NFC South: Ndamukong Suh

Josh McCown is a fan of Ndamukong Suh

December, 8, 2014
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DETROIT -- After taking a bunch of hits from Ndamukong Suh in Sunday’s 34-17 loss, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown was singing the praises of the Detroit Lions defensive tackle.

Suh had a monstrous day, compiling six tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. He keyed a Detroit defense that sacked McCown six times and left the quarterback limping after the game.

Suh is a bit of a controversial figure due to his aggressive play. McCown acknowledged that, but said Suh’s physical style is part of what makes him special.

“I love how that guy plays because he plays hard,’’ McCown said. “He crosses the line sometimes. He needs to be careful. I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said. But I love to see guys playing this game hard, the way he plays it. He plays it tough. He’s physical and he plays hard. When you play that way, sometimes those are going to be penalties that happen. But he’s a dominant force, there’s no question about it. It’s part of who he is. If I’m his teammate, I just wouldn’t want to see him cross the line and hurt your team. But, man, he plays hard.’’

W2W4: Buccaneers-Lions

November, 23, 2013
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Three things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions:

Can Bobby Rainey do it again? The running back ran for 163 yards last week against an Atlanta defense that ranks No. 30 against the run. But Detroit should provide a much stiffer challenge for Rainey. Led by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, Detroit is ranked No. 5 against the run.

Matchup of the year: I don’t think it can get any better than Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson and Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis. They’re the best in the business at their respective positions. In their only previous matchup (in 2010), Johnson was held to one catch for 13 yards. A television camera should be on Revis and Johnson the whole game.

Air Glennon: Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon finally started connecting on a few deep balls last week. The Bucs want more of that. They might be able to get it against a Detroit defense that ranks No. 30 in the league.
DeAndre Levy and Vincent JacksonUSA Today SportsDeAndre Levy and the Lions will need to keep Vincent Jackson in check on Sunday.
Tampa Bay started its season terribly before finding some answers the past two weeks. Detroit started its season strong but is suddenly vulnerable and has some questions.

Only the Lions are in the playoff picture heading into the last six weeks of the season. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers can play spoiler and give a damaging blow to the Lions' playoff hopes.

The Buccaneers will try to do that with a rejuvenated defense that caught the eye of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“They are an extremely talented defense,” Stafford said. “Probably the most talented defense we've played all year.”

ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Pat Yasinskas (Buccaneers) break down Sunday's matchup.

Rothstein: What has happened over the past couple of weeks to turn this Tampa team around?

Yasinskas: The short answer is that the Bucs suddenly have gotten much better at finishing games, a huge problem early in the season. But it goes much deeper than that. Coach Greg Schiano has a reputation for being stubborn and inflexible. But he's changed in recent weeks. His mood has been lighter on the practice field and when he's met with the media. More importantly, he's adjusted some things on the field. He's stopped stunting so much on the defensive line, and that's created more straight-ahead rushes for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Schiano has used cornerback Darrelle Revis in more man-to-man coverage after playing him in a lot of zone early in the season. The Bucs also have been running the ball much better, and that's a tribute to the offensive line.

Speaking of McCoy, he and Ndamukong Suh came out in the same draft, and early on, it looked like Suh clearly was the better player. But McCoy has been outstanding of late. What kind of a year is Suh having?

Rothstein: Suh's actual statistics are fairly pedestrian and wouldn't really stand out to anyone if they were just watching Detroit from afar. But he has faced a lot of double-teams throughout the season and has been somewhat consistent throughout the year. He played his best in the two games against Chicago -- four quarterback hurries in Week 10, two sacks in Week 4 -- but he and the rest of the Detroit defensive line almost inexplicably struggled to reach Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this past Sunday.

Detroit has not blitzed much this season, putting a lot of pressure on the front four, starting with Suh.

That'll lead into my next question -- how has Mike Glennon been progressing this season, and how does he move when he is pushed in the pocket a little bit?

