NFC South: Leonard Little
The Saints lot to a previously winless St. Louis team and the Panthers lost by a field goal to a Minnesota team that came in with only one win.
With some help from ESPN Stats & Information and Elias Sports Bureau, let’s take a look at some statistical nuggets on the Saints and Panthers. We’ll start with the Saints.
St. Louis’ victory marked only the second time in the past 14 seasons that a winless team with at least six losses defeated a first-place team. The last such victory was by an 0-6 Miami team against a 4-2 St. Louis team in 2004.
Defense continues to be a problem area for the Saints. The Rams scored 17 points in the first half. That was one point more than the Rams had scored in any full game prior to Sunday. The Rams hadn’t scored 31 points in a game since Week 12 of the 2010 season.
The Saints allowed St. Louis defensive end Chris Long to record three sacks. He’s the first player from the Rams to do that since Leonard Little in Week 13 of the 2003 season.
The Saints came in averaging a league-high 34.1 points. The Rams were averaging a league-low 9.3 points per game. This game marked only the second time in the past 30 years that the league’s lowest-scoring team defeated the highest scoring team.
Now, let’s move over to the Panthers.
Carolina’s Cam Newton and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder made a little history. For the first time ever, two opposing rookies each passed for at least 200 yards without throwing an interception.
Carolina’s Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen each had a touchdown catch. It marked just the second time in franchise history that two Carolina tight ends had receiving touchdowns in the same game. The first time was by Dante Rosario and Christian Fauria in 2007.
Newton became the first Carolina quarterback to throw for three touchdown passes in a home game since Matt Moore in 2009.
Newton joined Kordell Stewart as the only player since 1970 to record 11 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns in the first eight games of the season.
Carolina’s Steve Smith had his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season. Smith had only two such games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined.
Newton’s 1,381 passing yards in October is the highest in NFL history by a rookie in one calendar month. The previous record was 1,230 yards by Matthew Stafford in November 2009.
But we’ll give Loomis a pass on this one. The man has been very business because the Super Bowl win kept the Saints playing a month longer than the rest of the teams in the division. Loomis also had to quickly get ready for the combine and free agency.
But he made time to summarize the season and look ahead and the Saints PR department passed along the transcript of his interview. Loomis covered more ground than we can include here, so we’ll touch on the highlights.
The contract talks with free-agent safety Darren Sharper:
“I have all of the love in the world for Darren Sharper. I just don’t have all the money in the world for Darren Sharper. We’d like to have Darren back. We really would and again, no different than any player, if it fits under the salary structure and the resources that we have, then we’ll definitely want to have him back. If it doesn’t and he has an opportunity somewhere else, we understand that.”
The loss of free-agent linebacker Scott Fujita to Cleveland:
“Scott just got an offer that was too good to turn down. He wanted to return to New Orleans. We wanted him to return to New Orleans, but we understand what free agency is. We’re going to miss Scott and [wife] Jaclyn. They were the first to commit to the New Orleans Saints after Hurricane Katrina, after the 2005 season and Scott really exemplified the type of player we want in New Orleans, intelligent, tough, high-character and a great leader for our team. We wish them all the best.”
Who will fill Fujita’s position:
“That remains to be seen. We have some guys in our program right now in Jonathan Casillas and Stanley Arnoux, young players. We have some other candidates, Anthony Waters, Troy Evans, but that will be determined in training camp.”
On free agents who are visiting:
“We’re going to have Jake [Delhomme] visit later today. We have James Hall in here today. We had a visit scheduled with Leonard Little and an emergency came up and he’s had to postpone that, so we’ll see what happens.”
On if running back Reggie Bush will remain with the Saints:
“Yes. He’ll be back and he’ll be back at his current salary.”
Pat Yasinskas: Dahl is a restricted free agent and I seriously doubt the Falcons will let him go even if he gets an offer from another team. Dahl is a tough and consistent player on a pretty good offensive line. The Falcons don’t want to lose him.
