NFC South mailbag

TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT -- Before I set out on another journey across "The Pond" -- that’s what we call the Gulf of Mexico in NFC South circles -- time for a quick dip into the mailbag.

Neil in Jackson, Miss. writes: I disagree with the idea that the Steelers game is must-win for the Saints. The NFC is so wide-open right now that they'll certainly be in serious contention for a wild-card spot even if they lose, and if they have a healthy Reggie Bush, Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter, and Drew Brees is back to form, then the Saints will surely be a dangerous team in the playoffs.

Pat Yasinskas: It’s fine to disagree. That helps make the world go round. I see what you’re saying and there certainly is some good logic to your points. But my point is, if the Saints lose, they’re 4-4 at the midway point and they’ll have the negative momentum of a two-game losing streak. When that happens, games that once looked like automatic wins no longer are. And we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen with the current injuries and what new ones might pop up. I’m just saying the Saints could be in a pretty deep hole if they lose to the Steelers. Yes, it’s possible they still could scratch and claw their way to a wild-card berth, but they wouldn’t go sailing in as the No. 1 seed like last year and that makes a big difference.

Robert in Dallas writes: Hey Pat Keep up the good work!! When will the rest of these football analysts give Josh Freeman some credit? All they talk about is Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford!

Pat Yasinskas: I can’t speak for other analysts, but I think it’s obvious the Bucs hit it right when they drafted Freeman last year. He’s already good and he’s only going to better as the Bucs continue to try to upgrade the talent around him.

Steve in Redlands, Calif. writes: Keep up the great work with the blog! What do you make of the whole Pierre Thomas situation? Is this a case of information getting out of the building that shouldn't have, or is Sean Payton taking a negative motivational tactic? Either way, this seems like something that wouldn't have happened last year, and, for all of the Saints' talk about how they knew this year was going to be difficult, some of the stress is getting to the organization.

Pat Yasinskas: I think it’s pretty safe to say that information got out there because some important people in the Saints’ organization wanted it out there. Were they trying to motivate Thomas? Yes, that’s very possible. But, when you do that, you run the risk of alienating a guy who has been a pretty good player. Without a contract for next season, I think Thomas’ days in New Orleans might be numbered, barring him suddenly getting healthy and having a big second half of the season.

Justin in Charlotte writes: I have a theory on the passing offense in Carolina. During preseason, there was talking of being more creative in the passing game. I don't know if "creative" meant play calling, route running, formations, etc. Whatever they did, it failed miserably. Do you think they threw the "creative" plan out the window and went back to their '08 and '09 passing philosophy for the Niners game? Matt Moore was getting pressured, but handled it much better. He seemed like a different player out there.

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I don’t know that we ever really say that “new’’ and “creative’’ passing game. But it looked like the Panthers let Moore just go back to doing what he did well at the end of last season in the San Francisco game. Hopefully, John Fox and Jeff Davidson learned a lesson from that.

Chris in Phoenix, Ariz., writes: Atlanta was really high on Harry Douglas saying he is a big key in the Atlanta offense yet while Michael Jenkins was gone they didn’t go to him much. Jenkins came back and they still don't open the playbook for him. I know he is more of a slot WR, but it doesn't seem like they do much with him. When do they plan on going to him and actually making him a key in the offense?

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think we’ve seen anything close to the Falcons’ true plan for Douglas yet. But I’ve got a hunch we will start seeing it after the bye week and through the second half of the season. Douglas is a natural slot receiver and wasn’t really going to excel in Jenkins’ spot as the No. 2 receiver. Now, that Jenkins is back and fully settled into his regular role, I think you’ll start to see the Falcons make more use of Douglas out of the slot. He’s a guy that can make some things happen downfield and that could bring a valuable element to the offense.

Scott in Tampa writes: You've mentioned several times that Josh Freeman gives the Bucs something they have never had, which is a QB who could win a game for them. I decided to do some digging to see if any other QB in Bucs history compares. Freeman has 5 4th Quarter comebacks in just 15 starts. Only 3 QBs in Buccaneers history have more: Doug Williams (12), Trent Dilfer (11), and Vinny Testaverde (8). At this rate, he'll be the franchise leader in comebacks by the time he's 25.

Pat Yasinskas: Thanks for doing the research. That’s very interesting stuff. Freeman’s shown a great knack for leading comebacks. But that’s not my only point with him. I believe, for the first time in franchise history, the Bucs have a quarterback who is playing in a philosophy where it’s his job to win and Freeman has the tools to do that. Williams played in a John McKay system in which defense was the strength. His job was to let the defense keep the game close and try to pull it out with a big play at the end. It was similar for Dilfer in the Tony Dungy system. Actually, Dilfer probably had even more restraints. The Bucs had a dominant defense through most of his time and relied heavily on the running game. Testaverde never really had a shot to do much because the talent around him was horrible. Basically, Williams and Dilfer were game managers and their job was not to lose games. Freeman’s playing by a whole different set of rules and that should make for an exciting career for him.