NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: Sean McDermott

Redskins interview Perry Fewell

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
The Washington Redskins interviewed New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell Monday for their vacant head coaching position. He's the fifth person to interview for the job -- and plenty more remain as potential candidates.

The Redskins interviewed Fewell at Redskins Park, the team confirmed Monday. The team is confirming interviews that are held in Ashburn because they're with candidates whose teams are out of the playoffs. When they meet with coaches still in the playoffs, they let others confirm the interview in case they want to keep it a secret. Also, when they meet at Redskins Park, the group includes owner Dan Snyder, general manager Bruce Allen and members of the front office. When it's out of the area, only Allen is involved.

In addition to Fewell, the Redskins have interviewed Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Dallas special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

Fewell, 51, was a hot candidate in 2011 after his defense finished seventh. He interviewed with four teams after that season. Fewell served as defensive coordinator in Buffalo from 2006-09 and went 3-4 as the Bills' interim head coach in 2009.

Here's a look at the Redskins' coaching scorecard thus far.
The Cincinnati Bengals' misfortune could turn out to be the Washington Redskins' gain. The Redskins have requested permission to interview two Bengals' assistant coaches, now that their season is over.

The Redskins, along with three other teams, have requested permission to speak with Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Minnesota, Tennessee and Detroit also requested permission, according to a league source. The Redskins do not yet have an interview scheduled with Gruden. They've also requested permission to speak with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, a league source told ESPN.

A league source said the Redskins might have interest in former Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur, currently the Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator. He, too, is available to be interviewed. The Redskins can interview coaches of teams still alive in the playoffs, but they can't hire them until their seasons are over.

The Redskins are interviewing New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell Monday. They've already spoken to Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Dallas special teams coach Rich Bisaccia.

The Redskins also have interest in Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, but no interview had yet been scheduled in part because he was going to be at the National Championship game Monday night.

Redskins interview Jim Caldwell

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
The Washington Redskins interviewed former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell for their head coaching vacancy Sunday, as expected.

Caldwell is the fourth person Washington has spoken with about their head coaching vacancy and more will be talked to this week. But he's the first former head coach that they've formally interviewed. They've also talked to Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Dallas special teams coach Rich Bisaccia and Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. They are scheduled to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell Monday, according to John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation.

The Redskins have expressed interest in Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, who did interview with the Houston Texans. But the Redskins were still trying to line up an interview as of early Sunday night.

Also, they can now talk to assistant coaches from the Cincinnati Bengals: offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, both of whom were said to be on the Redskins' list. If interested, they can also talk to San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt next week, even though the Chargers remain alive in the playoffs.

Caldwell served as Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach in 2001 and was in the same role with Indianapolis from 2002-08 -- while also serving as an assistant head coach. He became the Colts' head coach in 2009, went 14-2 and lost in the Super Bowl to New Orleans. But he was fired after a 2-14 season -- with quarterback Peyton Manning sidelined -- in 2011. He took over as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator late last season and stayed in that capacity in 2013.

Caldwell met with owner Dan Snyder, general manager Bruce Allen, director of pro personnel Morocco Brown and director of player personnel Scott Campbell. In Detroit, Caldwell met with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. But he did not meet with Washington’s Robert Griffi III, who is on vacation.

Caldwell does not have any other interviews lined up and told Wooten, whose group focuses on minority coaches in the hiring process, that he was most interested in these two positions.

Caldwell prepared for his Redskins interview by breaking down all of Griffin’s plays. He also went over all the scouting reports Baltimore’s pro staff had on the Redskins. He did the same thing before his interview in Detroit.
The Washington Redskins' coaching search has made the turn toward college. They have requested an interview with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

A Vanderbilt spokesman said the school is not commenting on the interest in Franklin.

(Update: The Redskins will interview Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell on Sunday morning, according to John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation. And they will interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell this week.)

Franklin has been a hot name this offseason after turning around the once-dormant SEC program. The Commodores were 2-10 the year before he arrived and are 23-15 in his first three seasons. They’ve played in three consecutive bowl games; they had never played in consecutive bowls before Franklin.

