September 20, 2009
When the Falcons and Saints have the most potent defenses in their division after one week, you know one of two things have happened: Either we have a series of outlier performances that indicate very little, or the Buccaneers and Panthers, two teams long known for great defense, need to reboot.
New Orleans: Last week, the new Gregg Williams defense got fat off of Matthew Stafford's(notes) rookie mistakes and a questionable call on a Calvin Johnson(notes) non-touchdown. Darren Sharper(notes) intercepted Stafford twice (the rook threw three total picks), and Williams threw some interesting blitz looks at the new-look Lions. This week, that defense may have an easier time than expected ... at least to start. Kevin Kolb(notes) will start for the Eagles, but the recently signed Jeff Garcia(notes) is waiting in the wings. Garcia isn't what he used to be, but he can still move in the pocket and make defenses pay for their mistakes.
Atlanta: In 2008, the Falcons enjoyed a miracle season on the strength of their offense, and almost despite their defense. GM Thomas Dimitroff, one of the most able minds in the business, followed up by replacing more than half the starters on the defensive side of the ball and drafting heavily to retool. It worked like a charm against the Dolphins last week; now the challenge will be to replicate the inside pressure against the Panthers that caused Jake Delhomme(notes) to ... well, you know. John Abraham(notes), seen above sacking Chad Pennington(notes), will provide the heat from outside.
Carolina: It's difficult to blame last week's game on the Carolina defense - after all, when you're having to re-enter the game sooner than expected over and over because your quarterback can't keep the ball in the hands of the good guys, it's a problem. But there's no time to recover. Now, the Panthers have to face Falcons Offense 2.0: Now With 100% More Tony Gonzalez(notes)! Matt Ryan(notes) appears to have no regard for the concept of the sophomore slump, and Michael Turner(notes) is gearing up to try and have a big day after being bottled up for 65 yards on 22 carries against the Dolphins.
Tampa Bay: The Bucs have turned over their whole franchise in search of a fresh start, but they seem to have disposed of the defensive play that has defined them through the new millennium. Against the T.O.-less Cowboys, Tampa Bay gave up three touchdown passes of 42, 66, and 80 yards. Facing the surprising Bills after their throat-punch of a loss to the Patriots may not be the cure for what ails them. They get Owens this week (if anyone actually throws to him), plus Lee Evans(notes) and feel-good story Fred Jackson(notes) at running back.
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