Coming Up

News

Print
RSS

NFC South Roundup: Week Eight

Posted Oct 22, 2013

News from around the division, where the surging Panthers are hoping to get RB Jonathan Stewart back on the field soon and the Falcons could get similar news regarding RB Steven Jackson

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Falcons intend to go back to a deeper rotation on the defensive line, a Mike Smith trademark in previous seasons
  • The Panthers are eager for the opportunity to get their record over .500 for the first time since 2008
  • Coming off their bye week, the Saints are close to getting LB Jonathan Vilma back, but TE Jimmy Graham's status is still uncertain
As the New Orleans Saints come out of their bye week, they find that the Carolina Panthers, winners of three of their last four, are now just two games back in the standings.  The Panthers will try to continue their hot streak on Thursday night in Tampa and could possibly get RB Jonathan Stewart back from the PUP list for that game.  The Falcons, who are a game behind the Panthers in the standings after their win over the Buccaneers on Sunday, are also hoping for a return from their own top running back, Steven Jackson, who has been out since Week Two.  As the NFC South looks to get all of its teams back in action on the same weekend for the first time in over a month, it's time to check in on the headlines from around the division once again. **

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.

**

-- DE Stansly Maponga is one of the young players who will see more snaps on the Atlanta defensive line
In Carolina, the action got a little heated during the Panthers' 30-15 domination of the visiting St. Louis Rams, but Bryan Strickland of the team's web site thinks that's indicative of the fight that has gotten Carolina back into the playoff hunt after a 1-3 start.  At the same time, says Strickland, some of the more intense Panthers, including S Mike Mitchell, managed to stay out of the sort of extra-curricular activity that could have hurt the team.  Mitchell drew the ire of the Rams' Jake Long for celebrating a big play while unaware that QB Sam Bradford had suffered a serious knee injury.  "Mike got out of there and stayed away from it," said Head Coach Ron Rivera.  "That's about maintaining composure. Mike is a guy that's really learning and maturing as he's gone through the season. He understands his responsibility, and he's playing as hard as he can every chance he gets."  Now the Panthers, who have in recent years made a habit of starting slow and finishing strong, hope to continue this midseason hot streak and get over .500 for the first time since finishing 12-4 in 2008.  "I’ve been here five years,” said CB Captain Munnerlyn, who had an interception return for a touchdown in Sunday's win. “And I’ve never been over .500. I know it’s sad to say.”  To get above even, the Panthers will need to win on Thursday night against the Buccaneers.  Munnerlyn, who is not exactly a fan favorite in Tampa thanks to a pair of dangerous hits on former Bucs return man Clifton Smith, says his team is not taking the 0-6 Bucs lightly.  The Panthers made a subtraction from their secondary, which has been surprisingly effective despite some serious lineup turnover (ranking fifth in the NFL in passing yards allowed), as CB D.J. Moore was waived to make room for the claiming of WR Tavarres King.  King had been waived by the Denver Broncos just a week after being promoted from Denver' s practice squad.  King isn't likely to see much action in the Carolina offense any time soon, but the same may not be true for RB Jonathan Stewart.  Stewart had surgery on both ankles during the summer and has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list since the start of the season, but he is expected to return to practice on Tuesday.  ESPN.com's David Newton reports that Stewart has not totally been ruled out for Thursday's game in Tampa.

**

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.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Scott Smith Articles