He interviewed for the Houston Texans job and his name has been mentioned for the Penn State opening as well. In 2009, Franklin was named Maryland's head coach in waiting. But when Ralph Friedgen was fired after the 2010 season, Franklin went to Vanderbilt.

Franklin has spent the bulk of his career in college, though he coached Green Bay’s wide receivers in 2005 – and was on the same staff as Darrell Bevell, who interviewed with the Redskins earlier this week. Bevell is now Seattle’s offensive coordinator.

The names connected to Washington's opening thus far, in addition to Franklin: Bevell, Rich Bisaccia, Jim Caldwell and Sean McDermott. After the San Diego-Cincinnati game, it's likely other names will surface, with multiple possibilities in Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and assistant head coach Hue Jackson as well as San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Passing along a few coaching search tidbits as the Vikings get started with interviews this weekend:
  • After talking with Seattle Seahawks coordinators Dan Quinn and Darrell Bevell this weekend, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will move onto Phoenix. He'll talk to Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Monday and Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton on Tuesday, according to Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten. Both men have built impressive defenses in their current jobs and would invigorate the Vikings on that side of the ball. And if it's a coincidence Spielman is heading out west this weekend, it's also a lucky one; he'll be in Phoenix just as wind chills are supposed to drop to -40 in the Twin Cities.
  • If you're seeing a common theme among the coaches the Vikings are talking to so far, it's that the three defensive coaches all have experience with a 3-4 scheme. As we discussed earlier Friday, the Vikings would have some flexibility to make the move to a 3-4, given their current personnel, and while Spielman's process is partially about gaining insight and evaluations on his own team from people around the league, it seems hard to believe the Vikings wouldn't at least consider the possibility of switching. It's safe to assume, at the very least, they won't be going back to the Tampa 2 scheme they played under Leslie Frazier; the Vikings allowed the most touchdown passes in the league in two of the last three seasons.
  • The Vikings are able to start talking Monday with coaches whose teams are playing in the first round of the playoffs this weekend. That would mean San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could enter the process next week. If Spielman hasn't talked in any detail with Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase or defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio by Sunday, though, he'd have to wait until the Broncos' season is over. Same goes for Bevell, Quinn, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott or any other possible candidate from a team with a bye this weekend.
  • Lastly, Leslie Frazier's chances of winding up as the defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay seem to hinge on whether the Dallas Cowboys will allow Lovie Smith to talk to Rod Marinelli. But even if Marinelli ends up as Smith's defensive coordinator in Tampa, Wooten said Frazier would still join Smith's staff as an assistant head coach.

Sizing up the candidates: Sean McDermott

December, 31, 2013
The Washington Redskins will interview with Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott this weekend, according to multiple reports (and confirmed by a league source). They've also requested permission to interview Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Let's take a look at McDermott's data:

Age: 39

[+] EnlargeSean McDermott
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonPanthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott could be a contender for the Washington Redskins' head coach job.
What he's doing: McDermott has been the Panthers’ defensive coordinator for the past three seasons. Head coach Ron Rivera is a former defensive coordinator so it’s tough to know how much of the Panthers’ success stems from McDermott. Regardless, the Panthers’ defense finished No. 2 in both total yards and points per game. McDermott inherited a unit that ranked No. 26. They were No. 27 in his first year and 18th a year ago. They went from 28th to 10th in scoring in those years.

Past stops: McDermott started with Philadelphia in 2001 as a scouting administrative coordinator and worked his way up in the organization, becoming the secondary/safeties coach in 2008, the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator from 2009-10, replacing the late Jim Johnson.

What I’ve heard about him: All I knew about McDermott was that Philadelphia fired him after the 2010 season and that his current Panthers’ defense is a good one. Earlier this year, former Eagles coach Andy Reid texted columnist Ashley Fox about the interest in McDermott becoming a head coach: "He deserves it. Hard working. Smart. Honest. Good person." Two others who worked with him described him the same way. One NFL executive said via text, “I really like Sean. He will be a very good head coach, smart, disciplined, confident.” McDermott also was described as a no-nonsense guy; detailed, tireless. He worked under a fantastic defensive coordinator in Johnson and clearly paid attention. But during his last season as the Eagles' defensive boss, McDermott was criticized for having schemes that were "too complicated."

