NFC South: drops
Although he’s having a stellar rookie season by just about every measure, there’s one area where Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams can improve. You can pretty much bet Williams will be spending a lot of time catching passes from the Jugs machine and quarterbacks in the offseason.
Williams is tied with Reggie Wayne for second place in the league with eight drops. Steve Johnson leads with nine. For the sake of comparison, Johnson has been targeted 103 times and has 61 catches. Williams has been targeted 97 times and has 51 receptions. Wayne has been targeted 143 times and has caught 90 passes.
A couple of very big names in the NFC South also are pretty high on the list. Carolina receiver Steve Smith and Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez each have six drops. Carolina rookie Brandon LaFell and New Orleans veteran Marques Colston each have five.
We won’t run through the list of individual guys with less than five drops because it’s too lengthy. However, let’s take a look at drops by team in the division. Carolina leads with 26 and that ranks fifth in the league.
The Saints have 22 drops, tied for 11th in the NFL. The Buccaneers have 20, tied for 14th.
Atlanta receivers have shown the best hands in the division. They’ve dropped 16 passes. Only five teams around the league have fewer drops. And let’s give quarterback Matt Ryan a little credit here, because his accuracy is probably a reason why his receivers aren’t dropping a lot of passes.
Now, let’s flip over to the anti-drop side and look at some positives. There are only four receivers in the league who have been targeted at least 25 times that don’t have a drop, and none are from the NFC South.
But New Orleans’ Lance Moore and Atlanta’s Roddy White are right behind the guys that have been perfect. Moore has only one drop and a 98.0 catch percentage. White has two drops and a 97.8 catch percentage. They’re the only two receivers from the division in the top 10 in catch percentage. Atlanta’s Michael Jenkins (96.3) is next at No. 18 in the league.
Rum in New Orleans writes: I read the other day that Saints fans accounted for approximately 1/3 of the 94,000 fans in the Cowboy Stadium on Turkey-Day. The TV showed a lot of Who Dats, and you could even hear the Who Dat chant drowning out the Cowboys fans in the game--but WERE there really that many Who Dats in attendance?
Pat Yasinskas: I was in Cowboys Stadium that day. While I didn’t have the time to do a detailed count on how many New Orleans fans were there, I’d estimate the number you cited was probably pretty close to accurate. There definitely was a strong presence by Saints fans. I saw a lot of them tailgating as I walked through the parking lot and I saw a lot of Saints shirts and hats in the stands. This is not uncommon. New Orleans fans, probably more than any team in the NFC South, travel with their team.
James in Louisville, Ky., writes: I know it isn’t even close but I'm always looking at the draft because I'm football nut. With Pierre Thomas being "hurt" for most of this year and Chris Ivory not being a true workload back, do you see the Saints drafting someone in an early round to fill that void?
Pat Yasinskas: Entirely possible. I think Pierre Thomas will be done in New Orleans after this season. The Saints have a history of going with a committee approach at running back and Ivory has done some good things this season. Reggie Bush also can do a lot of different things and he’s going to get playing time. Plus, the Saints like Lynell Hamilton, who should be coming back from injury next season. They could just stay with that group. But the injury problems at this position have shown you can never have enough running-back depth. I think there’s a good possibility the Saints look to add another running back. It doesn’t have to be a first-round pick because I don’t think they’re looking for one guy to come in and take on all the duties at running back. I think they just might look for a guy to play a role along with Bush, Ivory and Hamilton.
Brison in New Orleans writes: Why is everybody just handing Atlanta the best record and home field in the NFC? The season has 5 games left, and the world champs are still in the hunt.
Pat Yasinskas: I can see where your perception comes from. There’s been a lot of talk about the Falcons being the best team in the NFC. They do have the best record and they are a good team. But, like you said, there still is a lot of football to be played and the Saints are right on the heels of the Falcons. Their Dec. 27 meeting could be a huge game and we’ll have to see how it all plays out.
Hank in Montana writes: Nice article about Malcolm Jenkins’ miracle play. Was that the defensive play of the year for the NFC South? Also, has Lance Moore had a drop yet?
Pat Yasinskas: To this point, I’d have to say Jenkins’ forced fumble and recovery in Dallas was the biggest defensive play in the NFC South this year. It allowed the Saints to win a game that was slipping away and kept them very much in the hunt for the division title. As far as Moore, I just looked at our weekly packet from ESPN Stats & Information. Moore still does not have a drop this season and he’s made 43 catches. That makes him one of only six receivers in the NFL that does not have a drop while making at least 25 catches.
White entered the game with Baltimore as one of only a handful of receivers who had not dropped a pass this season. But White dropped two very catchable passes in the final three minutes, 23 seconds of the victory. He bounced back, though, and caught the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds remaining.