Derek in Mandeville, La., writes: I was reading yesterday that now that the Saints have lost Scott Fujita to the Browns, the Saints are able to go after a 2nd tier free agents. So because that they are bringing in Leonard Little and possibly Jamal Williams this week, what impact could either of those 2 guys make to our current defensive line rotation?
Pat Yasinskas: Just because the Saints are having those guys in for visits doesn’t mean they’re going to sign them. They both would be nothing more than rotation players. Yes, the Saints are in the market for some depth on the defensive line, but I think they’re just doing their homework at this point. Guys like Little and Williams could still be available much later in free agency at very reasonable prices.
Scott in New Orleans writes: What will the Saints do if they lose Sharper? Are Taylor Mays and Chad Jones viable options for New Orleans? I like them both.
Pat Yasinskas: First off, I still think there’s a good chance Darren Sharper re-signs with New Orleans. If he doesn’t, I think his replacement might come from within. The Saints used last year’s top pick on Malcolm Jenkins and decided to try him at cornerback first. Jenkins did all right there as a rookie, but Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter established themselves as elite corners last year and they’re not going anywhere. Jenkins has the size and skills to switch to safety. Teams usually like to have a first-round pick starting by his second season.
Adrian in Augusta, Ga., writes: Hey Pat, love the blog man. When are we going to get that mock draft featuring all the ESPN blog stars?
Pat Yasinskas: Not sure if that’s happening or not. I’ll run it up the ladder. But I know that last year the bosses decided against it because they felt we already had a glut of mock drafts on our Web site.
Lee in Kenansville, N.C., writes: Is there any possibility that Darren Sharper might be going to Carolina?
Pat Yasinskas: Not going to happen. Look at what’s going on in Carolina with the youth movement. The Panthers aren’t going to suddenly reverse all that in bring in a 34-year-old.
Aaron in Greensboro writes: What's the word on Jake Delhomme? Any thoughts or rumors as to where he might end up?
Pat Yasinskas: Quiet so far, but I think Delhomme eventually will land somewhere as a backup. I’ve already theorized Tampa Bay and New Orleans could be logical landing spots for him. His days as a starter may be over, but the fact he’s intelligent and a good guy in the locker room still give him some value as a backup.
Last week, I told you about a very special gathering with legendary former Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen. Tom writes about the function here. Tom ends the column by thanking all of those who worked for him back in the day. I think I speak for all of us when saying, Tom, the pleasure was ours.
Former Tampa Bay safety Will Allen has signed with Pittsburgh. The Bucs didn’t have any real interest in keeping Allen, although they do have needs at safety. But they’ll likely address that in the draft or with a younger free agent.
Nothing official on the potential trade of Atlanta cornerback Chris Houston to Detroit yet, but the two sides reportedly are still talking.
Former New Orleans defensive end Charles Grant and current tight end Jeremy Shockey are suing former Saints long-snapper Kevin Houser over an investment deal gone bad.
Daniel Cox points out that general manager Thomas Dimitroff has a history of making one or two big moves in free agency a year. In 2008, it was Michael Turner. Last year, it was Mike Peterson (and a trade for Tony Gonzalez). I think Cox is spot on when he says Dunta Robinson is this year’s big move and the Falcons now will focus on mid-level free agents and the draft.
Ray Hamilton, Brian Baker, Bill Johnson, Todd Wash and Robert Nunn have more in common than being defensive line coaches in the NFC South.
They also might face the biggest challenges of any coach on their individual staffs this season. There's a common theme through all the NFC South teams this year -- the defensive lines have to get better.
That's going to be largely up to the guys in charge of the defensive lines. Here's a look at the NFC South defensive line coaches and the challenges they face.
Ray Hamilton. He's a veteran and has long been recognized as being one of the best in the business. Hamilton did a fine job last year as veteran end John Abraham had a huge season and the Falcons were able to get by with the aging Grady Jackson in the middle of their line. But the Falcons had almost no pass rush outside of Abraham and Jackson is now gone. That brings new challenges for Hamilton. He's worked very hard this offseason with underachieving end Jamaal Anderson and there's hope Anderson can emerge in his third year. But the Falcons have Chauncey Davis as an insurance policy and drafted a project in Lawrence Sidbury. In a perfect world, Anderson steps up, Davis plays a role and Sidbury can be groomed as an eventual replacement for Abraham. Hamilton's also got a lot of work to do in the interior. Jonathan Babineaux has emerged as a very solid tackle, but Hamilton will have to break in rookie Peria Jerry next to him.
