NFC South: 2013 Week 4 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 4

October, 1, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- An examination of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins:

Feeling it: Saints quarterback Drew Brees insisted that the Saints still haven’t played their best game and still have plenty of work to do. At the same time, he was willing to admit that the Saints (4-0) are feeling some similarities to their Super Bowl season of 2009, when they started 13-0. In both cases, the Saints were eager to bounce back after missing the playoffs. And in both cases, they were starting fresh with a fiery new defensive coordinator (this time Rob Ryan).

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesDrew Brees and the New Orleans offense found their stride Monday night against Miami.
"I'd say there's some similarities in regards to the type of offseason we’ve had, as competitive as it was," Brees said. "Just that feeling: 'Man, we can’t wait to get on the field and then show ourselves, show people what we're about' and continue to gain confidence and continue to get a little bit better each and every game, too."

ESPN columnist Ashley Fox chronicled how much it has meant to have coach Sean Payton back from his season-long suspension.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham also referenced that passion Brees described, saying that a lot of players came into this season with chips on their shoulders. "Or bricks, you could say," Graham said.

Tough road ahead: Just as quickly, though, Brees pointed out that it doesn’t get any easier for the Saints over the next two weeks. They have a quick turnaround game at the Chicago Bears (3-1) on Sunday, followed by another road game at the New England Patriots (4-0).

"We've got a tough road ahead," Brees said. "We’re at Chicago here on a short week, and they’re coming off a tough loss [to the Detroit Lions]. They're gonna be ready to play us, no doubt. And we've struggled there, to be honest with you [three straight losses in the 2006 playoffs and ’07 and ’08 regular seasons]."

Defense stays strong: The Saints offense took center stage Monday night, but the revamped defense continued to come up big. Cornerback Jabari Greer's interception and linebacker Curtis Lofton's forced fumble in the first half were two of the biggest plays of the game. Rookie defensive tackle John Jenkins made a big-time run stuff on third-and-1 to force Miami to settle for an early field goal. And in the second half, the Saints' defense decimated the Dolphins while they were trying to play from way behind (four sacks and two more interceptions).

The Saints gave up more yards than usual in the first half in the run game and allowed an underneath throw to turn into a 50-yard gain. But once again, they didn't let deep balls get over their heads.

Run game still weak: Once again, the Saints ran nowhere in the first half, when their running backs had a total of 5 yards on seven carries. Neither Pierre Thomas nor Khiry Robinson was immune when they tried to run up the middle. Thomas lost 2 yards on second-and-10 and lost 3 yards on second-and-1. And Robinson lost 3 yards on first-and-10.

The Saints adapted with draw plays and screen passes, etc. -- always their most effective change-of-pace plays. But they need to find a way to make the traditional power runs work.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 4

September, 30, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Falcons’ 30-23 loss to the Patriots:

Matty Ice-Cold? Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for a career-high 421 yards, including 201 yards in the fourth quarter alone. But on the Falcons’ final desperation drive, Ryan threw three bad passes in the red zone following a 49-yard connection with Julio Jones. Ryan admitted he should have given Roddy White a better opportunity to make a play on fourth-and-7 from the Patriots’ 10-yard line, when cornerback Aqib Talib batted the ball to seal the win. Ryan also missed a wide-open White on another fourth-down play from the Patriots' 7. It’s hard to criticize a guy who has engineered 22 game-winning drives, but even Ryan knows he has to play better and possibly improvise more -- particularly in the red zone.

[+] Enlarge Roddy White
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAqib Talib knocked away this pass intended for Roddy White Sunday in the fourth quarter.
Defensive breakdowns: The Falcons' defense had its share of issues throughout the game. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be asked exactly what happened on that third-and-19 play in the fourth quarter when Tom Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins for a 26-yard gain from his own 12-yard line. The Falcons faked an all-out blitz, went with a three-man rush and managed to let Thompkins get behind them in coverage. William Moore added to the misery with a hit-to-the-head penalty. Giving up that play is inexcusable, based on the down and distance, and it has to be addressed immediately.

On the line: The offensive line remains a question mark, although Ryan was sacked just twice. One of those sacks -- allowed by Lamar Holmes -- came in the red zone and forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Center Peter Konz whiffed on the other sack allowed. Left tackle Sam Baker went down with a knee injury but picked up two successive penalties before exiting. If Baker is out a significant amount of time, the Falcons might want to consider looking around for more offensive-line help based on the struggles Holmes has had at tackle.

Fountain of youth: If there was a positive to come out of Sunday’s game, it was the play of veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. He ran smooth routes and dominated his one-on-one matchups against linebackers en route to a career-high 149 receiving yards on 12 catches. Gonzalez was targeted a team-high 14 times after subtly bringing up his touches last week. More than anything, Gonzalez showed just how valuable he'll be to Ryan for the rest of the season. We’ll see if Ryan tries to talk him out of retirement once again.

Upon Further Review: Buccaneers Week 4

September, 30, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 13-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Doug Martin
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDoug Martin rushed for 45 yards on 27 carries against Arizona.
There are no quick fixes. Rookie Mike Glennon was thrust into the starting quarterback job after the Bucs benched Josh Freeman. He played reasonably well for the first 56 minutes, but he threw two late interceptions that in part cost the Bucs the game. Glennon is going to be the quarterback the rest of the season, so get ready for some growing pains.

The defense is better than the offense. Tampa Bay’s defense played a very solid game, and the Bucs would have won if they had gotten just a bit more out of their offense. The offense has been a problem all season. You have to wonder at what point the defense is going to start pointing fingers at the offense.

Trade him from your fantasy team. If you have Doug Martin, unload him now. Martin carried 27 times for 45 yards (that’s 1.7 yards per carry) against the Cardinals. Martin is a talent and the Bucs have a good offensive line, but this is likely a sign of things to come. With a rookie quarterback, every defense is going to devote most of its attention to stopping Martin, so there won’t be much room to run.

The Schiano Watch. Coach Greg Schiano has lost nine out of 10 games dating back to last season. Ownership, which fired Raheem Morris for losing 10 straight, backed Schiano after he benched Freeman, and the coach has three years remaining on his contract. But now that he has “his guy’’ at quarterback, it’s time to see some improvement. If it doesn’t come soon, Schiano could be on the hot seat.