That leaves Jason Witten, Eddie Royal and Lance Moore as the only players who have been targeted at least 50 times and have not dropped a pass. White’s two drops leave him at fifth in the league, one spot behind Larry Fitzgerald, who has one drop.
White also was more of a downfield threat against Baltimore than he had been earlier in the season. White had five receptions 15 yards or more downfield. He had been averaging only two such receptions per game through the first eight games.
The above statistics are from ESPN Stats & Information.
Carolina’s Steve Smith has dropped five passes this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That ties him for fourth in the NFL and he’s in sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay rookie Mike Williams is next with four dropped passes. New Orleans receiver Marques Colston, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow and New Orleans receiver Devery Henderson each have three drops.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tampa Bay receivers (and this includes tight ends and running backs) have dropped only five passes this season. Only Dallas and Pittsburgh (three each) have dropped fewer.
In fact, the NFC South overall is doing pretty well when it comes to drops. The league average is 8.3 per team and all four division teams come in under that.
The Falcons have six drops. Carolina and New Orleans each have eight drops New Orleans’ Devery Henderson leads all NFC South receivers with three drops.
I declared White to be the NFC South’s best wide receiver last week and we’ve mentioned several times the huge play he made in chasing down Nate Clements after an interception and forcing a fumble in Sunday’s victory against San Francisco. In fact, if I had to pick an NFC South most valuable player after four game, it would be White.
Here’s another accolade for White. When it comes to catch percentage, White is one of 15 receivers in the league that’s been targeted at least 20 times who has not dropped a pass. White’s been targeted a league-high 49 times and has 32 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
New Orleans’ Marques Colston is the only other NFC South receiver who has met the target criteria to hold a 100 percent catch percentage.
On the flip side, New Orleans’ Devery Henderson is tied for fifth in the league with three dropped passes.
This comes from ESPN’s Stats & Information. Out of 109 receivers charted by our stats people, Meachem ranks No. 6 in the league with a 76.3 catch percentage. What that means is Meachem has been targeted 38 times and has 29 catches. He also doesn’t have a drop this season.
That’s by far the best catch percentage in the NFC South. Here’s a list of the NFC South receivers on that list:
Steve Smith is the league leader in being targeted by quarterbacks. Problem is, it’s the wrong Steve Smith.
The one who is tied for the league lead with 77 targets plays for the New York Giants. The one with the Carolina Panthers has been somewhat forgotten. Carolina’s Smith, who has been the victim of inconsistency just about everywhere else on offense, hasn’t been targeted nearly as much as he usually is. But he still ranks among the league leaders. Carolina’s Smith has been targeted 62 times.
That ranks him second among NFC South receivers. Atlanta’s Roddy White has been targeted 64 times. Here’s a look at the league leaders in targets:
Now, I’m going to share a chart that doesn’t list any NFC South players, but I think it still is significant. This is the list of league leaders in dropped passes. Several thoughts here:
Kudos to New Orleans’ Devery Henderson, who has put his early-career drops way behind him. Next, it should be noted that drops are not an official NFL stat. These are determined by ESPN Stats & Information, after the breakdown of tape. Looks like -- like a lot of people -- they haven’t been watching Tampa Bay’s games because I could swear Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant have combined for about 47 drops.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We'll continue our team-by-team look at how wide receivers performed (in terms of drops and how frequently they were targeted) with the Carolina Panthers -- also known as Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad and nobody else.
Notes: Despite missing the first two games due to a suspension, Smith finished tied for 16th in the league in the number of times he was targeted. Smith tied for 12th in the league in yards after the catch with 439 and led all NFC South receivers in that category.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We'll continue our team-by-team look at how wide receivers performed (in terms of drops and how frequently they were targeted) with the New Orleans Saints.
Notes: Henderson showed dramatic improvement, dropping only two passes after consistently being among the league leaders in recent years. ... Colston tied for seventh in the league with eight drops, despite missing five games due to injury. Colston had been sure-handed in his first two seasons, but this year's numbers might reflect that he injured his thumb early in the season and may not have been fully healthy all year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We'll continue our team-by-team look at how wide receivers performed (in terms of drops and how frequently they were targeted) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Notes: Running back Warrick Dunn actually led the Bucs in drops with six. ... Bryant tied for seventh in the league with 60 catches for first downs, one less than Atlanta's Roddy White, who led the league in that category. ... The Bucs led the division with 32 dropped passes (including those by tight ends and running backs). Jacksonville led the league with 40 drops.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Prior to the Super Bowl, a reader asked if I could get numbers on how many times NFC South receivers were targeted last season. I had to take care of some Super Bowl duties last week, but I got the numbers (and also a breakdown on drops), courtesy of STATS.