Brian Baker. He's new to the Panthers and so is most of the defensive staff. Baker has a fine resume and has gotten big results out of Leonard Little, Robert Porcher, Luther Elliss and Kevin Williams in his previous stops. That's a good start because the coaching of the defensive line has been a controversial issue for the Panthers for most of John Fox's tenure. Once upon a time, the Panthers had Julius Peppers, Mike Rucker, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner up front and they were coached by Mike Trgovac, who was regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the game. But Trgovac moved up to coordinator in his second season. That led to the hiring of Sal Sunseri as defensive line coach and some raised eyebrows around the league. A lot of people thought Sunseri, who was new to the NFL and had a background with linebackers, wasn't ready for the position and was hired because he was Fox's friend. Some players on the defensive line also held that view and the perception never went away. For reasons that haven't been fully explained, Jenkins asked out and got traded to the Jets, and Peppers still is asking out. Sunseri left after the season to coach at Alabama. Baker inherits a group that doesn't have nearly the talent level the Panthers once did, even if Peppers stays. He's going to have to coach up rookie Everette Brown very quickly and get some role players to overachieve. In the old days, Fox's teams were built around the defensive line. That's no longer the reality, but Baker has to bring this unit up to a respectable level.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Bill Johnson. This was a critical hire as the Saints, once again, overhauled their defense and brought in coordinator Gregg Williams and a bunch of new personnel. Johnson's inheriting a group with lots of talent, but some players who haven't consistently lived up to their potential. It's Johnson's job to draw that from them and he'll start with defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith. In his first season with Denver, Johnson helped second-year pro Elvis Dumervil get 12.5 sacks. There's no reason why Smith and Grant both shouldn't be around the double-digit mark in sacks. One way Johnson will try to help those two is to give them some help from the inside, and the Saints have the potential to get that from second-year pro Sedrick Ellis, who had a solid rookie season. But Johnson's not counting on just Ellis. He helped bring veteran Rod Coleman out of retirement. There's history with Johnson and Coleman. They worked together in Atlanta and Coleman produced 28 sacks in their time together. Coleman's age may prevent him from being the force he once was, but he gives Johnson another guy who can make things happen up front.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Todd Wash and Robert Nunn. Wash is coaching the defensive ends and Nunn is handling the defensive tackles. That combo approach is probably a good thing because the Bucs need all the help they can get up front. The defensive line was a major player in last year's late-season collapse, and there will be at least two new starters as end Kevin Carter and tackle Jovan Haye have left the team. Wash's main task is to get third-year end Gaines Adams to be more productive. There's talent there, but Adams needs to add some moves to go with his physical skills. Nunn's got to get young tackles Roy Miller and Dre Moore ready quickly because Chris Hovan didn't look like he had a lot left at the end of last season, and Ryan Sims and Jimmy Wilkerson are role players. New coordinator Jim Bates is bringing a whole new scheme to the Bucs, but that transition should be helped by the fact that Nunn worked with Bates in Miami and Green Bay.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
There's been plenty of talk all season about how the Falcons are using defensive end John Abraham -- limiting his snaps in an attempt to keep him fresh.
That's worked nicely, but there's more to how the Falcons are using their best pass-rusher. They're letting him move around and line up in different spots.
Most of the time, Abraham lines up against the left tackle. In those situations, he's produced 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. But Abraham's been productive lining up against the right tackle as well. Against right tackles, Abraham has produced five sacks and one forced fumble.
The forced fumble has become a calling card for Abraham. Since coming into the league with the Jets in 2000, he's forced 31 fumbles. Only Jason Taylor (37), Dwight Freeney (35) and Leonard Little (33) have produced more forced fumbles in that time span.