NFC South: audibles

Audibles: Saints at Bears

December, 11, 2008
12/11/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

New Orleans Saints (7-6) at Chicago Bears (7-6), 8:15 p.m. ET Thursday

  

If you think Sunday's big performance by running back Pierre Thomas or the cold weather will prompt coach Sean Payton to cut back on the passing game against the Bears, you're probably wrong.

Payton's been riding quarterback Drew Brees all season and a forecast of 25 degrees (with a wind chill of 13) won't impact the quarterback, if his history means anything. Brees has been productive in his last two trips to Chicago and both games were played in cold weather.

Although the Saints lost both games, Brees put up good numbers. Brees threw for 354 yards in the 2006 NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. He also threw for 320 yards in a Week 17 game there last season.

With the Bears ranked No. 28 in pass defense, Payton isn't likely to suddenly change his whole philosophy. Brees is the only reason the Saints are clinging to playoff hope.

Audibles: NFC South Week 2 preview

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Atlanta Falcons (1-0) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1), 4:05 p.m. ET

The Falcons can't do it two weeks in a row, can they?

You might be surprised. Although Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia is getting most of the heat (and a seat) after last week's loss in New Orleans, the biggest culprit might have been the Bucs' defense. Units led by Monte Kiffin aren't supposed to look like the Bucs from the Sam Wyche days.

But that's what happened in the Superdome. The Bucs gave up three huge plays and never really were able to dictate the game the way they have in the past. Maybe Tampa Bay's defense is too young at the same time it's too old and there's not enough in between.

We'll find out if last week was just a fluke for Tampa Bay's defense or a real problem because Atlanta did a pretty good job tearing apart Detroit's defense last week. For those who don't make the connection, Detroit is coached by Rod Marinelli, who spent years at Kiffin's side and subscribes to all of his theories.

Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan looked very poised against Marinelli's defense and running back Michael Turner was spectacular. If linebacker Derrick Brooks sits out with a hamstring injury, Kiffin is going to have to rally the defense or else it will get embarrassed for the second straight week.

Chicago Bears (1-0) vs. Carolina Panthers (1-0), 1 p.m. ET

A week ago, this looked like a pretty dull matchup of two winless teams. But, suddenly, it's a game between two teams that could be NFC powers. That's because the Panthers and Bears knocked off most of the AFC's elite. Carolina went out to San Diego without Steve Smith and beat the Chargers. The Bears rediscovered their defense and made Peyton Manning and the Colts look ordinary.

Something's going to have to give in this game, but not much. John Fox and Lovie Smith are all about defense and they seem to have their teams back to doing what they do best. Both teams showed surprisingly strong running games last week.

Whichever team walks out of Bank of America Stadium with a win is going to be the new darling of the NFC.

New Orleans Saints (1-0) vs. Washington Redskins (0-1), 1 p.m. ET

It's been a rough week for the Saints since they beat the Bucs. They lost receiver Marques Colston for about six weeks and defensive backs Randall Gay and Roman Harper are banged up.

But don't feel too bad for the Saints. Even though Colston is their best receiver, by far, they've got plenty of options. Devery Henderson and David Patten are decent and second-year pro Robert Meachem finally may get a chance to show if he can play in this league.

But more than anything, the receiver slack will be picked up by tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Reggie Bush. In their own ways, each of them is pretty close to being a wide receiver.

The situation in the defensive backfield is pretty similar if Gay and Harper can't go. New Orleans actually has some depth in the secondary this year and Aaron Glenn and Josh Bullocks wouldn't be bad as short-term fill-ins.

Audibles: NFC South Week 1 preview

September, 5, 2008
9/05/08
4:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Carolina Panthers vs. San Diego Chargers, 4:15 p.m. ET

In the Wofford College cafeteria this summer, Mike Trgovac saw me wearing a red baseball hat with "LT" on it and said, "Man, I used to like you. But now you're rubbing it in, too''.

The "LT'' on my hat was for Lackawanna Trail, my old high school in Pennsylvania, and a gift from my old baseball coach shortly before he died. I explained it to Trgovac, who smiled and said it was nice I still cared about my school.

"But I still think it's a sign or something,'' Trgovac said with a laugh. "Everywhere I look this summer, I see LT.''

It's understandable because Trgovac has had months to think about the real LT, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers. How do you stop him? Or even slow him down a little bit?

That's the task facing Trgovac, Carolina's defensive coordinator. He's got plenty of tools with middle linebacker Jon Beason on the verge of becoming a star, defensive end Julius Peppers trying to become one again and a good group of complementary players.

But Tomlinson has tested many a defensive coordinator through the years. If Trgovac's summer of searching for the perfect scheme gave him an answer, he might stop seeing "LT'' everywhere he looks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

If I'd actually seen the real Tampa Bay Buccaneers in training camp or the preseason, it might be easier to have a gauge on this team. I spent about six days at camp and went to two preseason games and I still have no idea what the defending NFC South champions are going to look like.

That's largely because the Bucs haven't had a chance to be the Bucs. With Joey Galloway, Jeff Garcia, Jovan Haye and Cadillac Williams out just about the entire preseason and a bunch of other injured players in and out, it was hard to get a read on this team. I'm sure it was the same for coach Jon Gruden.

He's got Garcia, Haye and Galloway back now and all three should play Sunday. But you have to at least be concerned about rust on Galloway and Garcia. Sure, they're veterans, but they didn't play together at all in a preseason game.

Galloway has a long history of lighting up the Saints, who have made improvements to a horrendous secondary. But it's impossible to know if Galloway and Garcia are ready.

Detroit Lions vs. Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

If you never have heard of Dewayne White, you very well may before Sunday afternoon is over. He's the right defensive end for the Detroit Lions. He's a pretty ordinary guy, coming off a season in which he recorded a career-best 6.5 sacks.

But, with the retirement of Michael Strahan, White could become the next great pass rusher -- for one day, anyway. White is looking at what could be the luckiest draw of Week One. He'll be out there trying to sack rookie quarterback Matt Ryan in his debut.

More importantly, the only thing between White and Ryan will be rookie left tackle Sam Baker. After an up-and-down preseason, the Falcons are throwing in Baker to sink or swim. Baker is a massive tackle, but he's not known for his footwork and his technique is a little raw. Think Detroit coach Rod Marinelli, an old defensive line coach, might have spent a little extra time schooling White up for this matchup?

The Falcons had better give Baker lots of help from the tight ends and running backs or else the new face of the franchise (Ryan) could have a long day.

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