NFL Nation: Midseason All-NFC South team

Rapid Reaction: Falcons 23, Titans 17

November, 20, 2011

Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons’ 23-17 victory against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

What it means: The Falcons did a great job of bouncing back from last week’s devastating loss to New Orleans. It was the kind of loss that could have sent their season into free fall, but that didn’t happen. Coach Mike Smith had his team ready, and the Falcons played one of their most complete games of the season. They’re 6-4 and only one game behind the Saints in the win column of the NFC South standings.

Roddy’s revival: One of the things that impressed me most about receiver Roddy White the previous three seasons was his uncanny ability to bounce back from a bad play. It used to seem like every time White dropped a pass or committed a penalty, he would respond with a huge play. It was almost like, after every mistake, White was saying to Smith, “Hey, I owe you one.’’ But, for reasons I haven't been able to figure out, it hadn’t been working that way at all this season. White came into the week leading the NFL in dropped passes (eight), according to ESPN Stats & Information. White wasn’t making up for mistakes by following up with big plays. But that finally changed Sunday. Early in the third quarter, White had a Matt Ryan pass sail right through his hands. Just a few plays later, White made a great over-the-shoulder catch for a 43-yard gain. The play also provided evidence that the Falcons actually might have a downfield passing game. White finished with a season-high 147 receiving yards.

Dunta’s big play: A lot of people have been suggesting the huge free-agent contract the Falcons gave cornerback Dunta Robinson last year wasn’t a prudent move. I’ve always taken a different point of view. Robinson hasn’t come up with a lot of interceptions, but I think his presence has helped the rest of the secondary. But maybe Robinson silenced a few of his critics by coming up with an interception in the first quarter that set up a field goal. It was Robinson’s first interception of the season and only his second since joining the Falcons. Robinson also had a nice breakup on a third-down pass in the fourth quarter.

Most impressive two-play stretch: With around 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Atlanta defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux batted down Matt Hasselbeck passes on two consecutive plays. I left Babineaux off the midseason All-NFC South team, largely because he missed three games with an injury earlier in the season. But Babineaux is doing a very nice job of re-establishing himself as the division's premier defensive tackle.

What’s next: The Falcons host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday.

Midseason All-NFC South offense

November, 10, 2011
We’ve already unveiled our midseason All-NFC South defense. Now, it’s time for the offense.

As I said in the post on the defense, that’s not exactly the strong side of the ball in this division. The offense is the strong side and there were lots of tough choices. I felt I had to reach in a few cases on the defense. On the offense, I felt like I was forced to leave off some very good players.

Here’s the offense:

Tackle: Jordan Gross, Panthers. He’s been one of the best in the business for a long time. Gross has weathered some tough times, but, like a lot of other Carolina veterans, he’s been energized by the arrival of rookie quarterback Cam Newton.

Tackle: Donald Penn, Buccaneers. He’s gone from an undrafted free agent in 2006 to the Pro Bowl last season. Penn’s play has continued to improve this season and he’s one of the few Tampa Bay players who has performed consistently well this season.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireSteve Smith is enjoying a career revival and already has as many receptions through Week 8 as he had all of last season.
Guard: Carl Nicks, Saints. Lots of people say Nicks and teammate Jahri Evans form the best guard tandem in the business. I think their play has fallen off a bit this year, but that might be because there’s been a lot of shuffling on the rest of the offensive line. But, on pure talent, Nicks remains an elite guard.

Guard: Davin Joseph, Buccaneers. I’m taking him over Evans (and Carolina’s Travelle Wharton, who got some consideration) because Joseph has been consistent.

Center: Ryan Kalil, Panthers. Carolina had the franchise tag on Kalil before signing him to a big contract in the preseason. Kalil hasn’t disappointed. He’s one of the league’s top centers and still has more upside.

Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Saints. In a division that’s loaded with talented tight ends, Graham stands above the rest, even though he’s only in his second season. He’s become a huge part of the offense and is on pace for somewhere around 100 catches. He presents all sorts of matchup problems for defenses and makes the Cover Two almost useless against the Saints.

Wide receiver: Steve Smith, Panthers. He’s having one of the best years of his career and no one has been more energized by Newton’s arrival than Smith.

Wide receiver: Marques Colston, Saints. Although Colston missed some time with a broken collarbone, he’s putting up nice stats. I picked him over Atlanta’s Roddy White, who slipped a bit in the first half of the season, but could explode at any time.

Running back: Michael Turner, Falcons. He’s on pace for almost 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Perhaps the best news of all is Turner has his yards per carry average back up to 4.4, after it dipped to 4.1 last season.

Running back: Darren Sproles, Saints. I’m going with two running backs because it’s my team and I can make the rules. I’m also going with two running backs because Sproles deserves to be on this team. We knew this guy was a decent player in his San Diego days. But the Saints have put him in positions where he’s been great.

Fullback: Ovie Mughelli, Falcons. Yes, Mughelli’s done for the season with an injury. But, before that happened, he was clearly the best fullback in the NFC South. He provided excellent blocking for Turner and also was a bit of a threat as a receiver.

Quarterback: Drew Brees, Saints. He’s on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards and he clearly has been helped by the arrival of Sproles, a player Brees helped recruit. His 11 interceptions are a bit troubling, but you’re going to have some turnovers when you throw as often as the Saints.