NFC South: Pressure point

Pressure point: Buccaneers

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
12:00
PM ET
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.

Pressure point: Panthers

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
10:00
AM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

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

There probably isn’t a defensive coordinator in the league who has faced more criticism than Sean McDermott the past two seasons. He was fired by Philadelphia after the 2010 season, and his defense was dismal in his first season in Carolina.

McDermott got a bit of a pass because Carolina had a bunch of injuries on defense, it was the first year for a new coaching staff and rookie quarterback Cam Newton and a suddenly explosive offense gave fans a nice distraction. But, no matter how many points Newton and the offense scored, the Carolina defense had enormous trouble protecting leads in a 6-10 season. The excuses won’t fly this time around.

Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Ron Edwards are returning from injuries and the Panthers added linebacker Luke Kuechly in the first round of this year’s draft. McDermott has the personnel necessary to put together a respectable defense. The injured players and Kuechly join a nucleus that includes defensive end Charles Johnson and cornerback Chris Gamble, and the pressure is squarely on McDermott to put a good defense on the field.

If he can do that, Carolina could be a legitimate playoff contender. If not, McDermott could be on the hot seat.

Pressure point: Falcons

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
9:00
AM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Atlanta Falcons and why.

From ownership through the front office and coaching staff and into every corner of the locker room, the Falcons firmly believe Matt Ryan has everything it takes to be an elite quarterback. He’s a natural leader, works as hard as anyone and has won a lot of games during his first four seasons.

The problem is that every one of those wins has come in the regular season. The lack of a single postseason victory has a lot of people on the outside doubting whether Ryan really is the long-term answer for Atlanta. If Ryan goes a fifth season without a playoff victory, some of that doubt may creep into the Falcons' own building.

There have been excuses -- most of them valid -- for Ryan's inability to win in the postseason. But those excuses are disappearing. The Falcons brought in Julio Jones last year to be a deep threat, and they’re overhauling their offensive line to give Ryan more time to find receivers down the field. They also have brought in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who supposedly is installing a system that’s tailored to get the most out of Ryan’s ability.

The Falcons are going out of their way to give Ryan everything he needs to succeed. Now, with his current contract set to expire in 2013, it’s up to Ryan to take the next step. If he can win a playoff game, a contract extension is sure to follow and the doubts will disappear.

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