Yasinskas: Glennon has been a pleasant surprise. He was thrown into the lineup when Josh Freeman was benched, and he struggled at first. But Glennon has steadily improved and has been very good in recent weeks. He had only three incompletions in Sunday's victory over Atlanta. He's shown poise and leadership. Glennon's strength is his big arm, and the Bucs are trying to develop more of a deep passing game. They showed signs that's catching on when Vincent Jackson caught two long passes against the Falcons.

I first saw Glennon when I was covering the filming of "Gruden's QB Camp" this past spring. Watching Glennon's college tape, I thought he didn't have the mobility to succeed in the NFL. As it turns out, I was wrong. Glennon is not a running threat, but he's not a statue, either. He's been extending some plays by scrambling.

Speaking of deep passing games, the matchup I can't wait to see is Calvin Johnson against Revis. I saw the Lions-Steelers game, and it seemed like Johnson disappeared in the second half. What was all that about? Revis and Johnson went head-to-head in a 2010 game, and Johnson caught just one pass for 13 yards. Do you see Revis, with a little bit of help, being help to keep Johnson quiet?

Rothstein: It depends on what Tampa tries to do defensively. When teams have tried covering Johnson with single coverage, he's destroyed opponents. It happened a good amount against Dallas and early against Pittsburgh. It goes to the situation most teams have had to face this season -- do you double-team Johnson and give a lighter box to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, or do you play single high to focus on Bell and Bush and put Johnson in lighter coverage?

That said, Revis is one of the best corners in the league -- something Stafford acknowledged Tuesday -- and it should be an intriguing matchup Sunday. Johnson likes going against the top corners in the league and has had some success this season in those matchups, notably against Arizona's Patrick Peterson (six catches, 116 yards, two touchdowns) and Dallas' Brandon Carr (14 catches, 329 yards).

One of the other ways teams have had success against Detroit is to pressure Stafford, which hasn't been easy this season. It goes back to that first question with McCoy, but is he the key to any pressure Tampa might get?

Yasinskas: McCoy is the central piece of the defensive line, and everything feeds off him. But he's not alone in the pass rush. End Adrian Clayborn has some pass-rush skills, and the Bucs have started lining up outside linebacker Dekoda Watson as a rush end. But the Bucs also like to use their linebackers as blitzers, and Lavonte David (five sacks) is a very good pass-rusher. But it all goes back to McCoy. The Bucs rely on him to push the quarterback off the spot, and the other players can clean up.

You mentioned Bush. At least from a distance, it seemed like he got himself in the doghouse by fumbling against Pittsburgh. Is Bush in good graces with the coaching staff, or will we see less of him Sunday?

Rothstein: Doghouse? No. But he needs to work on protecting the ball better and hanging on to it, period. He's struggled with drops all season and lost fumbles two of the past three weeks. He's too big a weapon for Detroit to move away from him -- especially at home -- but if he continues on this trend, Bell might steal some of his snaps.

TAMPA, Fla. -- A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 41-28 victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday:

The Schiano Watch: A few weeks ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that coach Greg Schiano would be fired at the end of the season or maybe even sooner. But the Bucs have won two games in a row, so it might be time to re-think Schiano's future. He still may be facing an uphill battle to keep his job, but now there's at least a chance. If the Bucs can win more than they lose in the second half of the season, Schiano could have a chance to be back for 2014.

McCoy
McCoy
McCoy or Suh? Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has picked the best possible time to start playing the best football of his career. McCoy had a three-sack game, one that comes as the Bucs get ready to face the Detroit Lions. You know what that means? Ndamukong Suh plays for the Lions. He and McCoy came out in the same draft. Early on, it looked like Suh clearly was ahead of McCoy. But McCoy now is playing as well as any defensive tackle in the NFL.

Rainey days: Running back Bobby Rainey had 163 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown against the Falcons. Not bad for a guy who never was able to distinguish himself during stints with Baltimore and Cleveland. Doug Martin's starting job is safe when he comes back from injury next year, but Rainey has shown enough that he should have a roster spot next season.

Glennon's development: Very quietly, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon had a strong day. He completed 20 of 23 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. I still don't know if Glennon can be a franchise quarterback. But I'm seeing signs that Glennon can be a solid quarterback when the rest of the team is playing well.

