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NFC South Roundup: Week Six

Posted Oct 8, 2013

News from around the division, where the Saints remained undefeated this past weekend while the Buccaneers enjoyed their bye weekend and the Falcons and Panthers absorbed tough losses

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Falcons' injury woes continue as both starting receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones, are question marks heading into the bye week
  • Carolina traded LB Jon Beason to the Giants late last week and then lost G Amini Silatolu to injury on Sunday
  • The Saints remain undefeated and look like a much more complete team than a year ago
The 5-0 New Orleans continue to hog all the good news coming out of the NFC South, which has uncharacteristically been a one-horse race through the first quarter of the season.  The Saints are one of only three unbeaten teams in the NFL, and the only one in the NFC, while the Falcons dropped to 1-4 and the Panthers to 1-3 this past weekend.  The Panthers and Falcons also got hit with another wave of injuries on Sunday, including yet another offensive lineman going down for Carolina and a potentially difficult situation at wide receiver for Atlanta.  As the Bucs come out of their bye week and the Falcons head into theirs, it's time to check in on the headlines from around the division once again.

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In Atlanta, the Falcons are feeling the sting of an unexpected 1-4 start to the season after experiencing the same thing the Buccaneers did in Week One: a last-second field goal loss to the New York Jets.  Nick Folk's 28-yard kick sent the Falcons to a 30-28 loss at home and turned attention back to the closing seconds of the first half, when the Falcons went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the one, and then again on first-and-goal after a pass interference penalty.  Neither play succeeded and the Falcons would eventually regret not having the three points a field goal would have provided. "We felt like we needed  to  score  a  touchdown  in  that  situation," said Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith.  "We felt like we had an opportunity to do it and we didn't get it done.  In hindsight, it is probably not the way we wanted it to work out, but that is the decision we made.  We didn't get it down and we came away with no points."  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jeff Schultz "had a big problem" with that play call and also believes the Falcons miscalculated as to how effective their revamped offensive line would be.  NFL.com's Chris Wesseling has even harsher words for the Falcons' O-Line in his postgame wrap-up, and also notes injuries to wide receiver Roddy White and possibly White's running mate, Julio Jones (ESPN.com reports that Jones could be done for the year with a foot injury).  Wesseling suggests that Atlanta will be lucky to finish with a .500 record this year.  It was the relatively diminutive Jacquizz Rodgers who tried to run it in on the last play of the half behind that struggling front line, in part because the Falcons' much bigger back, Jason Snelling, was out with a concussion.  That just adds to the injury woes for Atlanta, which was already without starting tailback Steven Jackson.  Jackson could return to action in Week Seven after the Falcons take a much-needed bye this weekend.  A variety of injuries is testing Atlanta's depth chart, and that's true at linebacker, where feel-good preseason stories Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow, a pair of undrafted rookies, are now seeing a significant amount of action.  The Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter points out that Bartu, in particular, was targeted to good effect by Geno Smith and the Jets' offense on Sunday.

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- Jacquizz Rodgers is a rare healthy RB for the Falcons

In Carolina, the Panthers came out of their bye week and promptly lost for a third time in four tries, failing to follow up on their 38-0 thrashing of the New York Giants just before the game.  Furthermore, they also lost another starting offensive lineman during their 22-6 defeat in Arizona, as left guard Amini Silatolu went down with an ACL tear in the third quarter.  Travelle Wharton, who was re-signed at the start of the season during a rash of O-line injuries and has since been working his way back into playing shape, is likely to take over as the new starter.  Earlier in the season, the Panthers also lost starting right guard Garry Williams, and the shuffling up front may cause the team to rework its playbook a little bit, too.  "Last year, we did some things that were a little bit different because of what our situation was," said Head Coach Ron Rivera. "Those are obviously things that we'll have to look at."  Another player with a long injury history for the Panthers, veteran linebacker Jon Beason, was traded to the New York Giants late last week.  Beason was once the team's starting middle linebacker, but ascending second-year man Luke Kuechly assumed that position last year, and in Week Three Beason lost the weakside linebacker job to Chase Blackburn.  "We were looking for the guy that we know he's capable of being," said Rivera. "Maybe it's just a matter of him continuing to work through it, and there are still some things that he does very, very well. There are some things that he's still not there with yet, and as he goes through it and gets stronger and stronger, I think he has an opportunity to ascend. This gives him the opportunity to get back on the field and compete."  NFL.com Around the League writer Marc Sessler passes on Ian Rappaport's report that the Panthers are beginning to lay the foundation for a search to replace Rivera as the head coach.  Rivera's three Carolina teams are now 0-3 in games after the bye week, and the most recent loss has the coach frustrated that their fine work on the practice field didn't translate into a better game performance.  Rivera also believes that the Panthers are better than their 1-3 record would indicate.  "The truth of the matter is that you are what your record says, but that's what is frustrating because I really don't believe that we're a 1-3 football team," he said. "There is reason to be optimistic but also to be realistic because we are 1-3. We're a young football team in some respects. In other respects, we should have arrived by now. What we've got to do is eliminate the kinds of mistakes we're making on a consistent basis. What you have to have is consistent plays being made."

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It's the same story again this week in New Orleans, where the Saints are the only team celebrating a win, as their 26-18 victory in Chicago improved their record to 5-0 and their lead in the NFC South to 3.5 games.  One of only three teams still undefeated in the NFL, the Saints beat the Bears with a relatively pedestrian (for them) 347 yards of offense, prompting NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal to write that they "might be the most complete team in the entire NFL."  ESPN.com has moved the Saints up to No. 2 in their Power Rankings, behind only the Denver Broncos.  Much of the admiration comes from the fact that the Saints look like much more than just Drew Brees and a high-powered passing attack this season.  In Chicago, they grinded out a satisfying victory with more of a ball-control approach.  “I thought yesterday was a good example of it," said Head Coach Sean Payton about the Saints' adaptability this year.  "We felt there were a handful of things besides ball security.  We were going to have to play that game maybe a little differently than we have played some other games.  It was the first team we played in a while this year where we received a lot of spot drop zone which meant that we were going to be patient with the football. I thought we were."  Trey Iles of the New Orleans Times-Picayune examines another statistic that reflects the Saints' dominance this year: time of possession.  New Orleans is averaging nearly 35 minutes of possession through five game.  "We talked a lot in the offseason about playing a complementary football game and understanding what [that means],'' said Payton. "Part of that is possessing the football. You want to score every time you have it. We're not purposely trying to create long drives. But be efficient with your plays. And if you're winning on third down, for instance, you stay on the field. Protecting the ball, doing a good job on third down and getting off the field defensively.  So there's a lot of things that factor into it." The Saints' defense, tied for 11th in the NFL rankings so far and vastly improved from a  year ago, has rightfully drawn a lot of attention, but this thorough piece from Grantland's Bill Barnwell looks at the way the team's annually prolific offense was put together.

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