Sean McDermott, Panthers defensive coordinator. He was hired by first-year head coach Ron Rivera, who comes with a defensive background. Plus, McDermott and Rivera were following a head coach (John Fox) who was all about defense. But the Panthers have been terrible on defense, and it seems they keep getting worse. They rank No. 27 in the league in total defense and allowed 49 points to Detroit on Sunday. This isn’t all on McDermott by any means. Carolina’s defense has been depleted by some big injuries that started way back in training camp. But even with injuries, a young defense should show some improvement as a season goes on.
The defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Yep, that’s head coach Raheem Morris. The Bucs are No. 31 in total defense and much of the blame for that should fall on Morris. There is some talent on the defensive side, but the Bucs seem to be regressing in this area. Since Morris bounced defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the middle of the 2009 season, it has been difficult to figure out Tampa Bay’s defensive identity, although the word “mediocre’’ would be a fitting term. The Bucs don’t stop the run well, generate very little pressure up front and, and despite some talent in the secondary, give up some big pass plays.
Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers tight end. If you look only at the numbers (nine catches for 132 yards), Winslow had a good game against Green Bay on Sunday. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Winslow had a touchdown called back because he was called for offensive pass interference. He also dropped a pass that should have given the Bucs an easy two-point conversion.
Sean Payton, Saints coach. We use the term "rising" literally here. Although Payton was back on the sideline in the last game before the bye, he was on crutches and trying to stay out of harm’s way. But the leg and knee injuries that caused Payton to sit in the press box for three games are healing nicely. On Monday night against the Giants, Payton should be much more mobile, and that should help him get a better feel for the game.
Matt Ryan, Falcons quarterback. Ryan threw for 316 yards in Sunday’s victory against Tennessee. That gave him the first back-to-back 300-yard games of his career. Ryan struggled with consistency – a common theme for everyone in Atlanta – earlier in the season. But he seems to be on a good path right now, and that could come in handy as the Falcons try to make a playoff push.
Roddy White, Falcons receiver. He played his best game of the season Sunday, with a season-high 147 receiving yards. With White seemingly getting on track and the possible return of Julio Jones from a hamstring injury, Atlanta suddenly could have the high-powered passing game that many of us expected at the start of the season.