Around the NFC South

December, 19, 2012
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Let's take a quick run through the top headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Jeff Schultz revisits last season’s game between the Falcons and Lions in which defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh reportedly made some harsh comments when quarterback Matt Ryan was injured. The Falcons weren’t saying much about Suh on Tuesday, but you can bet the incident is something they’ll use as motivation.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers placed guard Zack Williams on injured reserve. They now have 17 players on injured reserve. They set a franchise record last season with 18 players on injured reserve.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints placed rookie cornerback Corey White on injured reserve. White missed four of the past five games with a knee injury. The Saints filled his roster spot by promoting wide receiver Saalim Hakim from the practice squad.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

A lot of fans are questioning whether Josh Freeman is the long-term answer at quarterback. Gary Shelton writes that a lot of teams have bigger problems than Freeman at quarterback. That’s why I don’t think the Bucs are ready to give up on Freeman. At times, he has played well. At other times, he hasn’t. But there still appears to be potential there. It might be difficult for the Bucs to find a better quarterback in free agency or the draft. They need to stick with Freeman a little longer and find out exactly what they have.
Gerald McCoy, Cam NewtonAP Photo/Margaret BowlesGerald McCoy, who had four career sacks coming into the season, sacked Cam Newton once on Sunday and came close to adding a few more.

TAMPA, Fla. -- When the locker room door opened Wednesday afternoon, a large cluster of media members headed straight for Gerald McCoy's locker.

They were there to talk about the defensive tackle’s dominant performance in Tampa Bay's victory against Carolina. McCoy held court for nearly 12 minutes and forced several outbursts of laughter.

This is how it’s always supposed to have been with McCoy. As the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, he was supposed to be an instant star, sort of like the guy taken just ahead of him -- Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh.

The problem is, it’s rarely been like this. McCoy always has been gregarious, but there hasn't been a lot of reason to hear from him.

McCoy started slowly as a rookie and injured his arm just when it looked like he was starting to emerge. He started off well last season, but suffered a similar injury and missed more than half the season.

That’s led to talk in the media and fans about McCoy being a bust. McCoy said he doesn’t listen to the critics, but he gets the point.

“There are different pressure levels,’’ McCoy said. “Mine just so happened to be a top-pick pressure. But if you don’t want to play in a professional environment, if you don’t want pressure, then you shouldn’t play in a professional environment, seriously.’’

Bring on the pressure, McCoy said. He welcomes it and perhaps it will fuel him into pressuring quarterbacks.

“My dad always told me to be smart with my choices and never to take on a challenge I don’t think I can handle,’’ McCoy said.

[+] EnlargeGerald McCoy
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireGerald McCoy struggled to stay healthy and on the field during his first two NFL seasons.
McCoy refuses to point to the injuries as excuses. Heck, he’s just as disappointed with how his first two seasons have gone as any of his critics. McCoy had only four sacks in his first two seasons and that's not good enough.

“Performance is everything,’’ McCoy said. “Nothing else matters because nobody’s going to say, “Oh, he was a great guy’’. They’re going to say, “Oh, he didn’t perform." I’ve been smiling since I’ve got here, but people also say I haven’t been performing since I got here. Nobody cares that I’m smiling. Nobody cares that I’m a great guy. They care if I’m not performing.’’

And that’s why the cluster surrounded McCoy’s locker. On Sunday at least, he performed. He sacked Carolina’s Cam Newton once and had two other plays where he was very close to a sack. McCoy also was extremely instrumental in holding Carolina’s running game to 10 yards.

Maybe, just maybe, this was the real McCoy. Maybe he’ll stay healthy and dominate for the next six or eight years.

“Gerald’s always had intensity,’’ said Kelli Masters, his agent. “But I saw him take it to another level this offseason. More so than ever, he was all about football. Maybe some of it was frustration about the injuries, but I think it was more the maturation process than anything.’’

Before the team’s offseason program started, McCoy was out in San Diego working with his personal trainer to get his arm healthy. He came to Tampa for the offseason program. Minicamp ended in June and players around the league took their vacations.

McCoy didn’t. Although he was healthy, he went straight back to San Diego for more conditioning work and stayed right up until the start of training camp.

“It’s a big season for us and I needed to be in the best shape I could to help my team,’’ McCoy said.

There’s no question McCoy helped his team against Carolina. But you look at the injury history and it’s only logical to wonder if he can continue like that for another 15 games.

Injuries can be tied to luck and maybe it’s time to put aside the doubt and consider the possibility that McCoy’s luck can change.

Maybe, after seeing Sunday's performance, it’s time to consider the possibility McCoy is right where he should be -- a third-year defensive tackle, just hitting his full stride.

“It’s kind of like it was in college,’’ McCoy said. “After a while, you just know what’s coming. You just kind of go with the flow. You just play the game and everything slows down because you learn how to study film, you learn what to look for and what to watch. Now that I know everything that goes with it, it’s time to put it together and just use it.’’

If he plays like he did on Sunday for an entire season, McCoy will be exactly what he was supposed to be.

Pressure point: Buccaneers

May, 17, 2012
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NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Buccaneers and why.

Back in 2010, the Buccaneers decided to invest heavily in the middle of their defensive line. They used a first-round draft pick on Gerald McCoy and a second-round choice on Brian Price. The thinking was the duo would make Tampa Bay solid in the middle for years to come. But things haven’t worked out exactly as planned.

McCoy and Price each have shown a few flashes, but injuries have prevented them from being anything close to dominant. A new coaching staff is taking over and there still is hope that McCoy and Price can prosper. But this coaching staff isn’t as deeply wed to players it didn’t play a role in drafting. The pressure is especially on McCoy, who was drafted with the No. 3 overall choice and forever will be compared to Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh, who was selected just before him. To date, McCoy has four career sacks and has missed 13 games with injuries.

The Bucs are hoping this is the year McCoy and Price finally stay healthy, but new coach Greg Schiano has brought in alternatives in case the injury problems continue. The Bucs have added free-agent defensive tackles Amobi Okoye, a former first-round pick by Houston, and Gary Gibson, who played for Schiano at Rutgers and has bounced around the league. McCoy and Price will get every benefit of the doubt, but they have to be able to stay on the field to make an impact.
The season-long suspension of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma pretty much is unprecedented in the NFL.

There have been plenty of one-year suspensions (and some longer) for substance-abuse violations. But Vilma’s suspension ranks as one of the longest in history.

With help from the Associated Press, by way of ESPN Stats & Information, here’s a list of the longest non-substance-abuse suspensions in NFL history:
  • Art Schlichter, life, suspended one year for gambling in 1983, never reinstated
  • Merle Hapes, eight years, suspended for conversing with known gambler in 1946, reinstated in 1954
  • Frank Filchock, three years, suspended for conversing with known gambler in 1947, reinstated in 1950
  • Michael Vick, two years, two games, suspended indefinitely in 2007 after pleading guilty to role in dogfighting
  • Plaxico Burress, two years, suspended for duration of jail term in 2009 after pleading guilty to criminal possession of a weapon
  • Donte’ Stallworth, one year, suspended for one year after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter in 2009
  • Paul Hornung, one year, suspended one year for gambling in 1963
  • Alex Karras, one year, suspended one year for gambling in 1963
  • Adam Jones, one year, suspended one year for violating Personal Conduct Policy in 2007

Those suspensions all involved off-field actions. Here is the list of the longest NFL suspensions for on-field incidents:

Schiano: McCoy can be dominant

April, 3, 2012
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When he came to Tampa Bay in 2010 as the third overall pick in the draft, Gerald McCoy was supposed to be an instant star.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. In two seasons, the defensive tackle has four sacks and has appeared in just 19 games.

[+] EnlargeGerald McCoy
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIHow important is Gerald McCoy to the Bucs? They went 0-10 without him last season.
But it sure sounds like new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano views McCoy as one of his core players.

“He plays defensive tackle the way I like,’’ Schiano said at the NFL owners meetings last week. “He’s a penetrating guy who can change direction. We’ve got to keep him healthy because I think he can be a dominant force in this league.’’

