NFC South: Tye Hill

NFC South training camp preview

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
11:50
AM ET
The good news for the New Orleans Saints is they are defending Super Bowl champions. The bad news is that’s not a great spot to be in in the NFC South.

The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the Super Bowl, and the 2003 Carolina Panthers, who lost it, didn’t even make the playoffs the following year. Since the division came into existence in 2002, there has been no such thing as a dynasty in the NFC South. No team has won the division crown in back-to-back seasons.

The Saints, who already have re-written history, will have to do it again if they want to stay on top. But the Atlanta Falcons might not be far behind, the Panthers have enough talent to be dangerous and the Buccaneers almost have to be better than last season.

We’ll find out soon enough if anyone can challenge the Saints. The test begins next week when all four NFC South teams report to training camp.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

Falcons: What does John Abraham have left?

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham
Dale Zanine/US PresswireThe Falcons are confident defensive end John Abraham still has something left in the tank.
For the past couple of years, the 32-year-old defensive end has been one of those guys who doesn’t practice all the time because the Falcons go out of their way to keep him healthy and fresh. That plan isn’t likely to change this season, but the Falcons will be keeping a very close eye on Abraham in camp.

His sack total dipped from 16.5 in 2008 to 5.5 last season. The obvious question is if Abraham is on the last legs of his career. Despite the statistical evidence, the Falcons believe there’s something left. After closely watching film of Abraham from last season, the coaches firmly believe Abraham can get back to double-digit sacks. Part of their thinking is he’ll benefit from improved play from the interior of the defensive line and that Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury are ready to generate pressure from the other side. Recent history has shown the Falcons are willing to make deals late in the preseason (trading for cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Tye Hill) if they feel they have a weakness. But they’re hoping Abraham shows enough in camp to convince them the pass rush will be adequate.

Panthers: What must Matt Moore do to win the starting quarterback job?

A lot of people believe this training camp will be highlighted by a battle between Moore and rookie Jimmy Clausen. That’s not really the case -- or at least not how Carolina’s brass views the situation. The truth is the Panthers are going to camp with every intention of Moore being the starter. He earned that much by playing well at the end of last season.

Coach John Fox isn’t about to open the season with a rookie starting at quarterback. He could turn to Clausen later in the season if things aren’t going well. But the immediate starting job is Moore’s, and the only way he can lose it is to have a disastrous training camp and preseason.

Saints: Are the Saints ready for a return to the “real’’ world?

Rightfully so, the Saints spent a lot of time this offseason celebrating their first Super Bowl title. Great for them and great for their fans. But all that’s about to end. Coach Sean Payton runs what I think is easily the toughest camp in the NFC South, and I don’t anticipate that changing. If anything, camp might be tougher this year.

Payton is an excellent motivator and he’s well aware the Saints now are the jewel on the schedule of every opposing team. The track record of Super Bowl champions in the following season hasn’t been all that impressive in recent years. Payton knows that, and you can bet that message is going to be conveyed to his team. A big part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl last season is because they had such a tough and productive camp.

Buccaneers: Who are the starting wide receivers?

The Bucs truly don’t know the answer to that question right now and that’s not a bad thing. The plan is to throw all the receivers out there in camp, let them compete and see who rises up. A lot of fans were frustrated and puzzled when the Bucs let Antonio Bryant walk in free agency, leaving the team without a clear-cut No. 1 receiver. But the Bucs believe they’re better off without Bryant, who wasn’t all that productive last season and didn’t endear himself to the front office or coaching staff when he made public comments about the coaches and quarterback Josh Freeman that were far from flattering.

The Bucs used early draft picks on Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. It’s likely at least one of them will start right away. Veterans Reggie Brown, Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall will compete for the other job. If both rookies look good in camp, it’s possible they could be the starters because there isn’t much upside with Brown, Clayton or Stovall. Second-year pro Sammie Stroughter also is in the mix. But, ideally, the Bucs would like to use him as the slot receiver.