Is he a good fit: I like that the Redskins are talking to him and not just fixating on an offensive coach. It would be foolish to focus on one side of the ball, perhaps passing up the opportunity to find a good coach. I like the qualities he possesses and I think those would be welcomed at Redskins Park. Whether it’s McDermott or someone else, it would be good for the Redskins to find an assistant coach with energy and a desire to prove himself. But if you’re going to hire a defensive head coach, he’d better have a good plan for quarterback Robert Griffin III and the offense. His most important hire would be the offensive coordinator, who will work closely with Griffin.

Suggested reading: The initial story on McDermott being fired in Philadelphia columnist Ashley Fox wrote about McDermott earlier this season and his continued rise…How the Panthers’ defensive staff operatesMcDermott said he believes he’ll be a head coach some day....Problems in Philadelphia.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For months, almost every time a member of the Carolina Panthers' defense has been complimented, the response has been how they won't be satisfied until the unit is ranked No. 1.

They might have to come up with a new answer.

Hello No. 1.

The Panthers (9-3) moved into the top position in average yards allowed -- the measuring stick the NFL uses to rank the No. 1 defense -- after Sunday's 27-6 victory against Tampa Bay.

[+] EnlargeThomas Davis
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThomas Davis and the Carolina defense moved into the No. 1 spot in the NFL's team rankings.
It is the first time they have held that distinction since Weeks 4 and 5 in 2002, when that unit finished the season No. 2 overall according to Elias.

OK, so they held that spot for 24 hours three weeks ago after previous No. 1 Kansas City gave up 427 yards in a Sunday night 27-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. But the Panthers gave it up after surrendering 390 yards in a 24-20 Monday night victory against New England.

This time it should stick. The Panthers have given up 3,478 yards, an average of 289.8 per game. Their position won't change unless the Seattle Seahawks, ranked second at 293.3 yards per game, hold a New Orleans team averaging 415 yards to less than 252 on Monday night.

Carolina players were given Monday off after running their league-best winning streak to a franchise-record eight straight, so they weren't around to talk about the ranking.

But you can imagine their answer would be much like that of head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

Basically, it's nice, but let's see where we are after the season.

You can't blame them, particularly with two of the next four games against the Saints (9-2).

"I feel good about it," McDermott said of the ranking. "I'm not going to lie about it. At the same time, you've got Drew Brees and the Saints offense staring you right in the face.

"Another big challenge for us."

The Panthers, 9-3 heading into a battle for the NFC South lead, have handled big challenges well so far this season. They held the San Francisco 49ers to 151 total yards and nine points on the road. They held a New England team averaging 27 points a game to 20 in a prime time game. They have shut out four of their past five opponents in the second half.

But in terms of complete offenses, New Orleans will be the toughest challenge. The Saints entered Monday night's game averaging 27.7 points and -- as noted above -- 415 yards a game.

Still, getting to No. 1 is a nice acknowledgment for how well the Panthers have played defensively. That they rank first in points allowed (13.08) might be more significant. You don't lose many games when teams score fewer than two touchdowns.

"It does mean they're playing very well," Rivera said. "They're doing a lot of good things, and they deserve some credit."

He then reverted to his standard "figures lie and liars figure, cause it's a stat" routine.

"The only one that really does matter is wins and losses," Rivera added. "But I'm happy for the guys, because the players play hard. That's one of their goals, to be the No. 1 defense and be a playoff caliber defense."

The Panthers have been a playoff-caliber defense since a Week 1 12-7 loss to Seattle. Every time someone asks how good this team is, my first response is the defense is built well enough to win a Super Bowl.

But again, the biggest challenges are ahead. That's why Rivera and McDermott temper their enthusiasm about the ranking.

"They have done a great job, deservedly so, to get some credit, to be acknowledged for what they've accomplished so far," Rivera said. "But again, we still have four more left to play."

