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Tuesday, November 29, 2011
NFC South Stock Watch

By Pat Yasinskas

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FALLING

1. Raheem Morris, Buccaneers coach. Morris is becoming a fixture in this category and that’s only because he has earned it. Predecessor Jon Gruden got fired largely because his run defense couldn’t stop anything in the last four games of the 2008 season. Morris and the front office have used a lot of draft picks and money on defensive linemen and linebackers to try to fix this problem. Three years later, the run defense might be worse than it was in Gruden’s final days.

Josh Freeman
Josh Freeman couldn't come through in the clutch as the Bucs dropped their fifth game in a row.
2. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers tight end. As we’ve noted many times this season, Winslow’s not putting up big numbers as a receiver. In Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, Winslow hurt the Bucs in another way. He was called for a holding penalty that wiped out a nice run by LeGarrette Blount.

3. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers quarterback. I’ve got to make it a complete sweep for the Bucs, since they were the only NFC South team to lose this week. I still think Freeman is more a victim of problems around him than anything. But last year and early this season, if the Bucs just stayed close to an opponent into the fourth quarter, it seemed as though Freeman found a way to win. He had that chance against Tennessee, but didn’t come close to generating any miracle.

RISING

1. Drew Brees, Saints quarterback. I know, I’ve been heaping all sorts of praise on Brees. But I’ll do it again. Since we started the ESPN.com Blog Network in 2008, I’ve seen every game Brees has played. He has played a bunch of great ones. But I’ve never seen him better than he was Monday night. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say I’ve never covered a quarterback who had a better game. Well, maybe Craig Erickson back in Tampa Bay or Chris Weinke in Carolina. No, seriously, I’ve never seen anything as impressive as what Brees did Monday night.

2. Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons linebacker. With Carolina’s Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma all injured and no Tampa Bay linebackers doing much of anything, Weatherspoon might be the NFC South’s best linebacker at the moment. Teammate Curtis Lofton is the only other player even in the conversation. After dealing with injuries as a rookie, Weatherspoon has emerged as a star in his second season. He had a huge stop on a goal-line stand in Sunday’s victory against Minnesota.

3. Sherrod Martin, Panthers safety. He redeemed himself with an interception to seal a victory. Moments before, Martin had missed a tackle as Reggie Wayne went for a long touchdown. Sunday was a day of redemption for Martin and a Carolina defense that has struggled most of the season. This defense is far from perfect and several key players are out for the season with injuries. This defense isn’t going to experience any major turnaround until next season when the injured guys come back and some new talent has been added. But the fact that Carolina’s defense is showing something that looks like improvement at this point in the season is encouraging.