We'll start with the Falcons (and we'll limit it only to the main wide receivers):
Notes: White was the most-targeted receiver in the NFC South and ranked eighth in the league. Denver's Brandon Marshall led the league with 181 targets. …White's nine drops tied for fifth in the league. Cleveland's Braylon Edwards led the league in drops with 16.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Thanks for filling up the mailbag with great questions. As always, there are some questions that many of you are asking in a similar way. In those situations, I choose one question to represent all the similar ones.
Also, to those who already have submitted answers to last week's question about who has the best linebackers in the NFC South, thank you and hang on just a bit. I'm saving those answers for an item later this week. For those who haven't submitted answers and have an opinion, please hit the mailbag.
Here we go:
Rowe in Charlotte writes: Delhomme has been a good quarterback for the Panthers. However, every 2 or 3 games he appears to be off. Why doesn't the coach game plan for this? I think it negligence. Why doesn't Delhomme take himself out when he knows he's off (or injured)? Had Oakland been a better team, we would have lost this game and probably should have.
Pat Yasinskas: There's no doubt Delhomme has a history of having up and down games. But the good usually outweighs the bad. Delhomme's not going to take himself out of a game unless he's injured. He's a confident guy, who believes he can make a play, even when he's slumping. That's how you break a slump. The most positive thing I can tell you is Delhomme almost never has two bad games in a row. Look for him to bounce back Sunday.
A. in lehigh acres, Fla. writes: do you think the bucs will make playoffs?
Pat Yasinskas: They certainly have a very good chance. They're off to a good start and their remaining schedule isn't that difficult. Their defense is very good. I'd like to see some more consistency on offense, but you have to like their chances.
Chris from NOLA writes: Great article, Pat, on the Falcons D. As I watched the game Sunday, with DVR remote in hand so I could continuously rewind plays and watch in amazement as Atl's CBs were executing some of the best plays I've seen in a while, I wondered when this defensive unit would receive the praise they deserve. Well done, my man. The defense has without a doubt been the unsung hero for this team looking to erase the memories of years passed.
Pat Yasinskas: Atlanta's defense really stood out against the Saints. There obviously is a lot of hype in Atlanta about Matt Ryan and Michael Turner and it's all deserved. But this defense has played a huge role in Atlanta's fast start. Give a lot of credit to the coaching staff for that. The most impressive thing about this defense is that it seems to get better every week.
Cypress writes: Why isn't dwayne jarrett playing and should he be getting to play because he has made big plays and is more of a threat than having 3 TE's?
Pat Yasinskas: That's a question that's been coming up for two years now. Last year, the assumption was that Jarrett didn't know the playbook. That can't be an excuse in a guy's second year. John Fox won't say it, but you've got to assume he hasn't been impressed or developed confidence in Jarrett in practice or the times he has been on the field. The only hope here is that young receivers sometimes take a very long time to develop. Look at Atlanta's Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. They're prospering now, after struggling early in their careers.
Rob in Atlanta writes: I went to the Falcons/Saints this week and being alumni of Purdue I have always followed Drew Brees and since his move to the Saints I have been a Saints fan. After leaving the Georgia Dome throughly disgusted between the lack of calls by the refs, not that I am bias, and the dropped balls. I was wanting to go look at the stats for the game to see how many balls were dropped by the Saints receiving core. Where can I find this stat?
Pat Yasinskas: Drops aren't an official statistic. But there are some places that track them and decisions on drops can differ. I checked STATS and they charged New Orleans receivers with three drops Sunday. As I said, there are differing opinions on what qualifies as a drop. I, too, was at the game and can think of at least three more passes that at least deserved consideration as drops.
Brian in New Orleans writes: Dear Pat, Why hasn't Payton fired Gary Gibbs? It seems to me that we have a no scheme or imagination on defense. I know our secondary is garbage, especially now that we have lost Mike McKenzie and Tracy Porter for the year. The Chargers took action, do you think the Saints need/will take action as well?
Pat Yasinskas: Mainly because Sean Payton hired Gary Gibbs. But, if the Saints continue to struggle the rest of the way, you could see some moves on this coaching staff after the season. Payton just signed a five-year contract extension, so it's very unlikely he'll be going anywhere. But there might have to be a scapegoat for this season and Gibbs could fall into that category.
Matthew in Moore, SC: No big names or playmakers on the Falcon defense except for John Abraham??? I guess Keith Brooking is just filling space out there! I realize KB isn't quite as good as he was a few years ago when he made the pro-bowl 5 times! but he still is the leader and heart/soul of the Falcon defensive unit. I can't believe that comment.
Pat Yasinskas: Your point is taken on Brooking and you could throw in Lawyer Milloy, too. But, my point was that, right now, Abraham is the only big-name guy in his prime on that defense. Brooking and Milloy are on the downside of their careers. They fill big leadership roles, but are complementary players at this stage of their career. Still, they're helping give rise to young players like Chris Houston, Curtis Lofton and Michael Boley.