And the ultimate goal is to play three or four more after that.
 Star LotuleleiRuss Isabella/USA TODAY SportsCarolina drafted a defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, in the first round for the first time in team history.

In the first draft of his tenure, Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman did something predecessor Marty Hurney never did.

Heck, Gettleman did something Bill Polian never did. He did something Dom Capers and George Seifert did in the brief windows when coaches held general-manager powers in Carolina.

Gettleman drafted a defensive tackle in the first round for the first time in franchise history. He drafted Utah’s Star Lotulelei with the 14th overall pick.

It’s not a fancy move, but I think this is a great start for Gettleman, who wasn’t bluffing when he said at his pre-draft news conference that he believes the game starts up front and that he likes big defensive and offensive linemen.

In Lotulelei, Gettleman and the Panthers are getting a huge defensive tackle that once was being talked about as the potential No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Lotulelei had a bit of a health scare around the scouting combine, but reportedly later received a clean bill of health.

I don’t know Gettleman well yet, but I know enough about him and his scouting staff that I’m sure the Panthers wouldn’t have taken Lotulelei if they had any doubts about his health.

If they’re right, the Panthers got a steal. If they’re right, Carolina suddenly has a heck of a defense.

Think about it? Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, last year’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, suddenly has someone to jam up the middle. That’s going to allow Kuechly to roam freely. Same for outside linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.

And picture Lotulelei taking a little blocking attention away from defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who each had double-digit sacks last season? Carolina’s secondary still isn’t loaded with talent, but the front seven might be able to compensate more for that now that Lotulelei is on the roster.

Carolina’s defense suddenly is looking like a major strength. It might even be the best in the NFC South.

That’s a pretty major statement for a defense that was horrible two years ago. Coach Ron Rivera’s tenure got off to a rough start because of the defense in 2011 and coordinator Sean McDermott took a beating from fans.

Things started to improve last season, but there still was a gaping hole in the middle of the defense. The sad part is Hurney, who was promoted to general manager in 2002, might still have the job if he had used a first-round pick on a defensive tackle sometime after 2007.

It was after that season that Kris Jenkins, who had a brief stint as the best defensive tackle in the NFL, left the team. Jenkins (a second-round pick in 2001) had to go because there were chemistry issues between him and the coaching staff at the time.

But Hurney never devoted the resources to fully replace Jenkins. He did overspend for veteran Ron Edwards coming out of the 2011 lockout. Edwards promptly got hurt in that training camp and never really got healthy. Edwards never really contributed in Carolina and the Panthers released him in one of Gettleman’s first personnel moves.

Hurney also tried to address the defensive tackle position by taking Terrell McClain and Sione Fua in the third round of the 2011 draft. But you don’t get stud defensive tackles in the third round. You’re rolling the dice and Hurney didn’t get lucky with McClain and Fua. McClain no longer is with the team and Fua is best suited to be a backup.

There’s only one way to get a dominant defensive tackle (and we’re only going to briefly mention how Capers once gave up the farm to get Sean Gilbert in a trade that went wildly bad back in 1998). If you want success in the middle of the defensive line, you need to draft a defensive tackle in the first round.

The Panthers never had done that before. That means it’s time to review the overall history of this franchise. Since coming into the league in 1995, the Panthers have had only four winning seasons.

Maybe that’s largely because the people who ran the show in the past never saw the importance of plugging the middle of the defense with a big-time talent.

Maybe Gettleman just made a move that can help put this franchise on a path to consistent success.
What happened with the Carolina Panthers on Monday morning is a reminder that the NFL is a cold, hard business and the win-loss record is all that really matters.

The Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney. It was inevitable. Carolina came into the season with very high expectations but is off to a 1-5 start. The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008.

Fans are getting restless, and so is team owner Jerry Richardson, a man who spent a ton of money coming out of this past summer’s lockout.

[+] EnlargeMarty Hurney
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneMarty Hurney had been the Panthers' GM since 2002.
Someone had to take the fall, and Hurney was the choice. You can question whether Hurney was the right guy to sacrifice, and some already are doing that.

“Marty wasn't the reason we are losing!" Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson said on his Twitter account. “That's bs! Unbelievable! Marty might be the realist GM that I know #InMyMind BS BS BS BS!"

