NFL Nation: Asante Samuel

Teams can't play scared and rest every starter for the entire preseason. But there are instances when you have to play it safe.

For the Baltimore Ravens, it's time to be safe and smart with their starting cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb shouldn't suit up for another game until the Sept. 7 season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. Put a red jersey on them so no one hits them in practice. Heck, put them in bubble wrap if it ensures they'll be able to line up when games matter in three weeks.

Webb
Even if Smith (bruised chest) and Webb (back) can return in the preseason, the Ravens can't take the risk of getting either one banged up. The situation would be different if the Ravens had depth at that position. But they don't.

The Ravens are looking at 0-2 if they have to line up Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks as their starting cornerbacks against the likes of A.J. Green and Antonio Brown. This makes you yearn for the days of Frank Walker. Well, almost.

The Ravens' cornerback position has been as snakebitten as the drummers for Spinal Tap. Aaron Ross, who may have ended up as the Ravens' No. 3 cornerback, tore his Achilles in a conditioning test before training camp started. Webb hurt his back July 25 and hasn't practiced since. Asa Jackson, who had been the team's top backup, hurt his right ankle Aug. 10 and wore a protective boot at Saturday's preseason game.

The last injury the Ravens needed was one to Smith. Five plays into Saturday's preseason game, there was Smith landing on his back, hitting the back of his head against the turf and spitting up blood.

While Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes Smith "should be fine," the 2011 first-round pick was more concerned about his health status.

Smith

"I don't know what is wrong with me," Smith told The Baltimore Sun. "On the field, I was throwing up blood. The X-rays came back negative, but I still don't know what is the problem. I don't want to say I'm OK, or it is one thing, and then it is something else. I really don't know."

It only took one series for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to take advantage of Smith's absence. Wide receiver Dez Bryant elevated over Franks to pull in a Romo pass for a 31-yard touchdown.

The Ravens don't have many other options on the team. Tremain Jacobs is raw, and fellow undrafted rookie Deji Olatoye got beat on consecutive passes, including a 5-yard touchdown throw.

There are really no easy fixes here. If free agents like Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson could help, each would be in some team's training camp by now. The best bet is looking at the cornerbacks who get cut when teams trim their rosters to 53 before the regular season. Teams don't release good cornerbacks, but there could be a player who is better than what's on the Ravens roster right now.

Come the season opener, the Ravens may be in decent shape at cornerback if Smith, Webb and Jackson are all healthy enough to play. Harbaugh has never described any of those injuries as major.

But if either Smith or Webb can't start, there's going to be a vulnerable spot in the Ravens secondary that Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger will look to exploit.
When the calendar hits June 1, it usually means the Baltimore Ravens are preparing to making one additional move.

This is a significant date because any free-agent signing past it doesn't count against a team's compensatory picks. The Ravens love their extra picks, and they're officially in line for three in the 2015 draft after losing four unrestricted free agents and signing one.

Baltimore has had some moderate success with its June signings. The Ravens landed inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who became one of their best defensive players last season, on June 5 of last year. They signed guard Bobbie Williams, who started six games during their Super Bowl season, in 2012, and added kicker Shayne Graham in 2010.

Will this June trend continue for the Ravens?

"We’re aware of the guys that are still out there, free agents that would be more favorable to sign after June 1 and all that," coach John Harbaugh said. "We’re going to be watching the waiver wire real close. We’re going to try and get better. We had a conversation, Ozzie [Newsome] and I, and I like to think on principle that we really believe this: We want to build as strong of a 53-man roster as we possibly can, and as we do that, try to get stronger every chance we can get. We’ll be looking.”

The two biggest positions of need for the Ravens are offensive tackle and cornerback.

There has been a lot of speculation about the Ravens signing offensive tackle Eric Winston. It makes sense because Winston played six seasons under Gary Kubiak, who is now the Ravens' offensive coordinator, and fits in the zone-blocking scheme. But, based on what the Ravens are saying, the team wants to see what Rick Wagner can do at right tackle before adding a veteran like Winston. There is also no guarantee that Winston, at the age of 30, is that much of an upgrade over what the Ravens already have.

The same argument could be made at cornerback, where the Ravens have two unproven defenders (Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson) battling for the No. 3 spot. The Ravens didn't sign or draft a cornerback after losing Corey Graham in free agency.