HOTTEST SEATS

Falcons: Brian VanGorder. The defensive coordinator has done a nice job of working with the talent he’s had the past two seasons. The Falcons haven’t always had the talent to play the kind of defense coach Mike Smith and Van Gorder want and they’ve gotten by with patchwork. But those days are over. Last year’s top picks, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore, return after missing almost all their rookie seasons with injuries and the Falcons used their top two picks this year on linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters. They also spent a fortune signing cornerback Dunta Robinson. Although questions remain about the pass rush, the Falcons have the talent to play their scheme. That means the defense must take a big step forward.

Panthers: Dwayne Jarrett. A former second-round pick, Jarrett has not had much of an impact. With Muhsin Muhammad retired and Steve Smith expected to miss most of training camp with a broken arm, Jarrett is going to get a very long look in training camp. In a best-case scenario, Jarrett finally reaches his potential and earns the starting wide receiver job across from Smith. For that to happen, Jarrett must show an attention to detail and consistency; both have been lacking from his game. The Panthers drafted Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards early because they’re not sure if Jarrett ever will blossom.

Darren Sharper
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIIf Darren Sharper isn't 100 percent healthy, he might not be the starter for the Saints.
Saints: Darren Sharper. The safety had a brilliant 2009 season. Sharper instantly became a fan favorite, but his lock on the starting job at free safety isn’t nearly as secure as many people think. Sharper is 34 and coming off knee surgery. We don’t even know if he physically will be able to do much during training camp. The Saints have moved Malcolm Jenkins, a first-round pick a year ago, from cornerback to safety. A lot of fans view Sharper as the Drew Brees of the defense, but I’m not so sure the coaching staff ever has seen it that way, and the Saints didn’t break the bank to re-sign Sharper in the offseason. If he’s 100 percent healthy, Sharper could stay in the starting lineup. Anything less and the Saints won’t hesitate to go with Jenkins.

Buccaneers: Ryan Sims. He was a starter with Chris Hovan at defensive tackle the past few years. The Bucs got rid of Hovan as soon as they could after last season. With the team using its top two picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, Sims can’t be feeling too secure. With Roy Miller also in the mix and the Bucs in a full-blown youth movement, Sims needs a strong camp just to secure a roster spot.

SECRET WEAPON

Under-the-radar player to keep an eye out for in camp: Clifton Smith, return man/running back, Buccaneers. It may seem like a stretch to call a guy who has been to a Pro Bowl an under-the-radar player, but Smith fits the profile. After missing most of the second half of last season with concussion problems, Smith has sort of been forgotten. That might be a mistake. Smith established himself as a top-notch return man when he made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season two years ago and helped ease the colossal mistake in which the Bucs drafted Dexter Jackson in the second round. When the new coaching staff took over last season, there was some talk about getting Smith more involved on offense. That got derailed by his injuries, but the plan could get back on track this year. Cadillac Williams is the main running back in Tampa Bay, but you could start to see Smith get some action as a situational player. With his speed, he could be an explosive receiver out of the backfield and also might be able to handle a few carries a game.

BEST POSITION BATTLE

It’s not an offensive skill position, so it won’t be flashy. But the best position battle in the NFC South will be sorted out in Spartanburg, S.C., as the Carolina Panthers try to figure what to do with their linebackers. This was supposed to be a spot with enormous strength, but an offseason knee injury to Thomas Davis has turned this into a huge question. Davis probably will miss the entire season, throwing the linebacker corps into a state of uncertainty.

The only thing that’s certain is that Jon Beason remains one of the best linebackers in the league and the unquestioned leader of this defense. But the Panthers aren’t even sure where Beason will line up. He has been fantastic in the middle, but he may move to Davis’ spot on the weak side. In what essentially amounts to a game of musical chairs, the Panthers are looking at four linebackers and trying to figure out the strongest starting trio. One reason they’re considering moving Beason is because they believe Dan Connor can be solid in the middle. He’ll get a chance to prove that in camp.

But the Panthers also will be keeping a close eye on outside linebackers Jamar Williams and James Anderson. If they both rise up, Beason could remain in the middle. If Connor rises up and the Panthers aren’t comfortable with Williams and Anderson as their starters on the outside, they won’t hesitate to move Beason.

NFC South weekend mailbag

June, 26, 2010
6/26/10
9:28
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James in Anaheim, Calif. writes: My question relates to Tampa Bay's acquired receiver, Reggie Brown. Since the trade, I have not heard a single word about him. With all the excitement for the future with the younger guys, have you heard anything about his performance in the offseason? We could use some veteran WR leadership.

Pat Yasinskas: The media hype has been focused on rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. But I can assure you that Tampa Bay’s coaching staff has been very happy with Brown. He’s going to camp with a chance to compete for a starting job.

Jeremy in Boston writes: Over the past two years, the Falcons have traded for another player during training camp/preseason i.e. Domonique Foxworth, Tye Hill. One need that still seems glaring is the pass rush. If the Falcons do not see much improvement in the D-Line position, do you see them trading w/the Bengals for Antwan Odom or for another D-linemen during the preseason?

Pat Yasinskas: I like the way you noticed that trend. Yes, the Falcons felt vulnerable at a position late in each of the past two preseasons. They went out and did something about it. Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith are creatures of habit. If they get into training camp and a few preseason games and don’t feel good about their defensive line, I think they could look to add someone in a trade. I don’t know that Odom would be a specific target because you never know who else might be available.

Jim in Vancouver writes: Do you think the fates of Raheem Morris and Mark Dominick are still tied together? When they were both promoted everyone talked like they would both be fired if the Bucs failed. Now that they've both been on the job for a while and I feel that, while I'm still not sold on Morris, Dominick has shown himself to be a competent GM (at least on draft day). Last year he got Josh Freeman, Roy Miller and Sammie Stroughter (plus Kellen Winslow via trade) and this year he was praised for the Bucs' top picks. If the Bucs struggle this year, but the young players show promise, could Dominick stay while Morris goes?

Pat Yasinskas: Well, we’re looking down the road here. But, in your scenario, yes, I think it’s possible Dominik could outlast Morris. Dominik is well regarded by ownership and he could survive a tough season in which the young players show some promise even if Morris doesn’t. They may not be a total package deal. But, keep in mind, the Bucs still believe this duo can work out. I think steady progress in the youth movement is the goal expected by ownership this year.

Dan in New Orleans writes: I realize that Bobby McCray is one-dimensional (a pass-rusher) and isn't even necessarily the greatest in that one dimension. But what I don't understand is the timing of his release from the Saints. Why cut him between OTAs and training camp? You get to bring so many guys to camp, why not just take him and see what happens? Or why didn't they just cut him before OTAs? I can't imagine they saw something in shorts and helmets at OTAs that constituted his release.

Pat Yasinskas: Quite simply, it came down to money. McCray was scheduled to receive a big roster bonus. After seeing what they’ve got in Alex Brown and speculating on Jimmy Wilkerson coming off his injury, the Saints felt McCray would be nothing more than a backup and didn’t feel his was worth big money.
We had our last NFC South chat for a few weeks Friday. We’ll pick it up again shortly before training camps start in late July.

You can see the complete transcript of the chat here. But here’s one quick highlight per team.

Skyrock (Burbank,Ca )I love the everything the Falcons are doing. The new regime makes me all giddy inside but I am a little concern with the DE position. If JA goes down, what's there to keep the train moving?? I like Bierman, Sidberry is up and coming, but do they have enough strong back ups from what you've seen or heard?? Is there some unknown that is waiting in the wings??

Pat Yasinskas: Not predicting anything, but keep in mind Falcons made moves late in last two preseasons to get Domonique Foxworth and Tye Hill. Possible we could see something like that with a DE this year.

Greg (Tampa)Who was the most impressive player at the bucs Mini Camp?

Pat Yasinskas: Hard to say when you've got 80 guys out there running around. But I thought (Josh) Freeman looked a lot better than last year. Liked what I saw out of Mike Williams.

Jeff (McLean VA) Pat, who takes Carolina's #1 WR reps with Steve Smith out?

Pat Yasinskas: We'll find out in camp. My guess is they'll open camp with Kenny Moore as a starter and let the rookies try to work their way up.

Lloyd (Baton Rouge, LA): Hey PY, any idea why I'm seeing A LOT of people picking the Falcons over the Saints as the division winner? I've never seen a defending champion get disrespected more than what I'm seeing towards the Saints.

Pat Yasinskas: People like to be trendy. I'm not picking against(Drew) Brees and that offense.
Had a couple of obligations to take care of this afternoon and am just catching up on e-mail. The Falcons sent out a release a couple of hours ago, announcing two roster moves.

The Falcons signed safety Matt Giordano, but the exit move might be more interesting. The Falcons released cornerback Tye Hill. A former first-round pick by St. Louis, Hill was picked up in a trade at the start of last season after the Falcons had some injuries at cornerback.

The Falcons hoped Hill might thrive with a fresh start. But that didn’t come close to happening and they’ve decided to part ways. No harm, no foul on this one. All the Falcons gave up was a seventh-round pick. If it had worked out, they would have looked brilliant. It didn’t work out, but the damage was minimal.

Giordano adds depth and experience at a position where the Falcons may be going through a transition. Thomas DeCoud fared pretty well in his first season as the starting free safety. But Erik Coleman didn’t have a great year at strong safety.

The Falcons expect last year’s second-round pick, William Moore, to come back from an injury that kept him out for almost his entire rookie season. They’d like Moore to claim a starting safety job, but Giordano, who has spent five seasons with the Colts and Packers, provides a fall-back option and is likely to be a contributor on special teams.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

November, 24, 2009
11/24/09
11:00
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Peppers
Peppers
1. Julius Peppers, Panthers defensive end: Although John Fox, who is extremely guarded about injuries, won’t say it, it sure looks and sounds like Peppers is playing with a broken hand. He’s gone through the last two games with his hand heavily wrapped.

He’s been used only in pass-rush situations and he hasn’t been able to get near the quarterback.

2. Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers receiver He finally got back on the field Sunday, but he didn’t do very much. Then, he said in the post-game interview that the Bucs are too conservative with their game plan because they’re playing rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. Of course they are, but the game plan looks more wide open than it did when Byron Leftwich or Josh Johnson were starting.

If you truly want to be a No. 1 receiver and get a long-term contract, this is not how you play or act.

3. Falcons, the entire secondary: This has been a problem spot all season and it only seems to be getting worse. Corners Chris Houston, Tye Hill, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson are getting beat on a regular basis. Safeties Erik Coleman and Thomas DeCoud were able to cover for some of the early mistakes, but they haven’t been able to do that lately.

If the Falcons are going to have any shot at the playoffs, they’ve got to find a way to start covering some receivers.

Rising

Meachem
Meachem
1. Robert Meachem, Saints receiver: The third-year receiver suddenly has become a touchdown machine. He had two Sunday against Tampa Bay. Meachem definitely has turned the corner this season and has become a dependable part of the offense after two years of struggling.

Sure, it helps that he’s working with Drew Brees. But Meachem has made his increased role possible with a lot of hard work.

2. Malcolm Jenkins, Saints cornerback: The rookie was pushed into a start Sunday because of injuries to starters Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter. He responded with an interception and made several nice tackles.

The Saints had brought Jenkins along slowly early in the year, but he has shown he can handle some playing time.

3. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons. After struggling for several games, Ryan rallied in the second half of Sunday’s overtime loss to the Giants. He looked like the Ryan of last year -- decisive and accurate.

Although the Falcons ended up losing the game, it was no fault of Ryan’s. If he can keep playing the way he did in the second half, he could help the Falcons end their slump.

Mailbag: Atlanta edition

November, 14, 2009
11/14/09
9:55
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Time for the Atlanta Falcons in our series of team-by-team mailbags:

Jeff in Charleston, S.C., writes: Hey Pat, seeing who the Falcons have lost to: 1. Patriots (6-2) 2. Dallas (6-2) 3. Saints (8-0) -- All leading their divisions and all of these losses on the road, despite the merciless ignorance on the part of our schedule makers, the Falcons were in positions to win all of these games. Still, certain pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together for this team. They seem to be making strides and gelling in different areas weekly. When every piece comes together and plays up to its potential, this is a very dangerous team. Thoughts?

Pat Yasinskas: I might agree with you, but I want to see what happens Sunday against Carolina first. If the Falcons win there and keep showing some of the positives that have surfaced recently, they could be a strong playoff contender. I think it’s extremely encouraging that Michael Turner has gotten back to last year’s form in recent weeks. If he continues to play like that, it’s going to have a great impact on the rest of the team. I also think the secondary situation might be improving. Tye Hill took a long time to get into the lineup, but he had an interception last week and could provide a boost to the secondary.


Ryan in Gwinnett, Ga., writes: Hey Pat! Hope all is well. Have you had time to see the highlights of Tye Hills' interception? Do you think the Falcons would ever consider him at kick returner or punt returner? He's very fast and could give the special teams the spark they need heading into the playoffs! Let me know what you think.

Pat Yasinskas: I agree that Hill is very fast and athletic. But slow down for a second on the return idea. The Falcons took a of couple months to get Hill to the point where they felt comfortable putting him on the field as a cornerback. He’s just getting settled in there and doesn’t need his life to get any more complicated right now. Maybe next year.

Midseason Report: Falcons

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:01
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Power Rankings: Preseason: 8. This week: 9.

2009 Schedule/Results

Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
Michael Turner has started to get on track the past two games.
Where they stand: The Falcons are 5-3, but we’re still trying to figure out who they really are. So are they. The charmed life of last season is a thing of the past with the Falcons having to deal with a brutal schedule and some adversity. They’ve looked great at times, like when they went out to San Francisco. But losses at New Orleans and New England have showed they’re not quite an elite team. The potential for that is there, but lots of things have to be worked out. Michael Turner and the running game have been at their best the last couple of weeks and that’s a big stride if the Falcons can continue on that path. Quarterback Matt Ryan has had a tough time when the running game hasn’t been there, and the defense remains very much a work in progress.

Disappointments: After hitting a grand slam with his first draft class, general manager Thomas Dimitroff hasn’t looked as brilliant with his second. Top two picks, Peria Jerry and William Moore, are out for the year with injuries and that’s part of the reason the defense hasn’t shown the improvement the Falcons were hoping for. The secondary’s been a big problem spot, particularly at cornerback. With veteran Brian Williams out for the season with an injury, the Falcons have turned to Chevis Jackson, Brent Grimes and Tye Hill to go with Chris Houston. No one in that trio has really stepped forward.

Surprises: The Falcons have made the most out of what was a bad situation by sliding former first-round pick Jamaal Anderson from defensive end to defensive tackle. Anderson’s at least competent in that role and playing Kroy Biermann in Anderson’s old spot at least gives the Falcons the threat of a pass rush. With Moore’s injury, second-year pro Thomas DeCoud won a starting safety job and he isn’t likely to lose it any time soon. DeCoud has been perhaps the only bright spot in the secondary.

Outlook: We’re going to find out a lot about the Falcons in the second half of the season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier and they probably have no chance of catching the Saints in the NFC South race. But the Falcons are very much in the playoff hunt. Can they stay in it? Well, much will depend on Turner. If he can run like he’s run the past two weeks -- and like he did last season -- that’s going to solve a lot of problems. There’s no doubt Ryan has to be more consistent, but that will happen if Turner can take pressure of him. The biggest question is the defense. It’s not like this unit is loaded with talent, so Mike Smith and Brian VanGorder will have to do some strong coaching.

Grimes shows why Falcons like him

November, 2, 2009
11/02/09
9:53
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- I'm not sure why the Falcons decided to switch up at cornerback on that last drive, although I did see Tye Hill, who had been getting a lot of early playing time, limp off the field after the previous drive.

Whatever happened, it’s a good thing Brent Grimes was out on the field on the latest drive. Grimes had been on the bench early in the game and he’s taken a lot of abuse from opposing receivers and from Atlanta fans this year. But Grimes just might a play that explains what the Atlanta coaching staff sees in him.

Grimes made a leaping interception of a Drew Brees pass intended for Devery Henderson. Yes, Grimes may be short (he’s listed at 5-foot-9 and probably isn’t that tall), but teammates and coaches will tell you Grimes is the best natural athlete on the team.