You can wonder if maybe head coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski or defensive coordinator Sean McDermott should have been ousted. At least to me, it looks as though the Panthers have a talented roster that is not being coached very well.

And you can certainly question the timing of Hurney’s firing. Does it really make sense to fire the guy who runs the personnel department after Week 7?

No, it doesn’t. The Panthers will bring in someone from outside or elevate director of pro scouting Mark Koncz, but either way, they’re not going to right the ship in the middle of the season. Any personnel moves that can help this team will have to come in the offseason.

But this wasn’t just a football move. It went much deeper than that.

To understand what I mean by that, you have to know a bit about Hurney and Richardson. They were -- and even now probably will remain -- exceptionally close. After saying he’d never have a general manager again after Bill Polian’s ugly departure, Richardson hired Hurney to manage the salary cap in 1998.

The two hit it off, and Hurney quickly gained Richardson’s trust. When former coach George Seifert ran the franchise into the ground in 2001, Richardson reversed course and promoted Hurney to general manager. He also essentially let Hurney hire John Fox as coach.

The Panthers reached the Super Bowl in Hurney and Fox's second season together, 2003. Two seasons later, they were back in the NFC Championship Game.

But soon after that, Richardson started to see cracks. He wanted to see back-to-back winning seasons, and he was starting to worry about growing egos.

Richardson’s worries eventually turned into realities. Fox never produced consecutive winning seasons, and the level of trust between the coach and Richardson seemed to erode to a point where things became downright hostile in Fox’s final season, 2010.

But the Richardson-Hurney relationship survived all that, and Richardson let Hurney hire Rivera to replace Fox. Part of the reason is Hurney is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet in football or anywhere else. He’s the kind of guy who picked up the phone to offer condolences to a reporter whose father had died the moment he heard about it.

Hurney is the kind of guy who would call a reporter on draft night just to exchange thoughts on what happened around the league. He’s the kind of guy who would never lie to you and always try to steer a reporter in the right direction, even if it wasn’t necessarily in his best interest.

On the job, Hurney made some brilliant moves through the years -- signing Jake Delhomme and Stephen Davis as free agents, drafting the likes of Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil. His drafting of quarterback Cam Newton looked brilliant last year, but not so much this season.

He also made some very questionable moves -- signing Delhomme to a big contract extension after the quarterback had flamed out, drafting Armanti Edwards, Jimmy Clausen, Dwayne Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Eric Norwood, Everette Brown, Jeff Otah and some other busts. He also committed $80 million of Richardson’s money to running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

But for some reason, the coaching staff isn’t making much use out of Williams, Stewart and Tolbert. Is that Hurney’s fault?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think Richardson totally believes that, either.

Still, it really doesn’t matter. Richardson needed a scapegoat, and it had to be hard for him to decide on Hurney. But keep in mind, Richardson once fired his two sons (Mark as team president and Jon as stadium president). His logic on that move was that their dysfunctional relationship was taking a toll on the other 300 people who worked in the building and on fans.

The logic on Hurney was similar. Things weren’t going well, and fans were giving up on the Panthers.

When I spoke to Hurney last week, he seemed resigned to the idea that his time was running out, but it seemed he thought the move would come more toward the end of the season.

That might have been more logical. But Richardson had to send a message now to his fans that he still cares about winning and that the current product is unsatisfactory. It would be difficult to fire the entire coaching staff or fire Rivera and elevate one of his assistants in the middle of the season.

Someone had to go now, and that was Hurney. But I think it should be clear to Rivera, every assistant coach in the building and every player that if Richardson is willing to get rid of Hurney, no one is sacred.

There’s going to be a lot more housecleaning in Carolina after the season. This was just the first step.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 36, Panthers 7

September, 20, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 36-7 loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.

What it means: The Panthers aren’t the team on the rise that many, including myself, thought they were. They’re 1-2. There’s still hope and plenty of time to get things on track. But, right now, the Panthers aren’t looking like anything close to a playoff team.

The new and improved defense? Carolina’s defense was terrible last season, but it was easy to write that off to injuries. This year was supposed to be different with linebacker Jon Beason and defensive tackle Ron Edwards returning from injuries, and the addition of linebacker Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman in the draft. None of that seemed to matter against the Giants. The Panthers couldn’t stop the run or the pass. The Giants scored on their first four possessions, and the Panthers never were in the game.

What I liked: I can’t really think of anything, other than Carolina tight end Greg Olsen, who had a pretty good night.

What I didn’t like: Most of this loss can be pinned on Carolina’s defense. I doubt Carolina could have won this game even if its offense was perfect. But the Carolina offense was far from perfect in the first half. The Panthers had a few nice plays but couldn’t sustain any sort of drive. Wide receiver Steve Smith was barely a factor. The Carolina defense was better in the second half, but it was too late to really matter.

Who's on the hot seat? Perhaps Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. The injuries were a built-in excuse for the Carolina defense last year. But there's no excuse now. It's not good when your defense is so bad that it keeps Cam Newton and a talented offense from ever getting into a rhythm.

Who else is on the hot seat? Probably rookie return man Joe Adams. He failed to handle a punt in the fourth quarter, and that gave the Giants the ball. He didn't look good all night. Adams has plenty of upside, but it might be time to sit him and let someone else (Armanti Edwards or Kealoha Pilares?) handle returns. It doesn't have to be a permanent thing. But Adams looks like a kid who needs a little more time to get comfortable.

What’s next: The Panthers play the Falcons on Sept. 30 at the Georgia Dome.

Rapid Reaction: Panthers 35, Saints 27

September, 16, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers’ 35-27 victory against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

What it means: The Panthers are 1-1 and showed signs that their poor performance against Tampa Bay in the opener was a fluke. This time, the Panthers got back to the creative and explosive style of offense they played last season. Their defense was far better than it was last season, when injuries devastated the unit. The Saints are 0-2 and in deep trouble. Their season is far from over, but they’ve dug themselves a deep hole and there isn’t a lot of reason for optimism because the offense and the defense have had very few bright spots.

Rebound of the week: This goes to Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. He drew harsh criticism for the debacle in Tampa Bay. Every bit of the criticism was deserved because Chudzinski showed no imagination and failed to get much out of a talented unit. But that all changed against the Saints. Chudzinski got back to making the running game a big part of the offense. That led to openings for the downfield passing game. The reverse to Brandon LaFell in the first half was one of the best play calls I’ve seen so far in this young season.

Rebound of the week, Part II: Carolina receiver Steve Smith got carted off the field with about eight minutes left in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury. Smith came out of the locker room and back onto the field a few minutes later and made a long catch that helped set up a Carolina touchdown.

Fall of the week: Take your pick of either New Orleans interim head coach Aaron Kromer or defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. They both are going to take plenty of heat from Saints fans. I tend to put more blame on Spagnuolo’s defense than anything else. It’s just not working very well so far this season. Makes you wonder if the Saints should have made more offseason personnel moves on their defensive line to better fit Spagnuolo’s scheme. I’ve heard plenty of offenses described as bland through the years. But I think you could call what we’ve seen of Spagnuolo’s defense so far very bland. I also think it would be fair to describe the New Orleans defense as not being very good, and that might be an understatement.

Whatever happened to Marques Colston? He’s been New Orleans’ top receiver since his arrival in 2006. But Colston was barely a factor for much of the day. Give Carolina’s secondary, which includes rookie cornerback Josh Norman, a lot of credit for keeping Colston quiet.

Up to the challenge: Speaking of keeping Colston quiet, you have to give kudos to Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. His unit didn't completely silence Drew Brees, but no defense does that. What Carolina's defense did was put solid pressure on Brees. The Panthers forced some mistakes and made Brees look relatively ordinary. McDermott took lots of heat last year when Carolina's defense was banged up and playing badly. Give the man credit this time for containing one of the league's best offenses -- or at least what used to be one of the league's best offenses.

