NFC South Spin cycle: Week Two

Dan Parr
MVP Meter: Four-man race at midway point

With the Falcons celebrating a 2-0 start, panic may be setting in for the Saints after suffering back-to-back losses to open the season. The Panthers have a chance to build some momentum in Week Three after returning to form against New Orleans, and the Bucccaneers are still looking for consistency after a 1-1 start.


What we learned: The Falcons are still developing the killer instinct elite teams typically possess. In a game where the Broncos turned the ball over four times and did not force a single turnover, the Falcons scored only 13 points off of those turnovers and allowed Denver to get back into the game in the fourth quarter. Without some uncharacteristically sloppy play from Peyton Manning (three interceptions in the first quarter) the outcome Monday night may have been different. Still, the Falcons are one of only six undefeated NFL teams. They are alone in first place in the NFC South and have a two-game lead on the Saints.

What’s in store next: Atlanta has a short week to prepare for a cross-country trip to face one of its fellow undefeated clubs. The Chargers will host the Falcons in Week Three after blowing out the Titans, 38-10, in San Diego on Sunday. After losing CB Brent Grimes for the season last week, head coach Mike Smith may have to juggle his cornerbacks again as Chris Owens, the team’s first-string nickel corner, left Monday’s game with an injury.

What the heck? The Falcons finally picked up a couple first downs to seal the game on their last possession, but they made things interesting with their ineffectiveness on their first two drives of the quarter. They went three-and-out twice and had a total of minus-3 yards on those possessions, and Manning helped the Broncos narrow a 20-point lead at the outset of the quarter to only a six-point lead. It was not offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s finest moment as a play-caller.


What we learned: The Panthers can still gore a defense with their running game. We will not get too carried away with the bounce-back performance of Carolina’s offense and coordinator Rob Chudzinski in Week Two because it happened against the league’s 32nd-ranked defense, but it had to be encouraging for the Panthers to run 41 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints after being held to 10 yards rushing on 13 carries in a loss to the Buccaneers a week earlier. The Panthers put a rival in an 0-2 hole and reestablished themselves as a dangerous offense.

What’s in store next: It’s a short week for the Panthers. They will host the Giants on Thursday night at Bank of America stadium in QB Cam Newton’s first prime-time game since entering the league. The Giants also recovered on offense in Week Two, coming back from a 14-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Bucs, 41-34, behind Eli Manning’s 510 yards passing. It is the Giants’ first road game of the season and Carolina’s chance to show the country it is for real.

What the heck? Improvement was expected from Carolina’s run defense this season with rookie WLB Luke Kuechly in the fold and MLB Jon Beason returning from injury, but we’re not really seeing it yet. Teams are probably going to keep coming at them with the run until they prove they can stop it. The Panthers rank 27th in run “D” and are yielding 146.5 rushing yards per game — that’s a higher average than they allowed last season (130.8), when they ranked 25th against the run. Carolina did not have a single tackle for loss Sunday after Washington recorded three vs. New Orleans a week earlier.


What we learned: The Saints’ Week One loss was not a speed bump. They miss suspended head coach Sean Payton more than some thought they would, and they have issues on both sides of the ball, although the ones on defense are far more severe. There was an edge to the Saints’ game in past seasons that just is not there right now and that is at least in some way related to preparation and coaching. The Saints are 0-2 for the first since 2007, and interim head coach Aaron Kromer is badly in need of a win to at least temporarily quiet those questioning whether he is in over his head.

What’s in store next: The Saints get to take on an opponent in an even tougher situation than their own. The Chiefs, 0-2, have had an even worse start to the Saints — New Orleans’ offense has at least been able to keep the team in games — and the Chiefs will have to travel to the Superdome to try to end their skid. Like New Orleans, Kansas City’s defense has also given up 75 points through two games, so this could be a shootout. The Saints are looking to avoid suffering consecutive home defeats for the first time since 2009.

What the heck? RB Darren Sproles (14) and TE Jimmy Graham (13) each had more targets Sunday than WRs Marques Colston (four), Lance Moore (five) and Joseph Morgan (three) had combined. The Panthers did not allow QB Drew Brees to hook up with his wide receivers much Sunday, and it’s a bit surprising that Brees did not go to Colston more. Sproles, who made 13 catches, still has yet to receive a carry this season. It’s been a disappointing, and odd, start for the Saints’ offense.


What we learned: The Bucs are still too inconsistent to take down some of the NFC’s better teams. They are trying to establish a new identity under head coach Greg Schiano, and he certainly has no interest in becoming known as a team that gives up leads and gets torched through the air each week. The Bucs were able to hold on for a win after having their lead narrowed by the Panthers last week, but they did not finish off the Giants on Sunday. The Bucs are ranked last in the league vs. the pass after Eli Manning racked up 510 yards against them the Giants’ 41-34 win.

What’s in store next: The Bucs will continue their NFC East tour with a trip to face the Cowboys, who were dealt a loss in Seattle Sunday after surprising the Giants in the season opener. In order to spoil Dallas’ home opener, head coach Greg Schiano has to find a way to get his defense back on track. Tony Romo and talented targets like WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and TE Jason Witten are certainly capable of racking up big numbers if Tampa Bay does not tighten up its coverage and generate more of a pass rush  — Manning was not sacked and hit only twice by the Bucs on Sunday.

What the heck? If the Bucs’ offense looked more explosive than usual, your eyes were not playing tricks on you. For the first time since Oct. 31, 2010, the Bucs had a wide receiver gain more than 100 yards receiving, ending a streak of 26 games without a 100-yard game by a wide receiver. Vincent Jackson did the honors for Tampa Bay, making five grabs for 128 yards (25.6 average) and a touchdown. The last Bucs wide receiver to accomplish the feat, Mike Williams, also made a big play Sunday, reeling in a 41-yard TD grab in the fourth quarter, which helped the Bucs tie the game at 34 with less than two minutes to play.