"Ozzie knows he has two great, young guys that are coming up," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "You’ve got Asa Jackson who can play the nickel and outside, but mostly better inside. And Chykie Brown has been playing good. He’s had his chance to get out on the field, but now he gets thrown in, and it’s his. He’s going to get to show you all what he’s capable of."
The top cornerbacks available are: Terrell Thomas, Drayton Florence, Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. Thomas is 29 and has dealt with multiple knee surgeries while with the New York Giants. Samuel, 33, was relegated to being a backup at the end of last season for the Atlanta Falcons, and Robinson, 32, lost his nickelback job to a rookie last season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The best of this group seems to be Florence, a journeyman 33-year-old defender who started five games last season for the Carolina Panthers.

Considering these options, the Ravens may wait to add a veteran cornerback at the end of the preseason, when the final major cutdown is made and a more viable defender hits the market. With only four corners with NFL experience, the Ravens will have to either sign a veteran corner or keep an undrafted rookie.
Now that the fumes from the jet that took wide receiver Steve Smith to Baltimore and beyond have dissipated, what's next for the Carolina Panthers?

They still need help at wide receiver with none of their top four from 2013 under contract since Smith was released on Thursday. They still need help at cornerback and safety.

And they still need help at offensive tackle, although most of those in free agency that could help are long gone.

But there is still talent out there to be had as we get past the first wave of free agency. Here are a few players who might be a good fit:

Wide receivers
  • Nicks
    Hakeem Nicks: The former member of the New York Giants remains a priority for Carolina. He was in Indianapolis on Friday, but he also has expressed an interest in Carolina and San Diego. San Francisco reportedly is interested as well. This might take some time to sort, and the Panthers appear willing to wait to see what the market sets for the former Independence (Charlotte) High standout. That he already has a relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman, who spent most of his career with the Giants before last season, doesn't hurt.
  • James Jones: He had a modest 59 catches for 817 yards and three touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers last season, but the year before he had 64 catches for an amazing 14 touchdowns. Don't think for a second the Panthers don't have their eye on him.
  • Emmanuel Sanders: He had 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns at Pittsburgh last season. In his fourth year out of Southern Mississippi, this 5-foot-11, 186-pounder also could be a bargain. He was with the Chiefs on Friday, and he reportedly has visited Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Has the speed to replace Ted Ginn Jr.
Cornerbacks
  • Tillman
    Charles "Peanut" Tillman: Chicago wants him back, and he got out of Tampa Bay without a deal. He's 33, but word has it Panthers coach Ron Rivera loves him. Rivera coached Tillman as the defensive coordinator with the Bears from 2004-2006. At 6-2, 198, there has even been speculation he could move to safety. Carolina secondary coach Steve Wilks also coached Tillman in Chicago from 2006-2008.
  • Asante Samuel: Before spending the past two seasons with Atlanta, he played four seasons at Philadelphia, where Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott overlapped as the secondary coach and then defensive coordinator. And remember, both Samuel and Tillman are the same age as Drayton Florence, who was a key contributor last season for Carolina.
  • Antoine Cason: This could be a darkhorse to keep an eye on. He didn't do much at Arizona last season, but prior to that he played five seasons for the San Diego Chargers, where Rivera and Wilks coached him. A first-round pick in 2008, he has 14 career interceptions.
Safeties
  • Roman Harper: The Panthers already have brought in the former New Orleans Saints strong safety. He's 31, but he's a two-time Pro Bowler who would bring experience as Quintin Mikell did last season. Mikell, also 33, remains available as well.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com offers a tidy, thumbnail plan for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency.

Below is Barnwell’s plan and my thoughts on it:

Estimated Cap Space: $10,021,111

Likely Cuts: CB Carlos Rogers

Who They Should Keep: CB Tarell Brown, K Phil Dawson

Rogers
Rodgers-Cromartie
Who They Should Sign: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Asante Samuel, S Louis Delmas

Did you know the largest cap hit on the 2014 San Francisco 49ers belongs to, of all people, Rogers? The 49ers would clear $5 million off their cap by releasing Rogers, a move likely to occur despite San Francisco’s relative lack of depth in the secondary. Signing the younger, more talented Rodgers-Cromartie makes more sense, with Samuel filling in as depth and Delmas replacing the departing Donte Whitner. The Niners are sufficiently deep elsewhere to stay out of free agency, although they will certainly sneak in after a couple of weeks if they see a bargain lurking unsigned.

My take: What sticks out to me is the Rodgers-Cromartie thought. If the 49ers can get him, they should jump at it. He would be an upgrade and a fine fit for the defense. But I think he could get a big deal somewhere. I think Whitner is a better player than Delmas, and the 49ers should concentrate on keeping him. But if Whitner’s market is too high, then Delmas could be a solid replacement.