Travis in Phoenix writes: I would like to know why everyone is saying drew brees is MVP...yes he has a lot of yards but not that many touchdowns...Rivers has more touchdowns and a better passer rating...now he goes and throws 3 interceptions against atlanta...yes he had 420 yards but they lost...can we now say with a 4-5 record his chances of being MVP are almost gone? If he gets it I will lose 90 percent of respect for the NFL...I dont care what records he break
s...If his team isnt winning its not enough...Im a panthers fan and I will take Jake who had a horrible game but a 7-2 record over brees anyday...and dont mention injuries...Panthers had 4 different starting quarterbacks last year but were given no excuse...Smith still had 1000 yards recieving last year and thats incredable with so many different quarterbacks...im sorry I jus hope brees doesnt get MVP...he doesnt deserve it...
Pat Yasinskas: I still think Brees is having a tremendous year. But you're right about the Saints' record. If they don't finish above .500 and make the playoffs, Brees probably won't have a shot at MVP, no matter how many records he breaks.
Pat Yasinskas: I keep waiting for Anderson to break out. But it hasn't happened so far. Don't give up hope, though. Mike Smith and his staff are very good and they believe Anderson has some talent. As far as Smith for Coach of the Year, he definitely deserves strong consideration for turning this franchise around so quickly.
Scott in Atlanta writes: I just wanted to thank you for the good job you have been doing in writing about the Falcons this year...they are getting some attention from some of the national media but I really enjoy your takes. Being a longtime Atlanta resident but usually more of a college football fan, I'm amazed at how likeable this team is and how drawn in by them I've become already. It's great to have a team of character to pull for after the whole Vick mess. Thanks for the good work and keep it up.
Pat Yasinskas: You bring up a good point about how likeable this team is. That's not an accident and give credit to owner Arthur Blank for realizing he had to do something about the team's image, as well as what it does on the field. That's part of the reason he hired Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff, who are solid in every sense of the word. That's trickled down throughout the organization and character played a huge role in drafting players like Matt Ryan and signing players like Michael Turner. There's also some behind-the scenes stuff going on that a lot of people don't realize. The Falcons made a big push in the offseason to improve their image and efforts on that end have ranged from team president Rich McKay down through the team's public relations office and marketing departments and that's all paying off.
Chris in Raleigh writes: Pat, Just wanted to say that I've really been enjoying the blog. You're doing a great job. I'd really like to see you do a piece on what the Panthers are going to do this offseason. Peppers, Gross, and Gamble are coming to the end of their deals and all are key players who have spent their entire careers with Carolina. Will Marty be able to keep them all in Charlotte? Who is most likely to want to test the market? Who is the most likely to get the franchise tag slapped on them? If one does leave, what kind of compensatory draft pick could the Panthers get?
Pat Yasinskas: I will do a separate and more extensive piece on this soon. I've touched on it briefly in the past and will touch on it briefly here. The Panthers are facing some very tough choices on the players you mention. I think it might be impossible to keep all three. Right now, Gross has the franchise tag. The Panthers will make efforts to get all three signed before they can test free agency, but I'm not sure that will happen. As players get close to free agency, their agents generally encourage them to test the waters and that's a prudent business move. It's also prudent for the Panthers to try to keep as many of these players as they can. I suspect their attempting to do that and will continue to try to get some of them to sign new contracts in the next few months.
Brian in NOLA writes: Hi Pat, I was wondering why more teams in the NFL (i.e. Saints) don't convert corners to safety more. Everyone says J.D. is a cover 2 corner and doesnt fit a man scheme well. Isn't playing safety almost always zone coverage? Lord knows we the Saints need to get better at safety.
Pat Yasinskas: Size is also a big factor here. Jason David doesn't have the size to be a safety because that position requires guys big enough to make tackles and sometimes cover tight ends.
V. in Windsor Ontario writes: Dear Pat, do you think the Panthers have a good chance of going deep into the playoffs if they can stay healthy?
Pat Yasinskas: That's definitely a strong possibility. We've still got a long way to go in the season and there are lots of variables. But the Panthers are in good shape right now. They probably have the most balanced team in the NFC South. But a big key will be how they handle what looks like a very tough schedule in the final six games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Very interesting statistic from Stats Inc. Through four games and 120 attempts, the Carolina Panthers have dropped only one pass. That's a pretty remarkable number and a tribute to the receivers and quarterback Jake Delhomme.
The lone drop was by Muhsin Muhammad, who has been targeted a team-high 37 times. Only Miami has less drops. The Dolphins have yet to drop a pass in 96 attempts. The Saints also are pretty impressive in this department with only three drops in 148 attempts.
Here's a team-by-team look at the amount of passes dropped: