- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter
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1. Gregg Williams, Saints defensive coordinator. I still think Williams is one of the best at what he does. The whole premise of his defense is producing turnovers, which is nice in theory. But it kind of becomes pointless when a guy like Baltimore’s Ray Rice is running for 153 yards and catching short passes for another 80 yards. When an opponent is able to do anything like that, it limits the amount of risky passes that might turn into interceptions.
2. Patrick Robinson, Saints cornerback. When the first-round draft pick didn’t play a lot early in the year, it was understandable. The Saints were bringing him along slowly because they had Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Randall Gay. When each of those players suffered various injuries, Robinson got some playing time and showed some promise. But Greer and Porter are back now and the Saints have activated Leigh Torrence and kept Robinson inactive the past two games. If anything, first-round draft picks should be at least showing signs of progress at this time of year. If anything, your first-round pick shouldn't be inactive behind a special-teams player at this time of year.
3. Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers linebacker. He had eight tackles in a loss to Detroit, but tackles come with the territory at his position and in Tampa Bay’s scheme. But it’s looking more and more like the Bucs will let Ruud test free agency and probably walk after the season. Ruud wants a big-money contract. Before even getting serious about that, the Bucs wanted to see some big plays out of their middle linebacker. They haven’t. The last time he forced a fumble was in the opener. His only interception came in late October and the only sack Ruud recorded was Nov. 14. It’s nice that Ruud can make some tackles, but there are a lot of other guys who can come into this position in this scheme and make tackles.
1. Brandon LaFell and David Gettis, Panthers wide receivers. Although the people who will remain in power (not coach John Fox) in Carolina really don’t know anything for sure about rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, they’ve pretty much decided these two rookie receivers have a future. LaFell has caught 12 passes over the past three games. Up until that stretch, Gettis had been outplaying him. It would be nice if the new coach gets to keep those two players to go with No. 1 receiver Steve Smith and it would be even better if he actually puts the three of them on the field at the same time. Gee, three receivers capable of making plays on the field at the same time? You know what Fox’s playbook said about that? It was against it.
2. John Abraham, Falcons defensive end. Abraham has been getting a lot of time off from practice all year. But his teammates sure don’t mind and his coaches are the ones telling Abraham to sit. As long as he’s healthy and rested on Sundays, that’s all that matters. After a down season last year, Abraham has bounced back and is doing his part. Since sitting out a Nov. 21 game with an injury, Abraham has produced four sacks over the past four games and has 12 for the season.
3. Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons defensive tackle. He scored a touchdown Sunday against Seattle and that’s rare for a defensive lineman. Babineaux simply fell on a ball in the end zone that had been knocked loose by teammate Jamaal Anderson. But you do things like that when you’ve got a knack for putting yourself in the right position and Babineaux does that. He is -- by far -- the best defensive tackle in the NFC South and probably the division’s most underrated player. When the Pro Bowl rosters come out next week, I’m curious to see if Babineaux is on the NFC squad. He wasn’t getting a lot of fan votes, but coaches and players from other teams sometimes spot the guys that fans miss, and there are a lot of people within the league that will tell you Babineaux is one of the best in the league. The fact the Falcons have been piling up the wins finally might get Babineaux some of the recognition he deserves.
FALLING1. Gregg Williams, Saints defensive coordinator. I still think Williams is one of the best at what he does. The whole premise of his defense is producing turnovers, which is nice in theory.