Thursday, September 15, 2011
Around the NFC South
By Pat Yasinskas
Let's take a look at the top headlines from around the NFC South.
The Panthers are confident in Chris Gamble as their No. 1 cornerback. That’s a bit surprising because Gamble was benched late last season by former coach John Fox and appeared to struggle at times this preseason. But the new coaching staff said it’s comfortable letting Gamble cover the opposing No. 1 wide receiver. Gamble did a pretty decent job containing Larry Fitzgerald in the opener against Arizona. Then again, Gamble is taking up more than $9 million in salary-cap space, so he should be contributing.
It wasn’t exactly a prediction, but Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis did say the Panthers “should come away with a victory’’ Sunday against the Packers. Quick refresher, but the Packers won the Super Bowl last season and the Panthers went 2-14. It’s a long shot, but consider Davis’ optimism another sign of the fresh energy coach Ron Rivera has brought to the Panthers. At least this season's Panthers believe they have a chance to win.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton had a little fun with the media. There had been some reports that the Saints were pursuing Randy Moss after Marques Colston suffered a broken collar bone. Payton brought practice-squad receiver Montez Billings, who looks a little like Moss, over to the sideline and said he was available for interviews. The Saints say they’re not interested in Moss or any other receiver. They’re comfortable with their depth at the position.
Speaking of the Saints and receivers, Lance Moore, who has been sidelined with a groin injury, said he’s feeling better and is optimistic about playing Sunday.
Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris continues to try to explain why running back LeGarrette Blount was barely on the field when the team went to its two-minute offense in the season opener. "Right now, it would be tough to throw LeGarrette out there in those situations,’’ Morris said. “LeGarrette is a down hill, two back, dot-the-eye one back, running-the-power-stuff kind of guy. To ask him to go out there in those situations wouldn't be fair to him or our football team.'' Morris isn’t leaving a lot to be read between the lines. He’s flat-out saying Blount isn’t prepared to handle the pass-protection responsibilities the Bucs ask of their running back in the two-minute offense.
Tampa Bay defensive tackle Brian Price, who came back from surgery on his pelvis, drew high praise from Morris. Price played well in the opener and Morris said he will start next to Gerald McCoy on Sunday. Technically, Price also started the opener, but that was because of the defensive package the Bucs used to open the game. But Price’s rise up the depth chart signals his comeback is complete. It also allows the Bucs to line up McCoy and Price, the team’s top two draft picks from last year, together.
Jeff Schultz writes that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan could get the biggest win of his career Sunday if the Falcons defeat Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles. That might not be too far off, although I think Ryan’s win in New Orleans last season was pretty big. But Vick’s history in Atlanta adds to the hype of this game. Still, I’m not sure any Ryan victory firmly qualifies as a defining moment, unless it comes in the postseason.