Defenceless Division (2013 NFC South Preview)

nfc_south

The NFC South is a division that has a lot of potential and could be one of the most frustrating divisions to be a fan. All four of these teams have what it takes to win football games but all have continued to fail to win. All have had their successes at one time or another but all have also disappointed. A main reason for this is the fact that the NFC South is known more about their offence than their defence. They have some of the most powerful offences in the league led by some of the best QBs in the league but when it comes to offence there is not much to say. Many of these teams have gained a reputation for being a lights out offence but not having what it takes in the playoffs when defence becomes more important. Led by QBs like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Josh Freeman the offences are some of the best. They are at the forefront of the most towards the air attack in the NFL with teams that put up ridiculous numbers. Then they go on defence and the very thing that helps them ends up hurting them as they cannot stop the pass that they live by on offence. The teams in the South are all looking to try to get more balance but are looking to do so by bringing their defences up to their offensive standard. As they go about this process only one team can do it well enough to win the division and all will battle to prove that they can be the ones to do it. The NFC South will see another season of offensive dominance but in the end the big question remains. Who has the best defence in the South? The answer to that question will likely win the division and represent the NFC South in the playoffs as the division champion. When that teams emerges they will bring their offence first mentality back to the postseason and look to make an impact instead of falling short.

 

Atlanta Falcons

atlanta_falcons

The Atlanta Falcons have had the best defence in the South over the last few years but that may change this year. The Falcons have been one of the most successful teams from the South but have also gained a reputation of being unable to finish. Year after year the Falcons seem like a team to beat in the NFL but they continue to fizzle out when it matters. The Falcons are looking to build on their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan era as they hope to take the momentum to a super Bowl appearance. This year the defence that helped them to that win will be changed from last year but not in the best way. Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes are gone leaving a massive hole in the defensive backfield. This will be the big thing to watch for the Falcons as they look to fill the holes and keep a good pass defence. Asante Samuel is a good fill in as he returns as a starting CB but rookie Desmond Trufant may have some trouble adjusting this year. The Falcons would try to get some help for the pass defence as they would sign Osi Umenyiora to replace John Abraham on the line. Umenyiora is now the feature pass rusher after sharing time in New York and if the spotlight makes him better teams will need to watch for him to put pressure on the offence and force mistakes. As the defence has some questions to answer the offence will be the rock that the team can rely on. Matt Ryan leads a team with Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Anthony Gonzalez in the passing game. In the running game the Falcons will look to new addition Steven Jackson to help them and he can do more than just that. The defence is the question this year though and the question remains if they can be as effective as last year. The defence will hold this team back but not enough to put them out of the fight for the division once again.

 

Strength:
Getting Better
– The management of the Falcons are not good with just winning one playoff game as they would go out to find more talent which is a good thing for the Falcons as they know they have the support of their organization

Weakness:
Inexperience at CB
– Without Robinson and Grimes the defensive backfield is without a lot of experience as Asante Samuel becomes the veteran in the group as rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will be asked to play a big role

Biggest Addition:
Osi Umenyiora, DT (Free Agent, NYG)
– The loss of John Abraham was a big one for the Flacons but signing Umenyiora replaces this loss and gives Umenyiora the chance to show what he can really do without Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck to overshadow him

Biggest Loss:
Brent Grimes/Dunta Robinson, CB (Free Agents)
– Both cornerbacks brought physical play and experience to the defence in one of the most important aspects of the defence in this era of pass first offences and that leaves a big hole in the defensive backfield

 

Carolina Panthers

carolina_panthers

The Carolina Panthers were the latest team to suffer from a Sophomore Slump as superstar QB Cam Newton was not the same person in 2013. Newton came in to the 2011 season as the Heisman Trophy Winner and #1 pick overall. As dominant as he was in college his run first mentality and questionable accuracy made many wonder if he would be dominant in the NFL. He put all of those questions to bed quickly though as he would dominate the league and bring out a new thought on offence. The Panthers would be one of the first teams to bring in a modified Read-Option offence to try to take advantage of Newton’s athletic ability. In 2012 the sophomore slump would hit Newton though as his season would see a lot of troubles. Now the Panthers hope that the Sophomore slump was just a year of bad play for Newton as he will be looked to as a leader this year. He will need to lead the offence too with not a lot of talent in the passing game besides Steve Smith. With a new offensive coordinator in Mike Shula the read-option will be thrown out for a more traditional running attack. With DeAngelo Hall and Kenjon Barner in the backfield the Panthers will look to give less to Cam Newton and try to balance the offence. The defence will be improved but still has a lot of questions to answer if they hope to be good enough for the playoffs. The pass rush has improved with the addition of some good rookies but they will be looked upon to lead the team with a major hole in the passing defence. With Drayton Florence, Captain Munnerlyn, Mike Mitchell, and Charles Godfrey patrolling the defensive backfield teams will be able to take advantage of the passing game. The Panthers have a lot invested in Cam Newton and how he can react to a bad season will make the difference for them. Football is more than just a single player game though and cam Newton cannot carry them to the playoffs without anyone else around him.

