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NFC South Roundup, Week Nine

Posted Oct 30, 2012

The undefeated Falcons are flying high after getting a big win in Philly in which their rushing attack woke up, but the Panthers and Saints are both looking for answers after losses that were frustrating in different ways


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

 

The Buccaneers aren't the only team reeling from a key player's move to injured reserve, as Carolina is adjusting to the loss of one of their defensive leaders.  The Panthers are also trying to figure out how a game in which they played quite well on both offense and defense ended in another tough loss at Chicago, while the Saints had a frustrating flight home Sunday night after giving up another 500 yards at Denver.  Atlanta may have lost a linebacker to injury as well on Sunday, but also did some of their best work of the year in the running game, on both offense and defense, which had been an emphasis during their recent bye week.

 

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In Atlanta, the Falcons are still undefeated after a big win in Philly in which they jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead and never led by less than a touchdown after that.  The Falcons' rushing attack, which has been a minor issue in the midst of the team's outstanding first half, came to life thanks to the contributions of second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers.  Rodgers gained 60 yards on just eight carries and also caught five passes for another 20 yards as Atlanta left Philadelphia with just under 400 yards of total offense.  A big chunk of that went to second-year WR Julio Jones, who caught five passes for 123 yards and one touchdown.  Jones, who seems to alternate big games with Roddy White, has done most of his damage away from the Georgia Dome this year, but Smith thinks that's a coincidence.  "I think it’s basically how teams are trying to defend us," . I don’t think it has anything to do with home or away. We knew we were going to get some one-on-one matchups with the type of defense that the Eagles played, and when we got those matchups we were going to have opportunities. It’s a great hookup with Matt and Julio on the nine route on the left side and then we had a nice hookup on a quick screen, and Roddy White threw an outstanding block."  Atlanta's run defense has been a concern at times this year, too, and still ranks 26th in the NFL, but it held the Eagles to 92 yards, 42 of that coming on Michael Vick scrambles.  Much as the Buccaneers' offense has hit its stride after focusing on basics during the bye week, the Falcons used their own extra time on a bye to focus on the fundamentals of tackling.  "I thought our coaching staff did a nice job on our Monday practice during the bye week – it was probably forty five minutes of just remedial, eighth-grade football," said Smith, laughing at that last part. "Sometimes we need to get back and do that. I thought our guys did a great job and they responded to it fantastically in the ball game. Sometimes you can’t see the forest because of the trees and we needed to step back and work on some fundamentals on our bye week.”

 

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In Carolina, standout rookie LB Luke Kuechly has moved from the weak side to the middle following yet another season-ending trip to injured reserve for hard-luck LB Jon Beason.  Beason missed almost all of the 2011 season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in Week One, and now he's done again this year due to torn cartilage in his right knee.  Kuechly made his first start at MIKE in Sunday's game at Chicago and performed well, leading the team with 10 stops and one tackle for loss and helping hold the Bears to just 210 yards of offense.  In fact, the Panthers outgained the Bears by more than 200 yards, with Cam Newton throwing for 314, but a Robbie Gould field goal as time expired sent Carolina to 1-6 on the season.  Those guys have been around, they know the defense," said Kuechly, referring to both Beason and CB Chris Gamble, also sent to IR last week with a shoulder injury. "The biggest thing is not having that experience out there. Guys have to step up now.  It's all MIKE [for him] now, so I have to get in and study."  Kuechly and company had difficulty enjoying the Panthers' fine defensive performance because, for the fifth time this season, they held an opponent to fewer than 20 offensive points (the Bears had yet another pick-six) and still lost.  "It's frustrating because defensively I feel like we've improved by leaps and bounds over last year, but we don't have much to show for it," said Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott said. "Is there more to do? Yes. You have to look at yourself and say, ‘What else can we do?' Well, we have to win the game. Take it to another level and win the game."  The offense had a fairly impressive day, as well, with 416 total yards, but the one-point loss may have come down to red-zone effectiveness.  Carolina made four trips inside the Chicago 20 but came away with just one touchdown and three field goals.  The running game in particular stalled near the goal line, and the Panthers were second-guessing themselves after the game as to whether they should have gone back to their zone-read ground game in the red zone.  They had switched to more of a power style of rushing attack on Sunday to try to wake up that portion of their offense.  "I think [the power running game] helped, but at times I think we could have used [the zone read]," Rivera. "Hindsight is 20-20, though. We can all see clear."

 

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In New Orleans, Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt returned from his six-game suspension to take the reins back from Aaron Kromer, but the Saints returned to the loss column after a tough Sunday night game in Denver.  The Broncos' defense held Drew Brees and the Saints to just 252 yards of offense, their third-lowest total of the last five years.  Brees completed just over 50% of his passes and threw for only 213 yards while being picked off once.  Vitt believes the Saints, who rushed 17 times for just 51 yards in Denver, need to have a more balanced attack so that the rushing game can carry the load on an off night for the passing attack.  "I thought at times we did run the ball well," said Vitt. "We have to stick to it a little bit more. When the passing game doesn’t flourish the way we expect it to around here, we’re still going to be held accountable to win football games and compete. We’ve got to improve on that and I’ve got to do a better job.”  New Orleans' prolific offense can certainly be forgiven a down game here or there, but the bigger problem for the Saints is their 32nd-ranked defense, which has given up more yards through seven games than any other team in NFL history.  The Saints are now surrendering nearly 500 yards per outing after Peyton Manning and the Broncos put up 530 on Sunday night.  “It’s frustrating," said Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.  "It’s uncharted territory. I’m not used to this, because I’ve been blessed to be at places where we’ve played pretty good defense and we’re not doing that right now. Yet, I can’t really put my finger on it. But we will. We’ll figure it out. I know one thing: Our guys never stop fighting. I believe in these guys. I keep saying it and I do. They believe in us getting it straightened out too, but we just have to find a way on Sundays.  I don’t know what we’re going to change. We’re not going to wave a magic wand and change everything. We just get better at what we’re doing."