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NFC South Roundup, Week Six

Posted Oct 9, 2012

News from around the division includes possible middle linebacker switches in two cities, an injury to Saints TE Jimmy Graham and concern over Cam Newton pressing for the Panthers


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

 

The rest of the division was busy while the Buccaneers enjoyed their bye in Week Five, and the repercussions of three Sunday games are still being felt in Week Six.  The Falcons are still flying high as one of the NFL's two 5-0 teams (sharing that distinction with Houston after Monday night), but are focused on improving their run defense.  The Saints are also happier than they've been since the start of the regular season, having held off the Chargers on Sunday to get their first win, though they'll be paying attention to Jimmy Graham's ankle injury as they head into their bye week.  The Panthers are still searching for answers, particularly in regards to getting Cam Newton back in a groove, after suffering their third straight loss, this one at the hands of the visiting Seattle Seahawks.

 

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In Atlanta, the Falcons are 5-0 for the first time in team history and still not feeling as if they have hit their stride yet.  "The best thing about it is that we are not playing our best football and we're 5-0," said center Todd McClure, who has been with the team for all 13 of his NFL seasons.  "This team is much better than what we've played thus far.  It's easy to make corrections when you're 5-0.  We have a lot of room for improvement."  According to Head Coach Mike Smith, one of the main areas in which his team can improve is run defense, where the team ranks 27th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (142.8) and 31st in yards allowed per carry (5.4).  "We’ve got to be better stopping the run," said Smith on Monday, after his team's 24-17 win over Washington.  "We didn’t fit the run well. We didn’t basically take the blockers on in our terms. Our path to the ball and our tackling wasn’t what we needed it to be. Thought we did a nice job making some adjustments there at halftime, but we did give up too many yards. It’s all fixable, everything we’re talking about."  Second-year linebacker Akeem Dent has seen increased playing time in the last couple of weeks, but Smith was questioned about whether the team is considering a lineup change at MLB, where Dent has logged a portion of his playing time.  Dent also played on the outside in last week's game after Stephen Nicholas suffered an ankle injury.  "We do have a rotation in the defensive line, not so much with the linebackers," said Smith.  "We only have five linebackers on our roster, so it kind of limits us in terms of that. We’ll look at everything in terms of scheme, in terms of players and who’s playing and who’s not playing. I think it’s something we definitely have to fix.”  Nicholas' status for this weekend's game against Oakland is still up in the air.

 

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In Carolina, the Panthers are also considering a change at middle linebacker, but not because of any poor performances.  Rather, rookie first-rounder Luke Kuechly is coming off a thought-provoking performance at that spot in last week's loss to Seattle, a game that usual starter Jon Beason missed due to injury.  Beason, of course, has struggled with injuries for the last two years, and Kuechly played MLB at Boston College, though he started his first four NFL games on the weak side.  "We've got a talented linebacking corps, and that's a good problem for us," McDermott said. "We've got to make sure we've got the right players in the right positions. Jon Beason is a heck of a player in his own right, and he's done a lot of good things for this team over the years. [Head Coach] Ron [Rivera] and I will talk about it. We'll bring [Linebackers] Coach Warren Belin into the equation as well, and I'm sure [general manager] Marty [Hurney]."  The Panthers are more concerned with their first-round pick from 2011, as second-year quarterback Cam Newton is struggling to regain the magic of his rookie season.  Many of Newton's numbers in 2012 are similar or even better to what he put up in 2011, including yards per game (253.2 last year to 230.8 this year), completion percentage (60.0 to 58.3), yards per attempt (7.8 to 8.5), passer rating (84.5 to 80.9), rushing yards per game (44.1 to 41.8) and yards per carry (5.6 to 5.2).  However, his touchdown percentage is down significantly (4.1 to 2.9), his interception rate is up (3.3 to 3.7) and his head coach thinks he knows why.  "I think he's pressing," said Rivera. "He wants to make things happen so much and is trying very hard to do those things and do the right things. It's all a part of him developing as a football player."  Indeed, despite Newton's amazing NFL debut (4,000 passing yards, 35 combined passing and receiving touchdowns), he is apparently still learning a lesson that virtually every young quarterback struggles with at some time.  "There are some things that people are doing to take away certain things that we do with our passing game. We've got to be able to go from what we're seeing and react to that and then make plays accordingly. I think Cam was trying to get the ball downfield too far. There was a play in particular where he hit Brandon LaFell underneath on a short cross. When you see those opportunities, those you have to take."

 

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The most prominent news out of New Orleans, other than the team's first victory of the season, was Drew Brees' record-breaking performance in the 31-24 win over San Diego.  The first of Brees' four scoring tosses on the day improved his streak to 48 consecutive games with at least one TD pass and broke Johnny Unitas' long-standing record of 47.  A typically humble Brees shared the achievement with four different rosters worth of players (2009-12) and talked about what it meant to be mentioned alongside Unitas.  "The guy that held this record for 52 years, Johnny Unitas, arguably one of the best quarterbacks in this game, really revolutionized the position," said Brees.  "Everything that he stood for as a player, [he was] just a pioneer of this game. It’s a tremendous honor.”  Brees broke the record despite hooking up just once for four yards with arguably his favorite target, tight end Jimmy Graham, and that may be the team's primary concern heading into the bye week.  It's obviously a topic the Bucs will have serious interest in, as the Saints first game coming out of their bye will be in Tampa on October 21.  Graham did come back into the game after spraining his ankle but will likely need the extra rest to try to get ready for the Buccaneers.  Acting Head Coach Aaron Kromer thinks the bye came at a good time for his entire team, even if it could slow down the Saints' new momentum.  "We're definitely on the rise and we need to keep it going," said Kromer on Monday.  "It just goes to show the character in the room. It goes to show the resiliency of guys. They continue to fight and they’re going to keep that going. In no shape or form are we happy that we have only one win right now. We have to carry this momentum over to getting another win and then another. We’re happy that we got the first win, but we’re definitely not satisfied with where we are.”

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