He’s also got incredible leaping ability, which was shown on that play.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

NEW ORLEANS -- Tye Hill, the cornerback who has been pretty much invisible since the Falcons traded for him at the start of the season, is suddenly visible.

The Falcons have been playing mostly three-cornerback sets on New Orleans’ first drive and Hill has been out there just about the entire time. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how the Falcons are working this.. I’ve seen one play where Chris Houston went out, leaving Hill and Chevis Jackson as the cornerbacks and another play where Jackson went off and Hill and Houston were on the field.

This is pretty interesting because Atlanta fans have been screaming for Hill to get playing time. They’re finally getting their wish. I haven’t seen Brent Grimes, the prime target for a lot of fan criticism of the secondary, in on defense yet.

By the way, the switch didn't seem to have much of an impact on New Orleans' first drive. The Saints just tied the game, 7-7, on an 80-yard drive, in which they were able to run the ball easily and didn't do a lot of passing.

Struggling Atlanta CBs face huge test

October, 31, 2009
10/31/09
4:00
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 AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
 Drew Brees and the Saints will look to exploit Atlanta’s struggling secondary.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

On paper, it might be the biggest mismatch of the NFL season.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and his army of receivers, which just might be the deepest stable in the league, vs. Atlanta’s much-maligned secondary.

You could say this one is Goliath going against David again. But that one doesn’t quite fit because David also had a bit of a pass rush to compensate for his lack of size.
Related Coverage
• Jaws: Falcons must slow Saints' run game
• Saints: Will they go undefeated?
• Film Room notes: Pressure on this Falcon
• Monday Night HQ


The Falcons simply don’t have a lot going for them in the secondary right now, and that could end up costing them any shot at the NFC South title. At 4-2, they’re already on the verge of playing only for a wild-card spot as they head into the Superdome to play the undefeated Saints on "Monday Night Football."

The Saints have Brees, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey and a whole bunch of other guys who can catch the ball all over the field. They’ve also got the tape of last week’s Atlanta loss to Dallas -- a game in which the shortcomings of the Falcons’ secondary were exposed repeatedly.

“They got hit in a couple of pressures when they weren’t able to get to the quarterback so they had receivers with a lot of time to work downfield and the Cowboys did a good job of taking advantage of some of those,’’ Brees said.

That’s just Brees being politically correct, as he always is. But, you have to figure that Brees and coach Sean Payton have spent the week watching the Atlanta-Dallas film and getting more than a little excited about the possibilities. If Tony Romo and Miles Austin can batter the Atlanta secondary, Brees, Colston and company could absolutely shred it.

The Falcons don’t have anything close to a shutdown corner, and two of their top three cornerbacks wouldn’t be among top three cornerbacks on any other team. Although Atlanta coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have done a great job since taking over a franchise in total disarray, cornerback might be the one spot they’re not better off than they were when they took charge in 2008.
 
 Tim Heitman/US Presswire
 Dallas’ Miles Austin torched the Falcons for 171 yards and two touchdowns.


Part of it is bad luck. The Falcons lost veteran cornerback Brian Williams to a season-ending injury. But part of it is that the Falcons largely have ignored this position. That’s been showing up recently and it could be completely exploited by the Saints. If that happens, Dimitroff and Smith have no one to blame but themselves.

They didn’t have a strong stable of cornerbacks last year, but they were able to hide that. They had an entire offseason to get better and they didn’t. They let Domonique Foxworth go in free agency and decided to stick with Chris Houston, Chevis Jackson and Brent Grimes -- and that’s a little scary.

Houston’s the best of the bunch, but he’s a decent No. 2 cornerback being asked to be a shutdown guy. Grimes is athletic, but woefully undersized. Jackson showed some big promise as a rookie, but hasn’t been able to cover anyone this year.

The problems became apparent in the preseason and training camp and that’s why the Falcons went out and signed Williams and traded for Tye Hill at the last minute. Williams was decent before his injury, but Hill hasn’t shown anything to convince the coaching staff to let him on the field.

The Falcons also have rookie Christopher Owens and there are hopes that he could be an impact player down the road. Don’t be surprised if Owens gets some playing time against the Saints because his size might allow him to match up better than Grimes against the New Orleans receivers, but Owens isn’t going to fix all of the problems in one game.