I think Schiano’s right. I’m not sure McCoy will become Ndamukong Suh, an All-Pro who was taken No. 2 by Detroit in that same draft. But I think McCoy can be a force. There have been brief flashes that indicate he can make good things happen in the middle of the defensive line, but there just haven’t been a lot of those flashes.

McCoy got off to a slow start as a rookie and, just when it looked like he was starting to catch on, he suffered an injury that shut him down for the final three games of the 2010 season. Last season, McCoy appeared in only six games before he was placed on the injured-reserve list.

Think about that for a second. The Bucs were 4-2 after six games. They never won another game after McCoy went down. I’m not saying McCoy’s injury was the sole reason for Tampa Bay’s collapse, but there’s no doubt it was a factor.

This is a big year for McCoy. He’s starting to get hit with the dreaded “injury-prone’’ label. But McCoy is a talent. If he can stay healthy, that would help the Bucs tremendously. Same for fellow defensive tackle Brian Price, who came in the same draft class as McCoy and has dealt with injuries of his own. Tampa Bay has invested a lot in its defensive line in recent drafts and we’re waiting to see the return on those investments.

If McCoy and Price stay healthy, they can form a nice interior rotation with Roy Miller. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was one of the few bright spots last season. He could be even better in his second season and the same goes for Da’Quan Bowers, a second-round pick last year. The Bucs also like defensive end Michael Bennett.

The ingredients are there for Tampa Bay to put together a very nice defensive line. The Bucs just need to keep McCoy and their other young defensive linemen healthy and on the field.

Around the NFC South

January, 7, 2012
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Time to take a look at the top Saturday morning headlines from around the NFC South. Obviously, this will be heavy on the Saints and Falcons because they have playoff games this weekend.

Bob Marshall has a column about how Detroit fans are like New Orleans fans a few years back. New Orleans went through Hurricane Katrina and the Saints helped pull the city back together. Detroit has been through some difficult economic times but the Lions have given people something to rally around.

Jeff Duncan writes that the Saints can set themselves apart if the defense steps up in the postseason. No doubt, the New Orleans offense always will put points on the board. But the defense is going to have to make some plays along the way if the Saints are going to get to the Super Bowl.

The Saints said they’re prepared for Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He didn’t play against them in the regular season because he was serving a suspension.

Largely due to the position he plays, Atlanta center Todd McClure doesn’t get a lot of attention. But that sometimes changes in the postseason. Here’s a very nice feature on McClure in The Wall Street Journal. I’m guessing the Giants’ defensive line doesn’t think the Atlanta offensive linemen read The Wall Street Journal.

Here’s a bit of good news for Atlanta fans. You don’t hear a lot about kicker Matt Bryant. But I can tell you he’s a very competitive guy who is motivated by perceived slights. Bryant started his career with the Giants, but was cut soon after the arrival of coach Tom Coughlin. Keep that in mind if Sunday’s game comes down to a Bryant kick because I can assure you that will be on Bryant’s mind.

Atlanta wide receiver Harry Douglas has a brother, Toney, who plays for the New York Knicks. Toney Douglas will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday to watch is brother.

The Jacksonville Jaguars reportedly interviewed Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for their job as head coach. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey also has been given permission to talk to the Jaguars. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attempt to interview one or both of these coordinators soon.

Tampa Bay veteran cornerback Ronde Barber will have surgery on his fractured right arm, according to his brother, Tiki. After the surgery, Barber also will decide if he wants to retire or continue playing. Barber previously suggested he might retire if the Bucs fired coach Raheem Morris and they did. There’s no big rush here. Barber can wait to see who is hired as the new coach and decide if he wants to continue playing and if he fits into the plans of the new coach.

Around the NFC South

January, 5, 2012
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Time for a Thursday morning look at the top headlines from around the division.

Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey defended his offensive line against allegations of dirty play. Mularkey said the Falcons are physical but are not instructed to play beyond the whistle.

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said that quarterback Cam Newton is capable of winning multiple Super Bowls. It’s possible, as long as the Panthers spruce up their defense.

