I generally do team-by-team mailbags on Thursdays and a division-wide mailbag on Saturdays. But I just looked at what came into the mailbag since I cleared it out Saturday and it’s jam packed. So I’m going to throw out a special Tuesday mailbag to try to stay ahead of the beast and that’s a reference to the volume of mail, not that little division that my buddy Matt Mosley covers for us.
John in Denver writes: At what point do you think the conversation turns from can the Falcons keep up with the Saints to can the Saints keep up with the Falcons?
Pat Yasinskas: I think we’re pretty much at that point now. The Falcons have won four in a row and I’ve said several times in the past 24 or 36 hours that I think they’re the best team in the NFC at the moment and a lot of other folks are saying that, too. Atlanta is a solid team all the way around right now. New Orleans is definitely struggling. I’m not going to write off the Super Bowl champions just yet, but Atlanta definitely has the upper hand.
Jeff in Charleston, S.C., writes: I just want to get a shout-out for Thomas Dimitroff. Everyone around the league salivates over Bill Polian, but can anyone say that over the past 3 seasons they have drafted/built/developed a more solid overall team than Dimitroff in Atlanta? Obviously, he hasn't been perfect (Jerry, Baker), but look at the guys he has picked up and gotten incredible production for. Would you say he is line for Exec. of the Year once again?
Pat Yasinskas: There is no question Dimitroff has made himself into one of the best general managers in the game in a very short time. He’s assembled a nucleus that should keep the Falcons in good shape for a long time to come. Another thing that sometimes gets overlooked is how well he works with Mike Smith. Those are two guys who are truly on the same page. They work together and there is no clash of egos. It doesn’t happen that smoothly in many places. Also, I don’t think you can say Dimitroff whiffed on Peria Jerry and Sam Baker yet. Both have had some injury problems. Give them a little more time and we’ll see.
Matt in Las Cruces, N.M., writes: Just wanted to congratulate you on a great article. So many Carolina fans want to crucify John Fox at this point without acknowledging that he's been told to build a house with a jeweler's screwdriver and some scotch tape. Don't get me wrong, I think it IS time to move on with a new coach, but most of the blame for this total embarrassment and waste of a season lies on the owner's shoulders.
Pat Yasinskas: Great analogy about the screwdriver and scotch tape. That’s pretty accurate. Yep, I’m with you, it’s time for a change. But Fox has been put in an impossible situation. I’m sure Jerry Richardson has set up this situation and I’m sure he believes that somehow he’s preparing his team to survive the lockout he's expecting. But I’m at a total loss to figure out what the upside of this plan is. I wish Richardson would come out and explain his thinking. I think he owes that to his fans.
Ryan in Columbia, S.C., writes: Why isn't Richardson pulling the plug on John Fox? Wouldn't it make more sense to find the new coach for next year and bring him in so there isn't a learning curb at the beginning of next year?
Pat Yasinskas: First off, we don’t even know if there will be a next year. Second, you don’t fire a coach and bring in a new guy from the outside in the middle of a season. If anything, maybe Fox will go if the losing continues into late November or December and the Panthers finish the season with an interim coach from within Fox’s staff. Besides, you can’t even look at the full menu of coaches that might be available to you until after the season. Some of the best candidates are under contract with other teams for this season.
Zach in Peachtree City, Ga., writes: Who do you think is the best rookie wide receiver in the NFC South at the moment?
Pat Yasinskas: Without a doubt, Mike Williams from Tampa Bay. The kid is having a spectacular rookie season and he was a fourth-round pick.
Drew in Greensboro, N.C., writes: I was wondering what kind of coach do you think the Panthers will have next year (or this year). Would they go for someone similar to Fox, conservative, defense oriented or maybe go for a coach that is more aggressive and pass happy?
Pat Yasinskas: Again, it’s kind of early to get too far into speculation. But I’ll give you a couple of general answers. First, there’s an old adage that if you fire a skinny coach, you hire a fat one. In other words, you move in a different direction. So, if Richardson buys into that and he might after years of watching a boring offense, he’d bring in someone with an offensive background. Second, current situation aside, there’s no doubt Richardson is a smart man and he learns from his mistakes. Look at his history. He’s hired two head coaches who were “hot’’ coordinators (Fox and Dom Capers) and he hired one big-name coach who had been out of the league for a bit and paid him huge money (George Seifert). It didn’t end well for Capers and it’s not going to end well for Fox. But each of those guys had some success. Seifert was a total disaster and Richardson knows that. I’m guessing he doesn’t bring in some big-name coach who’s been out of the league for a few years and commands a high salary. I think he’s more likely to look for an energetic rising star and it will probably be someone fairly young because this team needs someone that’s willing to go through a building process that might take some time.