Stock Watch: NFC South

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
8:13
AM ET
FALLING

Brodrick Bunkley, defensive tackle, Saints. When the Saints signed Bunkley to a five-year deal that averages $4.5 million per season in free agency, I thought it was a good move. But it certainly hasn’t turned out that way. The Saints were so unhappy with what they had seen out of the middle of their defensive line that they made Bunkley inactive Sunday night and started Akiem Hicks in his place. The good news is that Bunkley’s contract was structured in such a way that he’s only counting $1.6 million against this year’s salary cap. The bad news is, if the Saints cut him after the season, which now seems like a strong probability, they’ll be responsible for the remaining portion of his $4.5 million signing bonus on next year’s cap.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees
Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRENew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a sub-par performance on Sunday night.
Drew Brees, quarterback, Saints. In some of our NFC South chats, some readers have scolded me for rarely being critical of Brees. Well, there’s probably truth in that because Brees has been an excellent player since I’ve covered the NFC South and I have no problem with him doing what he had to do to get his contract last summer. But I will criticize Brees now because his performance in Denver on Sunday night was dismal. Brees was as inaccurate as I’ve ever seen him and the offense never got into a rhythm. When you’ve got a defense like the Saints do, you need Brees to light it up just to have a chance to stay in the game.

Jonathan Stewart, running back, Panthers. Carolina pretty much scrapped the high-school offense (the read option) it had been running and went with a more traditional power game. That’s where Stewart is supposed to be at his best. But, when you’ve got a team that’s so severely flawed in so many different areas, guys can’t even do what they do best. Stewart gained 42 yards on 17 carries.

RISING

Peter Konz, guard, Falcons. The rookie made his first career start at right guard and turned in a solid performance in the victory against Philadelphia. I think there’s a good chance Konz will stay in the starting lineup on a regular basis. Veteran Garrett Reynolds had started the first six games and I don’t think the Falcons wanted to break up continuity while they were on a winning streak. But Reynolds had a back injury that allowed the Falcons to make the move and I don’t think they’ll switch back. Reynolds is a guy who already had shown all of his upside. Konz still has plenty of upside and the Falcons need to start tapping that.

Mike Sullivan, Tampa Bay offensive coordinator. It sure looks like Sullivan and his personnel are getting a feel for one another. Rookie running back Doug Martin has emerged as a true all-purpose back in recent weeks and Josh Freeman is hitting on downfield throws to Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood. Funny, but running the ball well and taking shots down the field were the buzzwords coach Greg Schiano and Sullivan used when they were hired as they talked about what they wanted their offense to look like. It took a little time, but it now looks like that’s Tampa Bay’s offensive identity.

Thomas DeCoud, safety, Falcons. Very quietly, DeCoud is having the kind of season that could land him in the Pro Bowl for the first time. He played a key role again as the Atlanta defense had a solid showing against Philadelphia. DeCoud finished with nine tackles, including two for a loss.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21