 

Strength:
Sophomore Season is Over
– Cam Newton showed that he is a capable QB but the Sophomore slump hurt him and now that he will enter his third season Newton may be past the slump and if he is that means good things for the Panthers

Weakness:
Pass Defence
– There is nobody in the defensive backfield that can stop many of the great QBs in the league and that is trouble for the Panthers as there are two great QBs in their division that will rip this team apart in the passing game

Biggest Addition:
Star Lutelelei, DT (Draft)
– The pass rush for the Panthers needed more pressure from the inside of the line and they would get just that when they drafted Lutelelei who will help the pass defence by trying to force QBs into mistakes

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Panthers did not lose anybody that will have a major impact on their team as they did not have many great playmakers from last years as they go in to the 2013 season with most of their team intact from 2012

 

New Orleans Saints

new_orleans_saints

The New Orleans Saints are the perfect expression of the division as they have one of the most powerful offences in the league and have nothing to show on defence. Led by Drew Brees the offence has been lights out for the Saints leading Brees to multiple passing records since joining the team. That is not what wins championships though as the defence is what will bring them to the top once again. Winning the Super Bowl in 2009 the Saints had a serviceable defence but it could be considered the worst defence to win a Super Bowl. They have not done a lot to improve this defence and it is one of the biggest reasons to why they cannot get back to the Super Bowl. The Saints’ defence this year will be looking to a new coordinator to provide that boost they need on defence. Rob Ryan will take over for the Saints and will look to convert the team to a 3-4 system that has worked well for most of the league. The problem with this is that the Saints are built for a 4-3 system and players will have to move to unfamiliar positions. Jonathan Vilma will no longer be alone patrolling the middle giving him a different look while defensive ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan will focus less on pressure and more on containment. Junior Galette and Martez Wilson take over the rushing duties while the defensive backfield remains relatively the same although Kenny Vaccaro could make an impact later in the season. The offence will be relatively unchanged as once again Drew Brees leads a team of good but not great players and seems to make everyone better. The big change for the offence will be the return of Sean Payton to the sidelines after a year-long suspension. The Saints looked lost without Payton to lead them and his return marks stability for Brees and the rest of the group. The Saints were not great last year but a lot of that had to do with the strange coaching situation created due to the bounty scandal. Normalcy has returned this year and with a new defensive coordinator they will be improved. Still the adjustment period needs to be seen for the defence as the offence will carry this team to fighting for a playoff spot although there are no guarantees for them to make it.

 

Strength:
Sideline Leadership Returns
– Sean Payton was suspended for a year thanks to the Bounty Scandal and the Saints suffered for it as their leader was not on the sidelines if they got in trouble but with his return things should return to normal with a steadier coaching situation

Weakness:
Defensive Adjustments
– Changing coaches is never easy but converting a team from 4-3 to a 3-4 system is much more difficult as the Saints may need to wait a little while for the players to adjust to new roles and new assignments on defence

Biggest Addition:
Rob Ryan, DC
– It may take a while for the team to adjust to a new system but Rob Ryan is a good coach even if he brings a lot of talk to a team and Ryan will be a good addition to the coaching staff for a team that has not been known for their defence

Biggest Loss:
Jermon Bushrod, T (Free Agent, Chi)
– Drew Brees has enjoyed pretty good protection in his career but this year he will be without one of his best lineman as Bushrod left to Chicago leaving a hole on the line that Brees will have to overcome to lead the offence

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

tampa_bay_buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were hoping that the addition of Josh Freeman in 2009 was the change they needed to get back to winning. The plan worked but not as well as they had wanted as the Bucs are stuck in the middle. They are not a team that anyone can walk through but they are never a team that is challenging for the playoffs. It is a difficult position to be in for the Bucs as they should not rebuild but need to find the right pieces to put them over the top. They would try to do that this year as they looked to immediately improve their defence with some very good defensive signings. Adding Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson were two very good moves for the Bucs who immediately made a good pass defence. It was one part of the defence that the Bucs would improve but there are more parts to this defence that need work. The pass rush may be in trouble unless Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn can pick things up and stay on the field. If they can they may be able to produce for the Bucs and help the improved pass defence in a big way. The offence did not have many changes but truly they didn’t need all that many changes. Josh Freeman leads the way again and will have Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams to throw to while Doug Martin will patrol the backfield. The biggest need for the Bucs was someone who could work the medium and short routes as Jackson and Williams are both known for the long pass. They would lose Dallas Clark in the offseason handing the reins to Luke Stocker and new signee Tom Crabtree. Both will try to prove they can make plays in the middle of the field to try to give a better balance to the passing game. The Bucs are still a good team and they are slowly improving especially with their defensive additions this year. The improved defence will help the Bucs as they may fight for a playoff spot this year but will have to overcome some very good offences in their division. If they can surprise the Saints in particular the Bucs could see a wild card spot in their future but winning the division may be a stretch for this team.

 

Strength:
Offensive Consistency
– The Bucs are returning almost all of their offensive starters and for a team that has a lot of talent that is a good thing as they will enjoy another year under the same system with the same players to make a powerful team

Weakness:
Pass Rush
– The Bucs improved their pass defence but they lost their best pass rusher in Michael Bennett leaving Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn to provide the pass rush with both suffering injuries in the past years that have made them inconsistent

Biggest Addition:
Darrelle Revis, CB (Free Agent, NYJ)
– The pass defence was a mess last year and so the Bucs went out and got one of the best press coverage CBs in the game taking Revis away from the drama of New York and likely giving him the opportunity to show just how good he can be

Biggest Loss:
Dallas Clark, TE (Free Agent, Bal)
– The mid level passing has been a problem for the Bucs and Clark provided a good option but with him gone the Bucs now have to rely on a young Tight End corps that will not have the experience that Clark brought

 

Prediction:
1. Atlanta Falcons
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Carolina Panthers

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