Ndamukong Suh was suspended when the Lions played the Saints during the regular season. But Suh will be playing in Saturday’s playoff game and that should lead to a fantastic matchup. New Orleans has one of the best interior offensive lines in the league with guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. This will be a classic case of strength on strength.

Gary Shelton writes that none of the available coaching candidates has much of a “wow factor.’’ That’s true. But the Bucs need something other than “wow." They need a coach who will come in and stabilize their franchise.

Atlanta director of player personnel Les Snead is getting some consideration for general manager’s jobs. Chicago and St. Louis are showing some interest. It’s only natural because Snead is good at what he does and is viewed as a rising star in league circles.

Saints catch break with Suh suspension

November, 29, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- Despite my previous post, I’m not on the road just yet. I’m sitting in Louis Armstrong International Airport waiting for a flight and have to weigh in on some major news.

The New Orleans Saints, fresh off Monday night’s big win against the Giants, appear to be catching another big break.

Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been suspended for two games for stomping an opponent. An appeal is expected to be heard quickly.

But, as long as the suspension is not overturned, the first game Suh misses will be Sunday night’s game against the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

You saw last night what the Saints can do when a defense can’t pressure Drew Brees or slow the running game. Without Suh, Detroit’s defense drops off considerably.

Hitting the NFC South links

November, 21, 2011
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There were a number of interesting developments around the NFC South as I was traveling earlier this afternoon. So let's use one rapid-fire post to cover a lot of ground.

Seriously? Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount said he got some high praise from Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers after Sunday’s game.

“He told me he thinks I’m one of the best backs in the league,” Blount told the media Monday. “He told me I have a chance to be one of the greatest backs in this league and he said he doesn’t just say that to anybody. He feels like me and one other guy have the potentinal to stand out and be two of the best running backs to ever play the game.’’

Hmm, just a thought, but wouldn’t it be pretty funny if the (“one other guy’’) Rodgers was referring to was Kregg Lumpkin? I’ve spent a little time around Rodgers and the guy does have a great sense of humor.

Silencing Suh. The Carolina Panthers did a decent job of containing Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. They did that largely by double-teaming him. By one calculation, Suh was double-teamed on 63.3 percent of his snaps.

That’s not all that surprising. The Panthers have their problems, but the offensive line isn’t one of them. Ryan Kalil might be the best center in the league, Jordan Gross is an elite left tackle and Travelle Wharton is a very underrated guard.

Injury list growing. Carolina’s problems are mostly on defense and they might be getting even worse. Coach Ron Rivera said defensive end Charles Johnson will have an MRI on his shoulder and linebacker Omar Gaither suffered a setback on a knee injury that has limited his playing time.

Still chasing the dream. Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris said Monday his team’s goal at the start of the season was to win the NFC South and that hasn’t changed even though the Bucs are 4-6.

To borrow a line from the character “Phil’’ in the movie “The Hangover’’ a few hours before his missing friend was scheduled to be married, “Yeah, um, that’s not going to happen’’.

Now, I will say this, the playoffs still are a possibility for the Bucs. But they’re going to have to get hot and it has to happen immediately. They pretty much have to run the table to have any shot at the postseason and there haven’t been many signs lately that the Bucs, who have lost four straight, are on the verge of getting hot.

Brees on parade. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees used the bye week to make the talk-show rounds. He visited with Jay Leno and his next stop was “The Ellen DeGeneres Show." But I’m wondering if general manager Mickey Loomis and Brees’ agent spent any of the quiet time talking about a contract extension that I thought would have been done long ago?

Big decision ahead. Atlanta coach Mike Smith said Sam Baker is moving closer to returning from a back injury. But Smith said he’s not ready to determine if Baker will return to the starting lineup when he’s ready to play or if Will Svitek will stay there. Svitek has played pretty well and Baker was struggling earlier in the season.

Just my opinion, but I’d be inclined to stick with Svitek. I’m not sure how much individual credit he deserves, but Atlanta’s offensive line has been playing much better of late. Why break up the continuity?