Maybe Asante Samuel didn’t want to have anything to do with the media, but he kept it classy.

As the 2013 season progressed and the veteran cornerback fell deeper and deeper into obscurity in Atlanta, he never publicly complained about losing his starting role. He never boasted about being one of the best pick-six guys of all time. He never showed any animosity toward the guy who supplanted him, rookie cornerback Robert Alford.

In fact, Alford was the first to rave about how Samuel offered him guidance throughout the season, giving him pointers about how to play the position. With Alford and fellow rookie Desmond Trufant in position to thrive as the Falcons’ cornerback tandem of the future, there simply was no room for Samuel to finish out playing "two or three" more years, as he stated as his goal.

Samuel, 33, was one of two veteran defensive players released by the Falcons on Wednesday. The other was 30-year-old linebacker Stephen Nicholas, arguably the nicest guy in the locker room and the team’s leading tackler in 2012. The moves saved the Falcons $6.5 million in cap space for 2014.

Both players become free agents immediately due to their years of service. They don't have to wait until the official start of free agency (March 11 after 4 p.m. ET) to sign with another team.

Not to diminish Nicholas’ accomplishments during his seven seasons with the Falcons, but Samuel deserves credit for playing at a high level for such a long time. The 11-year veteran has been a four-time Pro Bowl pick and currently stands fourth among all active players in career interceptions with 51, behind Ed Reed (64), Charles Woodson (56), and Champ Bailey (52).

Samuel still is the only player in NFL history to register at least one interception return for a touchdown in each of his first six seasons. And he’s even picked off the Manning brothers -- Peyton and Eli -- eight times in his career.

Samuel was a fourth-round pick of the Patriots back in 2003, when new Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli was New England’s vice president of player personnel. Pioli watched Samuel evolve into a key member of two Super Bowl-winning teams.

The Falcons were hoping for the same type of effect when they signed Samuel in 2012. He actually had five interceptions that year, including one returned 79 yards for a score, as the Falcons finished 13-3. But it didn’t translate into him helping them to the Super Bowl.

Some folks might point to Samuel’s shortcomings, such as his lack of tackling and tendency to gamble. But he still has earned respect around the league.

If a player such as Alford can grow to be a better player simply by listening to some words of encouragement from Samuel, then Samuel’s impact will be felt around the Falcons’ facility for years to come.
ATLANTA -- A few halftime notes with the Atlanta Falcons trailing the Washington Redskins, 20-17:

• The youth movement isn't working so well today: Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had their issues in coverage. Rookie safety Zeke Motta took a bad angle on one play and got blocked off another. And rookie right tackle Ryan Schraeder has had issues against Redskins pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan, just like second-year left tackle Lamar Holmes has had issues stopping Brian Orakpo. True, this is valuable experience for the inexperienced Falcons. But they should be enjoying better success against an equally bad Redskins team. At least one of the young Falcons -- guard Harland Gunn -- made the most of his opportunities.

Osi Umenyiora is no longer a starter: The veteran defensive end did not start Sunday's game despite being a regular starter all season. At least Umenyiora didn't pout on the sideline. He came into the game off the bench and immediately forced a fumble, recovered by teammate Jonathan Babineaux. The Falcons started Jonathan Massaquoi and Peria Jerry at the defensive end spots. Umenyiora primarily played the role of situational, third-down pass-rusher in the first half. So what about his future with the team? Besides, the Falcons already made a statement by benching veteran cornerback Asante Samuel for Alford.

• The Falcons are trying to send Tony Gonzalez out in style: Quarterback Matt Ryan seems to be making Gonzalez a priority today. He hit the soon-to-be-retired tight end for a 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter. And the aging Gonzalez didn't dunk it over the goal posts. Gonzalez extended his consecutive games with a reception streak to 209.

• Although the Falcons have been terrible on defense, Babineaux has been extremely disrupted. He's set to become a free agent an obviously wants to prove his value.
A weekly examination of the Falcons' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 4 | Last Week: 29 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Falcons moved down a spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings, back to No. 30, after Sunday's 22-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

At one point, the Falcons held a 21-10 edge but couldn't keep it despite creating two turnovers leading to touchdowns. They still haven't been able to string together consecutive wins this season after going 13-3 a year ago.

The Falcons did, however, get a chance to give their young players extensive playing time. Rookie cornerback Robert Alford played all the snaps at left cornerback after Asante Samuel was benched. Rookie right tackle Ryan Schraeder finished the game after Jeremy Trueblood started. And rookie safety Zeke Motta stepped in after Thomas DeCoud suffered a concussion.

The youth movement is certain to continue over the final three games as the Falcons try to establish momentum going into next season. At the same time, some of the veteran players surely want to show they deserve to stick around a little longer.

And from the standpoint of the fans, nothing would be greater than falling to the bottom of the NFL standings to secure the first overall draft pick. The Falcons current stand at the No. 3 position behind the Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams (via Washington).
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers lead the Atlanta Falcons, 14-10.

Here are some notes at halftime:

" Matt Ryan threw yet another interception when he tried to force a ball to tight end Tony Gonzalez with three defenders around. Ryan now has five interceptions in his last two games. He had three interceptions through the first six games.

" Speaking of Gonzalez, he caught a pass in his 203rd consecutive game in the first half, the longest active streak in the NFL. He scored a 17-yard touchdown near the end of the first half, his team-leading fourth touchdown reception of the season. Gonzalez has no problem getting behind the coverage of Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

" Steven Jackson looks a lot better running the ball for the Falcons. He has a modest 34 yards on nine carries, but Jackson continues to run hard. He even pushed teammate Justin Blalock out of the way on one play. Jackson’s longest run is eight yards. He also did a masterful job picking up the blitz on one play.

" Cornerback Asante Samuel left the game twice after getting banged up with injuries. The last came near the end of the half when Samuel was pushed out of bounds. He walked off the field under his own power, and Robert McClain entered the game as the extra defensive backs along with rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

" It has been an up-and-down half for Trufant. He recorded his first-career interception while picking off a deep ball by Cam Newton. But Trufant also was whistled for two pass-interference penalties. On the second one, Falcons coach Mike Smith tried to tell the officials that the ball was tipped. Fellow rookie Alford had an amazing interception at the end of the half, tip-toeing before going out of bounds.

Asante Samuel active for Falcons

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
7:40
PM ET
ATLANTA -- Asante Samuel, who missed two games this season with a thigh injury, is active for the Atlanta Falcons as they prepare to face the New York Jets.

All signs pointed to Samuel playing despite being limited in practice last week. He missed the last game against the New England Patriots and the season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

Also active for the Falcons is linebacker Paul Worrilow, who suffered a knee injury in the last game. He could see most of his work on special teams. The Falcons are thin at linebacker with Akeem Dent (ankle) inactive and Sean Weatherspoon (foot) out until Week 11. Omar Gaither is slated to start at middle linebacker, while fellow newcomer Jamar Chaney was activated to give more depth at linebacker.

Also inactive for the Falcons are running back Steven Jackson (hamstring), left tackle Sam Baker (knee), safety Kemal Ishmael, safety Zeke Motta, guard Harland Gunn, and tight end Chase Coffman.

Jacquizz Rodgers will start at running back for Jackson while Lamar Holmes will start at left tackle for Baker.

Inactive for the Jets are Santonio Holmes, Dee Milliner, Brady Quinn, Vladimir Ducasse, Ben Ijalana, Oday Aboushi, and Zach Sudfeld.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- If he had to do it all over again, Roddy White would have proceeded with more caution.

White
White
Instead, the Atlanta Falcons receiver opted to endure the pain after suffering a high-ankle sprain during an Aug. 15 exhibition against the Ravens. Now, more than a month later, White continues to be slowed by the injury. It won't, however, keep him from facing the New England Patriots come Sunday night.

"Yeah, I'm going to push through it," White said.

White, who missed a day of practice this week, was asked if the injury was more serious than he initially thought.

"Yeah, maybe now that I look back at it," he said. "But, you know, it is what it is. I can't go back and change it. I've already come this far. Every week, like I said, I've got to get better. And hopefully I'm not injured or hurt in the game or I don't re-injure it, I'll be better the next week."

White hasn't been his typical self and enters Week 4 as the Falcons' fifth-leading receiver with seven catches for 56 yards and no touchdowns. He has been targeted just nine times through three games. Julio Jones, the team's leading receiver with 27 catches (373 yards) has been targeted 35 times.

In terms of treating the ankle, the best option might be rest. White said he won't truly get to do so until the bye week, Oct. 12. For now, he simply has to continue getting treatment, including the hyperbaric chamber he has used for weeks.

"We've done everything medically you can do for an ankle sprain," White said. "Everything. There’s no stone unturned. These injuries just take time."