If there is any hope for the Atlanta cornerbacks to at least slow down Brees and the passing game, they’ll have to have help -- lots of it -- and there haven’t been many signs that anyone is ready to come to the rescue.

The Falcons were able to hide their deficiencies in coverage last year mainly by putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That came almost entirely from veteran pass-rush specialist John Abraham, but he’s been relatively quiet this season.

At times in the Dallas game, Abraham was seen dropping into pass coverage, which makes about as much sense as putting Brees in the Wildcat formation. You have to let your best players do what they do best and the Falcons need to let Abraham focus solely on getting to Brees. They also need some help from their other starting defensive end, Kroy Biermann, who started the season fast, but has cooled off recently.

Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder tried to give the pass rush some help against Dallas by blitzing frequently, but that didn’t really work out. The blitzers seldom got close to Romo and he was able to find the weak spots in the secondary.

“You live by the pressure and you die by the pressure,’’ Brees said. “You might make a few plays when you pressure, but you’re leaving yourself open to giving up some big plays. That’s the pros and cons on a pressure defense.’’

Those are the pros and cons facing Smith and VanGorder. They have to generate a pass rush to keep their cornerbacks from being stuck in coverage too long. But Brees and the Saints are pretty good at handling pressure. Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and doesn’t take many sacks.

“I figure, with these guys, they’ve shown to pressure a lot at times and do some things that they haven’t done in the past,’’ Brees said.

Maybe that’s the key for the Falcons. Maybe they need to do something they haven’t done in the past -- like have their cornerbacks actually cover some receivers.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

The Falcons reportedly have lost starting cornerback Brian Williams for the season after he suffered an injury in Sunday night’s game.

That might hurt in the short term because Williams was playing well. He was picked up late in the preseason because the Falcons weren’t sure about Brent Grimes, Chevis Jackson and Tye Hill (another late pickup).

With Williams in the starting role, Grimes has been playing at nickel back. He may stay in that role because he doesn’t have the height to match up with receivers on every down. The Falcons turned to Jackson to take Williams’ spot after the injury and he would seem the most likely candidate to start.

Hill apparently hasn’t shown much in practices and the Falcons have kept him inactive. He’ll probably be activated going forward, but he’ll need a strong week of practice to have any chance to step immediately into the No. 2 or 3 cornerback roles.

Atlanta's inactives

October, 11, 2009
10/11/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


SAN FRANCISCO -- Just got the inactives for the Falcons and there are no surprises.

Cornerback Tye Hill, fullback Verron Haynes, safety Antoine Harris, linebacker Spencer Adkins, offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka, offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds and defensive tackle Vance Walker are inactive. John Parker Wilson is the third quarterback.

Falcons won't activate Hill

October, 11, 2009
10/11/09
2:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas


SAN FRANCISCO -- If you were thinking the Falcons would activate cornerback Tye Hill coming out of their bye week, stop it.

The Falcons haven't officially announced their inactives for Sunday yet, but a team source tells me Hill will not be activated. He was picked up in a trade just before the start of the season. Apparently the Falcons don't believe he has picked up their defense yet.

Get ready for more of Brent Grimes.

 
 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 The Falcons need Michael Turner to return to his 2008 form.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


It’s tempting to look ahead at the Nov. 2 game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints and call it the first truly meaningful NFC South game of the season.

It also could end up being inaccurate. There’s a chance the NFC South could be decided by then.

Look at what’s on the table between now and November. We’re about to find out if we’re watching a two-team race or one team lap the pack in a division where things usually go right down to the wire.

But this is shaping up to be a unique year in the NFC South. Barring near miracles by the Panthers and Buccaneers, you can go ahead and write them off now. John Fox’s team seems to be falling apart faster than you can say Bill Cowher, and Raheem Morris’ team never had a chance.

Now flip to the other end of the spectrum. You’ve got the Saints. They’re 4-0 heading into their bye weekend and they couldn’t be sitting any prettier. All those questions about their defense have been answered so thoroughly that the faithful in New Orleans are actually fretting about Drew Brees and the passing game after a couple of relatively quiet outings.