NFC South Stock Watch

November, 8, 2011
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers defensive tackle. He suffered a season-ending arm injury Sunday. This is the second straight year McCoy has had his season cut short by an injury. There will be rumbles that McCoy is injury-prone, and some people will call him a draft bust. McCoy already was very sensitive to comparisons to Ndamukong Suh, who was taken just before him in last year’s draft. McCoy needs to put all of that out of his mind as he goes through his rehab. When he's been healthy, he has shown signs he can play. McCoy needs to come back next year and put it all together. Otherwise, that bust label might start to fit.

2. Garrett Reynolds, Falcons guard. Reynolds had won the starting right guard job in training camp. But he had struggled through much of the first half of the season. The coaching staff decided to start Joe Hawley in his place in Sunday’s victory against Indianapolis. Hawley played well, and this doesn’t look like a short-term move. Reynolds had his chance as a starter, but those days appear to be over.

3. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers running back. Blount said he was hoping to become more of an every-down back after Earnest Graham went down with a season-ending injury. But that didn’t happen Sunday in New Orleans. The Bucs simply plugged Kregg Lumpkin into Graham’s role on passing downs, and Blount was limited to playing mostly on running downs. Blount hasn’t been able to convince the coaches he’s ready to handle pass protections. If he can’t do that by the midpoint of his second season, it makes you wonder whether he ever will be able to handle that role. Blount also hurt his team with a costly unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.

RISING

[+] EnlargeAtlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIREAtlanta wide receiver Julio Jones is becoming an explosive play-maker for the Falcons.
1. Julio Jones, Falcons receiver. The rookie came back after missing two games with a hamstring injury and did exactly what the Falcons envisioned when they had drafted him. Jones made explosive plays. He caught two touchdown passes -- one for 80 yards and a second for 50. He also got a couple of carries on reverses. Jones wasn’t playing badly before the injury, but the Falcons weren’t coming up with the explosive plays. While he was out, the Falcons re-evaluated their offense, and it looks like they’re starting to figure out how to maximize Jones’ talent.

2. Pierre Thomas, Saints running back. It’s tough to stand out in a New Orleans backfield that uses a three-man rotation. But Thomas stood out Sunday against Tampa Bay. He had his best game of the season, carrying eight times for 66 yards and a touchdown. Thomas averaged 8.3 yards per carry and caught four passes for 25 yards.

3. Curtis Lofton, Falcons middle linebacker. With Carolina’s Jon Beason out for the season and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma dealing with a knee problem, Lofton has emerged as the NFC South’s best middle linebacker. He was in on 12 tackles Sunday as the Atlanta defense didn’t allow a point against Indianapolis. Lofton also forced a fumble that led to an Atlanta touchdown.

Thoughtful side of Roddy White

October, 31, 2011
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As most of you know, Atlanta receiver Roddy White has a tendency to be outspoken. Sometimes, it’s in a playful way. Sometimes, White can be controversial.

But there’s another side to White that isn’t always seen. That’s the thoughtful side. It surfaced Monday when White was talking about the season-ending knee injury to teammate Ovie Mughelli that happened in a victory against Detroit.

White told John Manasso that he thinks the NFL should outlaw the type of hit that caused Mughelli’s injury. Mughelli was looking back at quarterback Matt Ryan on a pass play when he was hit from the side and behind by safety Louis Delmas.

"Once you see it, once he caught the ball, he couldn't really get around and the guy kind of cut him on his knees," White said. "That's kind of, that's bad. The NFL's got to make a rule or something on that. Those guys going into the flat and they can't see and getting your knees cut from under you like that. It's tough, especially when you're playing on turf and you're planted into the ground and you get hit like that."

White got into a war of words with Detroit defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril in the days after the game. White and center Todd McClure said Suh and Avril were making comments and gestures, which they thought were in appropriate, while Ryan was down on the ground with an injury.

But White wasn't looking to continue the war on this issue. He refused to say Delmas made a dirty play.

"Not really a dirty play because everybody does that week in week out in the NFL, it's just if you happen to get caught or not," White said.

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