White noted how new teammate Osi Umenyiora once suffered a high-ankle sprain and couldn't do anything for five weeks. White won't have the luxury of resting for the same period of time unless the pain becomes unbearable.

"We're figuring out ways to get better, week in and week out," White said. "We're doing everything that we can, all the treatment and stuff, to get better. That’s all you can do."

UPDATE: White is listed as questionable on the official injury report.

Samuel
In other injury news, cornerback Asante Samuel was added to the injury report Friday as he continues to deal with a thigh issue. He is questionable to face his former team Sunday night. Samuel was inactive for the season opener against the Saints due to his thigh.

Also listed as questionable for the Falcons are wide receiver Julio Jones (knee) and tackle Sam Baker (foot/knee).

As previously reported, running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) won’t play against the Patriots and is expected to be sidelined another two to three weeks.

Center Peter Konz (knee), cornerback Robert McClain (knee), guard Garrett Reynolds (knee), and running back/special teamer Josh Vaughan (ankle) are all probable despite dealing with minor injuries.

In New England, the status of tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm/back) and receiver Danny Amendola (groin) remains unclear. Both are questionable. Offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer (foot) also is questionable, although he returned to practice Friday. Linebacker Jerod Mayo (ankle) was added to the injury report, but is probable.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 2

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 31-24 victory against the St. Louis Rams:

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesSteven Jackson left Sunday's game with an injury after just three carries and one reception.
The injuries. The win was dampened more than a little by a rash of injuries. Running back Steven Jackson (thigh), fullback Bradie Ewing (shoulder), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh), linebacker Kroy Biermann (ankle) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) all left the game in the first half and did not return.

"The streak stops at one." That’s what a bunch of players, following coach Mike Smith’s lead, were saying in the days after a season-opening loss to New Orleans. The saying worked as the Falcons kept up their uncanny knack for avoiding back-to-back losses. They now are 21-3 in games after a loss since Smith took over in 2008. The Falcons haven’t had back-to-back losses since the 2009 season.

The offensive line was better. This unit took a lot of criticism after the season opener, but it held up fairly well against a good St. Louis front four. The line likely is going to stay under the microscope all season, but there were signs of improvement.

Making a case. Julio Jones is showing signs he might be the best receiver in the NFL. He had 11 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown on a day when an ankle injury reduced Roddy White to not much more than a decoy.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 23, Falcons 17

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
4:21
PM ET

NEW ORLEANS -- My thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 23-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons:

What it means: It means New Orleans has the early lead in the NFC South race. The Saints held serve. No team has ever repeated as champion in the division since realignment in 2002, which is what the Falcons are trying to do. The Saints have other ideas, especially now that they have coach Sean Payton back. It’s early, but the advantage goes to New Orleans.

Stock watch, Part I: The Saints' defense looked much, much better. You know the deal with the New Orleans defense. It was historically bad in 2012, which cost Steve Spagnuolo his job as defensive coordinator after just one season. Enter former Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Even with a decimated linebacking corps, the Saints were able to have an aggressive defense that held its own in coverage, and by midway through the first half they were getting pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and his suspect offensive line. The Saints' goal-line stand at the end of the game was the difference between a W and an L.

Stock watch, Part II: Because of a thigh injury to veteran cornerback Asante Samuel, fourth-year cornerback Robert McClain started on the outside opposite rookie Desmond Trufant, the Falcons' first-round draft pick. That meant fellow rookie Robert Alford started as the nickel cornerback (instead of McClain). All three corners were tested early, and Alford had an interception that he basically took away from New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston. The future at cornerback looks bright for the Falcons.

Where was Osi? Former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora was one of the Falcons' big offseason acquisitions, stepping in for John Abraham as one of the team’s primary pass-rushers. While Smith praised Umenyiora’s leadership and locker room presence, Umenyiora was a nonfactor on the field.

What’s next: The Falcons host the St. Louis Rams at 1 p.m. next Sunday. The Saints travel to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 4:05 p.m. start.
The latest installment of #NFLRank is out, and it includes Nos. 41-50 for offense and defense. This segment is filled with NFC South players. Let’s take a look.

Offense

43. Tampa Bay guard Carl Nicks

Stats & Info: Nicks missed nine games last season, his first with the Buccaneers after signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal as a free agent last offseason. Nicks earned more than $24 million last season, which ranked fourth in the NFL behind only Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson and Mario Williams, according to the Roster Management System.