Relax, Brees and the passing game will be just fine.

The Saints can claim the early title as the NFC’s best team next week with a victory against the Giants, and they’ve got a trip to Miami after that. They’ve also got two games against Carolina and two against Tampa Bay. Throw in games with St. Louis and Washington and I’m going to go ahead and pencil the Saints in for double-digit wins.

Who’s going to catch them?

The only team with a shot is Atlanta and we really don’t know yet what the Falcons are all about. We’re about to find out, however. In the next three weeks, we’re going to find out if the Falcons were a one-year wonder or if they really have a shot at back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history and a chance to play with the Saints.

Coming off their bye, the Falcons are 2-1 and they head to San Francisco on Sunday. They host Chicago the following week and go to Dallas on Oct. 25.

They need to win at least two of those to even have a shot at staying close to the Saints. More importantly, they need to find their true identity in the next three weeks.

Right before the bye, the Falcons went up to New England and got whacked. There’s no shame in losing to the Patriots, but big flaws were exposed in that game and there were some other warning signs in the two victories.

The Falcons could end up being very good. But they also could turn out to be very mediocre. The next three weeks will tell a big part of the story. Here are five things the Falcons have to prove if they want to hang with the Saints.

1. The running game has to return. Michael Turner hasn’t looked the same as last year when he carried a league-high 376 times. Did the Falcons burn him out? Maybe. If that’s the problem, they need to get Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling more involved. But I think the real problem might be the offensive line. Let’s face it: these guys overachieved last year and left tackle Sam Baker’s the only blue-chip talent on this line. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has to get these guys to start playing above their heads again.

2. The secondary has to start making some plays. The Falcons were able to hide some of the weaknesses in their defensive backfield last year with good coaching and a strong pass rush. Atlanta went through the offseason without making any real talent upgrades that have shown up yet. That might be about to change. Cornerback Tye Hill, who was picked up in a trade right before the season started, probably got some extra tutoring in the bye week and he might be ready to step ahead of the undersized Brent Grimes. Rookie safety William Moore, who has been out with an injury, appears ready to play and he could challenge Thomas DeCoud for a starting job soon.

 
 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 John Abraham says the Falcons' defensive line needs to "man up."
3. The defensive line has to step up. Defensive end John Abraham said that much this week when he said it was time for the line to "man-up." Sounds nice in theory, but do the Falcons really have the horses to do this? The loss of rookie defensive tackle Peria Jerry to injury was huge, and there still hasn’t been a Jamaal Anderson sighting this year. Get ready to see a lot more of tackle Trey Lewis and end Kroy Biermann.

4. Roddy needs to return. The Falcons gave receiver Roddy White a huge contract after he held out in training camp. But that move hasn’t exactly been paying off. White hasn’t been putting up the numbers he did last year. He got the contract. Now he needs to show he was worth it.

5. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. If the Falcons can make it to the New Orleans game and get a win there, they’re in good shape. Their remaining schedule includes tough games against the Jets and Giants on the road and a home game with the Saints on Dec. 13. But there also are some games that should be easy, like the two with Tampa Bay and one with Carolina.

But all that potential hope in the second half of the season isn’t going to mean a lot if the Falcons don’t find themselves in the next three games.

Moore is Carolina's No. 2 QB

September, 20, 2009
9/20/09
11:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


ATLANTA – Just got the inactive lists for the Panthers and Falcons and there are a couple of items that are worthy of noting -- pretty much all on the Carolina side.

Matt Moore is listed as the backup quarterback, and newly signed A.J. Feeley is the inactive third quarterback, presumably because he hasn’t had enough time to learn the playbook. Carolina also is going to be without two injured defensive starters.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden and safety Chris Harris are inactive. The other inactives for Carolina are: Tyrell Sutton, C.J. Wilson, Garry Williams, Duke Robinson and Hilee Taylor.

Atlanta’s inactives are: Tye Hill, Verron Haynes, Spencer Adkins, Garrett Reynolds, Quinn Ojinnaka and Trey Lewis. John Parker Wilson is the third quarterback.

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