcons have a comfortable early lead but still feel as if they have a lot to work on.  The Panthers are contemplating a lineup change on defense while the Saints believe they've improved each week despite their still-winless record.

 

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In Atlanta, Matt Ryan led the Falcons on a stunning 77-yard drive that started at their own one-yard line with 59 seconds left to set up Matt Bryant's 40-yard game-winner against Carolina.  That was obviously worth celebrating, but it likely would have never happened if not for a Cam Newton fumble on a potential third-down-converting run moments early.  Head Coach Mike Smith would like to see his team stay out of such tense situations by coming out of the gates better.  "We talked about starting fast and [Sunday] we really didn't do that.  We had a three-and-out and gave up a scoring drive and ended up behind on the scoreboard, seven-nothing right off the bat.  After looking at the tape, there are a lot of things we can get better at.  We have a bunch of areas we can improve on."  Ryan's play doesn't fall into that category, as he continues to lead the NFL with a passer rating of 112.1, ranking second in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and overall touchdowns.  Atlanta's run defense, on the other hand, could stand to improve, as the Falcons rank 29th in the NFL and are about to face Washington and its top-ranked ground game.  Smith says the problem has been too many breakout runs.  "[Carolina] had nine explosive runs in the ball game [Sunday]," he said.  "We've got to try and limit those explosive plays.  They're part of the toxic differential when you look at how you play with the offense and the defense together.  We've got to do a better job and can't give up those explosive plays."

 

 

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In Carolina, the Panthers are apparently contemplating a lineup change on defense after free safety Haruki Nakamura had a tough afternoon in Atlanta.  Though Nakamura had an interception that killed an Atlanta scoring threat and several other notably good plays, he also came up short rather visibly on several others, including the 59-yard bomb to Roddy White that started Atlanta's game-winning drive.  Carolina will give fourth-year player Sherrod Martin more first-team work on the practice field this week to determine whether they want to make a switch.  Martin opened 31 games over the previous two seasons, contributing 153 tackles and four interceptions, but he lost the starting free safety spot to Nakumara, an unrestricted free agent addition, this summer.  "If we're going to evaluate, we have to evaluate the different combinations and what the possibilities can be," said Head Coach Ron Rivera of the Panthers' lineup at safety.  "When you look at what happened in training camp, I didn't think Sherrod did a bad job.  We'll continue to evaluate and we've got until Sunday to make a decision."  Carolina's offense welcomed back RB Jonathan Stewart, who had missed two of the team's first three games with an ailing ankle.  Stewart pitched in with 40 yards on the ground as Carolina's rushing attack continued its Jekyll and Hyde routine this season.  The Panthers had just 10 rushing yards in Week One (in Tampa) and just 60 in Week Three, but have gone for 219 and 199 in their other two games.

 

 

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In New Orleans, the situation is most dire, as the Saints are now 0-4.  Only one team has ever rebounded from an 0-4 record to make the playoffs, and it is coincidentally the Saints' next opponent, the San Diego Chargers, who pulled off the feat in 1992.  Acting Head Coach Aaron Kromer thinks his team is headed in the right direction despite another loss.  "You would obviously say that 0-4 is not where we want to be or anywhere near acceptable, but as you look at it, we adjusted well to this situation moving on," said Kromer.  "Week One, we didn’t look very good. Week Two, we started to look a little better. Week Three, we played three good quarters and had a great chance to win that game and didn’t because we didn’t make the plays in the critical times. This game, obviously came down to [playing] at Lambeau [with] a chance to win. Our offense has adjusted and done a good job of getting back on track and getting to a point of where we should have and could have won that game."  Indeed, Drew Brees led the Saints' offense to 474 yards of total offense, in the process tying Johnny Unitas' longstanding NFL record with a touchdown pass in his 47th consecutive game.  Unfortunately, the defense gave up 421 yards to Green Bay's own high-powered attack and continues to rank last in the NFL.  Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo felt his unit did a good job of limiting Green Bay's big plays and was pleased it created two turnovers, but said the problems came inside the 20-yard line and in a few other key areas.  "Where I didn't think we performed well defensively was in the red zone and I'm disappointed in that because the prior week against Kansas City that kept us in the game," he said. "We played really well in the red zone then, so we went backwards that way. We did not create enough third downs, the penalties hurt us and we didn’t affect the quarterback hardly at all, certainly not enough to win the game."

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