What’s next: The Panthers have to deal with a very short turnaround, hosting the New York Giants on Thursday night. The Saints return home to play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Final Word: NFC South

September, 7, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

My favorite matchup: Carolina receiver Steve Smith and Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib have each talked about how they’ve matured this offseason. There might be some truth to that. But these are two of the most competitive people on the planet. Both like to talk on the field. They could end up lining up against each other often, and that’s where things could get entertaining. We might find out how much volatility Talib and Smith have left.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireFor the majority of his career, Steve Smith has been Carolina's lone receiving threat.
The streak will end: I’m not big on predictions, but I’ll make one here. New Orleans safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper went through all of last season without an interception. They’ve got rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III coming into what should be a hostile Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will be looking to force some rookie mistakes. Either Jenkins or Harper (maybe both) will come up with a pick.

Milestone time: Barring a tie against Kansas City, the Falcons will make history Sunday. Atlanta enters the game with the Chiefs with an all-time 299-399-6 record. If the Falcons win, they’ll be the 24th team to reach 300 wins. If they lose, they’ll be the 15th team with 400 losses.

Play it again: I’ve got a hunch this might be the last time we use this stat, or at least one of the final times. That’s because I think this is the year Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan finally shows he can throw the deep ball. However, until he shows that, it’s worth a reminder that long passes haven’t been Ryan’s strength in the past. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has the second-worst completion percentage on throws of more than 20 air yards (minimum 75 attempts) since the start of the 2009 season. Ryan has completed just 27.4 percent of those throws. Only Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick (26.2) has been worse. On the positive side, Ryan might have time to throw the deep ball because Kansas City’s best pass-rusher, Tamba Hali, is suspended for the game.

Chasing Freeman: Carolina coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott like to get after the quarterback in any game. But they might have a stronger desire than usual to do that against Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman. We all know how Freeman dropped off from a strong season in 2010 to a poor one last year. The drop-off was particularly noticeable in how Freeman performed against the blitz. In 2010, he completed 61 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 53.9 Total QBR when facing at least five pass-rushers. In similar situations last year, Freeman’s completion percentage dropped to 54.8 with four touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 34.9 Total QBR.

Pressure point: Panthers

May, 17, 2012
» NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
» AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Panthers and why.

There probably isn’t a defensive coordinator in the league who has faced more criticism than Sean McDermott the past two seasons. He was fired by Philadelphia after the 2010 season, and his defense was dismal in his first season in Carolina.

McDermott got a bit of a pass because Carolina had a bunch of injuries on defense, it was the first year for a new coaching staff and rookie quarterback Cam Newton and a suddenly explosive offense gave fans a nice distraction. But, no matter how many points Newton and the offense scored, the Carolina defense had enormous trouble protecting leads in a 6-10 season. The excuses won’t fly this time around.

Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Ron Edwards are returning from injuries and the Panthers added linebacker Luke Kuechly in the first round of this year’s draft. McDermott has the personnel necessary to put together a respectable defense. The injured players and Kuechly join a nucleus that includes defensive end Charles Johnson and cornerback Chris Gamble, and the pressure is squarely on McDermott to put a good defense on the field.

If he can do that, Carolina could be a legitimate playoff contender. If not, McDermott could be on the hot seat.

NFC South Stock Watch

November, 22, 2011
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Sean McDermott, Panthers defensive coordinator. He was hired by first-year head coach Ron Rivera, who comes with a defensive background. Plus, McDermott and Rivera were following a head coach (John Fox) who was all about defense. But the Panthers have been terrible on defense, and it seems they keep getting worse. They rank No. 27 in the league in total defense and allowed 49 points to Detroit on Sunday. This isn’t all on McDermott by any means. Carolina’s defense has been depleted by some big injuries that started way back in training camp. But even with injuries, a young defense should show some improvement as a season goes on.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Morris
Fernando Medina/US PresswireDefense is supposed to be the area of expertise for Bucs coach Raheem Morris, but Tampa Bay's unit is ranked No. 31.
The defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Yep, that’s head coach Raheem Morris. The Bucs are No. 31 in total defense and much of the blame for that should fall on Morris. There is some talent on the defensive side, but the Bucs seem to be regressing in this area. Since Morris bounced defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the middle of the 2009 season, it has been difficult to figure out Tampa Bay’s defensive identity, although the word “mediocre’’ would be a fitting term. The Bucs don’t stop the run well, generate very little pressure up front and, and despite some talent in the secondary, give up some big pass plays.

Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers tight end. If you look only at the numbers (nine catches for 132 yards), Winslow had a good game against Green Bay on Sunday. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Winslow had a touchdown called back because he was called for offensive pass interference. He also dropped a pass that should have given the Bucs an easy two-point conversion.


Sean Payton, Saints coach. We use the term "rising" literally here. Although Payton was back on the sideline in the last game before the bye, he was on crutches and trying to stay out of harm’s way. But the leg and knee injuries that caused Payton to sit in the press box for three games are healing nicely. On Monday night against the Giants, Payton should be much more mobile, and that should help him get a better feel for the game.

Matt Ryan, Falcons quarterback. Ryan threw for 316 yards in Sunday’s victory against Tennessee. That gave him the first back-to-back 300-yard games of his career. Ryan struggled with consistency – a common theme for everyone in Atlanta – earlier in the season. But he seems to be on a good path right now, and that could come in handy as the Falcons try to make a playoff push.

Roddy White, Falcons receiver. He played his best game of the season Sunday, with a season-high 147 receiving yards. With White seemingly getting on track and the possible return of Julio Jones from a hamstring injury, Atlanta suddenly could have the high-powered passing game that many of us expected at the start of the season.

NFC South Stock Watch

September, 27, 2011
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1. Sam Baker, left tackle, Falcons. Drafted in 2008 to protect Matt Ryan's blind side, Baker had ups and downs in his first three seasons. This year, he has experienced only downs. Baker has been routinely beaten in pass blocking. Ryan has been under more pressure than ever before and that’s a major reason the Falcons are off to a 1-2 start. The Atlanta coaching staff is talking about possibly shaking up the offensive line. There’s not much behind Baker, so it may be difficult to bench him. But unless his play turns around dramatically the rest of the way, Baker probably will be gone after this season and the Falcons will have to replace him through free agency or the draft.

2. DeAngelo Williams, running back, Panthers. He has two 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé and is talented as a runner and a pass-catcher. But Williams has done very little this year. He has only 61 rushing yards and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. I don’t think this is a case of Williams suddenly getting old. I think the Carolina coaching staff needs to do a better job of finding ways to utilize one of the team’s most talented players.

3. Corey Peters, defensive tackle, Falcons. Atlanta coach Mike Smith was right when he said one play didn’t cause the Falcons’ loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday. But there really is no excuse for Peters jumping offside on a fourth-down play late in the game. Everyone else in Raymond James Stadium knew the Bucs were trying to get the Falcons to jump. Peters did and it cost the Falcons a chance to get the ball back and attempt a last-minute drive. With Peria Jerry playing well, Peters is probably on his way out of the starting lineup as soon as Jonathan Babineaux is healthy enough to return.


[+] EnlargeBrian Price and Matt Ryan
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesBrian Price (92) was a disruptive force against the Falcons, recording two tackles and sacking Matt Ryan once.
1. Brian Price, defensive tackle, Buccaneers. He is quickly becoming one of the best comeback stories in the league this season. Price missed almost his entire rookie season and had a rare surgery to repair damage to his pelvis. As recently as late June, Price was talking as if he might miss the season or at least the first half of it. But his recovery quickly took off once training camp started and Price has worked his way into the starting lineup. Against Atlanta on Sunday, he was a force, helping the Bucs hold the Falcons to 30 rushing yards and recording his first sack.

2. Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Panthers. Yes, the opponent might have been the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and the weather certainly played a role in slowing both offenses. But McDermott had to be doing something right. Any time you hold an NFL team to 10 points, you’re doing well. And let’s not forget McDermott engineered this defensive performance without linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, who are out for the season with injuries.

3. Jimmy Graham, tight end, Saints. He got an earful from Drew Brees for running a wrong route that led to an interception. But Brees continued throwing to his young tight end, who came up with a key 27-yard touchdown catch. Graham finished the day with four catches for 100 yards.