Yasinskas comment: There is obvious concern about his health, because he has a staph infection and is coming off a major foot injury. But, when he’s healthy, Nicks might be the best guard in the league.

44. New Orleans guard Jahri Evans

Stats & Info: Evans has played 5,242 offensive snaps since 2008, ranking second in the NFL behind only Justin Blalock. A first-team All-Pro each of the past four seasons, Evans has started every game for the Saints in the Drew Brees era (since 2006).

Yasinskas comment: Evans is the anchor of an offensive line that has been good for a long time. Other players have come and gone, but Evans has been the constant.

45. Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson

Stats & Info: Jackson was Tampa Bay's safety valve on third down last season, ranking fourth in the NFL in third-down targets behind only Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson. On third down, Jackson had 20 catches resulting in a first down, ranking behind only Roddy White.

Yasinskas comment: He joined Tampa Bay last season and instantly became quarterback Josh Freeman’s favorite target. He and Freeman should be even more comfortable after a year together.

Defense

41. Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson

Stats & Info: Goldson defended the most passes (10) when lined up as a safety in 2012. Eight of them were thrown less than 20 yards downfield, which also led all safeties.

Yasinskas comment: The Bucs knew they were getting a talented player when they signed Goldson away from San Francisco. They also have discovered Goldson brings even more to the table. He already has emerged as a defensive leader.

NFC South to date:

Offense

43. Nicks

44. Evans

45. Jackson

51. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin

65. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

70. Carolina center Ryan Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

41. Goldson

51. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

55. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David

Observation deck: Falcons-Titans

August, 24, 2013
8/24/13
11:12
PM ET

 
The Atlanta Falcons frequently get talked about as a Super Bowl team. They didn’t look anything like that Saturday night.

The first-team offense couldn’t finish drives and the first-team defense had more than its share of breakdowns in a 27-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Atlanta fell to 0-3 for the preseason. The record doesn’t mean much, but the way the Falcons lost is a cause for concern. At least in the first two preseason games, there were plenty of bright spots. In this one, there weren’t many.

The Falcons trailed 20-6 by the time the starters were all out of the game and things didn’t get much better when the reserves came in. This wasn’t the kind of showing you would expect from a good team in its third preseason game.

Practice isn’t going to be a lot of fun for the Falcons when they return to practice next week because they have a lot of things to clean up.

Some other quick observations on the Falcons:
  • Rookie linebacker Joplo Bartu continues to be a bright spot. He forced a fumble in the first quarter that helped set up a field goal.
  • Fullback Bradie Ewing, who has missed some time with an injury, got the start and it’s pretty obvious he’s going to be a force as the lead blocker for Steven Jackson.
  • The concerns about the starting offensive line aren’t going to go away. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked five times.
  • Cornerback Asante Samuel left the game early with a bruised thigh and was replaced by rookie Robert Alford. The Titans went after Alford a bunch. Alford took some lumps, but also came up with an interception.
  • Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who missed most of camp, made his preseason debut and produced two early catches.
  • One of the few highlights after the starters left came when backup quarterback Dominique Davis hit Darius Johnson with a 41-yard touchdown pass.

#NFLRank Nos. 51-60

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
12:49
PM ET
The latest installment of #NFLRank (Nos. 51-60) is out and the NFC South has one player on the offense and two players on the defense. Let’s take a look.

Offense

Martin
51. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin

Stats & Info: Martin had 1,926 yards from scrimmage last season, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. In Week 9, Martin became the first player in NFL history with three rushing TDs of 45-plus yards in single game

Yasinskas comment: This ranking might be a little too low for Martin. He had a great rookie season and is only going to get better.

Defense

McCoy
McCoy
51. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

Stats & Info: Since drafting McCoy in 2010, the Buccaneers defense has allowed 4 yards per rush with him on the field and 5 yards per rush when he is off the field.

Yasinskas comment: McCoy stayed healthy last year and ended up making the Pro Bowl. As long as he stays healthy, McCoy is one of the league’s best defensive tackles.

Johnson
55. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson

Stats & Info: Johnson led all defensive linemen in the league with seven forced fumbles last season. He also had 12.5 sacks, third among defensive linemen behind J.J. Watt (20.5) and Cameron Wake (15.0).

Yasinskas comment: Johnson has made Carolina fans forget all about Julius Peppers.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

51. Martin

65. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

70. Carolina center Ryan Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

51. McCoy

55. Johnson

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Sunday, 9/21
Monday, 9/22
WEEKLY LEADERS