In Atlanta, the Falcons have had a series of lineup changes due to injuries to key offensive players, but they may be contemplating another one at punt returner after rookie CB Robert Alford fumbled one away Sunday against the Buccaneers, opening the door for a Tampa Bay comeback that ultimately fell short. The Falcons have already changed their approach on the defensive front, going back to more of a multi-player rotation that started with additional playing time for Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga against the Buccaneers. Jay Adams of the Falcons' official web site explains that such a rotation is in line with the way Head Coach Mike Smith has approached the defensive line in previous seasons. “It keeps our guys fresher," said Smith on Monday. "We’re all about competition. I think it’s very important there is a very competitive situation each and every week. I think we have that right now; I think we’re creating that right now in the defensive front. Yes, it will definitely help us down the long road in terms of the older players, the wear and tear on their body, as we get into the second half of this season.” Adams also thinks that Goodman may be pushing his way towards a starting job. Goodman didn't contribute to the Falcons' three-sack performance against Tampa Bay, but overall Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution thinks the Falcons might finally be generating a pass rush. Bradley's colleague, D. Orlando Ledbetter, also saw marked improvement in Atlanta's pass protection on offense, among other positive developments. Meanwhile, QB Matt Ryan is considered a candidate for NFC Offensive Player of the Week after completing 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 148.4 despite playing without his top two receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Ryan kept the Falcons' third-ranked passing attack on track, in part by making the most out of new starter Harry Douglas. Jones is out for the season and White is still dealing with ankle and hamstring injuries that have plagued him all year, but RB Steven Jackson could be nearing a return. Jackson hasn't played since the second game due to his own leg injury but is reportedly going to be back on the practice field this week.
In New Orleans, the Saints are getting ready to return to action in Week Eight after enjoying their bye, and they think LB Jonathan Vilma could make his own return to the field one week later. Vilma, who is on injured reserve but with the "designated for return" tag, returned to the practice field Monday as the Saints get back to work after their weekend off. ESPN.com's Mike Triplett wonders just how the Saints will work Vilma back into their mix, in their new 3-4 defensive front, and notes that outside linebacker/pass-rusher Junior Galette is having a breakout season. Speaking of returning players, the offense could get a couple in the coming weeks in WR Lance Moore and RB Mark Ingram, but there is some debate over whether or not that is a good thing. On the other hand, there's no doubt the Saints would like to get TE Jimmy Graham back from the foot injury he sustained in New Orleans right before the bye week, but that is apparently not yet a certainty. Even though the Falcons and Panthers got victories in Week Seven while the Saints were idle – and the Panthers, in fact, have won three of their last four – the Saints still start their post-bye schedule with a two-game lead in the division. However, Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune argues that the remainder of the team's schedule is not as easy as it might appear at first glance. Combining those last two topics – Jimmy Graham and what lies ahead for the Saints – the Times-Picayune's Larry Holder takes a look at what he considers the most pressing issues for the team going forward, both on and off the field, and that includes contract negotiations for the NFL's best tight end. Meanwhile, Sheldon Mickles of The Advocate chimes in with his thoughts on what the Saints did right before their bye on their way to a 5-1 record and a big rebound from last year's disappointments. Mickles even manages to find a few things that haven't gone right, most notably the lack of a rushing attack and the fact that QB Drew Brees has taken a significantly higher number of hits than he's become used to with the Saints.