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Green Zone League Articles

Final Piece to the Puzzle? NFC South
By Garth Pearce
Special to gzl-football.com

ATLANTA FALCONS

Small Pieces The Atlanta secondary is extremely young with the oldest player having been drafted in 2012. SS Bud Cochran (2012), FS George Iloka (2013) and CB Dre Kirkpatrick (2013) form a formidable arial armada to stopping the passing game (Kirpatrick being the shortest at 6'2"), along with the speed of CB Leonard Johnson (2014), all make for a highly athletic secondary. Right now they're all pretty raw with the highest awareness at 75, so give them a few years to mature and develop and we should see one of the best performing pass defences in the league.
A new center won't go astray as Raymond Snow is well below standard on blocking and RG Dante Magana is not a long term solution playing out of position. A short term veteran may help here as the supporting guards are in the development stage also, otherwise go all out and invest in a youngster and try to push the entire line along with the 2 bookends holding it together.

Final Piece A HB who can hold onto the ball. Mario Fannin has been given no progression love when it comes to ball handling and as such is averaging over 4 fumbles per year and is only scoring one and half times more than he's dropping the rock. He's a big body that can move fast but isn't known for busting through tackles or running over defenders, so how long can you stick it out with a guy that just doesn't protect the ball? Even a veteran presence as a #2 and reliever back would be beneficial to lighten the load and change the run style every once in a while, but beyond that it may be time to draft another feature back to carry the team, especially as the affordable progression window is running out to get Fannin to a respectable carry level.


CAROLINA PANTHERS

Small Pieces Another quality receiving target or 2 to support Matt Barkley and develop the passing game wouldn't go astray as David Gettis is the sole skilled talent available to catch balls. TE Luke Stocker is a capable player but more keyed towards blocking than catching, whilst Mohamed Sanu resembles more of a catching tight end playing at wide out who is managing a surprising return if not for his sheer number of dropped balls. Tiquan Underwood is more in the mould of what you'd need as a quality target, however he has lacked the development over the years to progress his game from the slot level to starter. Another experienced set of hands in the line up would be ideal for Barkley so as his errors can be minimized by smart, capable receivers reacting quickly.
Another are of concern for the Panthers is the inability to avoid key injuries, especially on offense. With both Gettis and LeSean McCoy out for a significant number of games the offense has struggled to score. Shonn Greene has just not been a reliable ball handler or scoring option in McCoy's absence, putting way too much pressure on the young Barkley and his undermanned receivers. Again Sanu and Underwood aren't top level receivers and have dropped too many balls when the pressure was on. It's always luck of the dice on who gets injured and for how long, but offensive schemes can alleviate a lot of that pain just by the choices available, routes run and play calling.

Final Piece Matt Barkley needs protection to perform his role and improve his abilities, but as was proof from last year this offensive line is struggling to keep the pass rush at bay. The more time Barkley loses from playing the more development he loses and the longer it will take to make him an elite passer. The offensive line has given up 27 sacks this year, which is on par with a scrambling QB behind center, and he's been out of the contests for at least 38 passing plays too. Mario Henderson, Lawrence Sanders, Shawn Alvarez and Tyron Smith are all capable linemen but need more development time themselves. It may be worthwhile to include some more polished talent into this mix as the entire youth factory is not proving capable of churning out an efficient passing game.


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Small Pieces Manning is a top rated passer but it couldn't hurt to pair him up with another quality receiving target. Dexter McCluster is undersized to be the main man and his 1 touchdown for the year is proof. He'd be better suited to a slot role, stretching the nickel corners for speed whilst a bigger body takes the every down start. With Marques Colston on the verge of regression it will be a big ask to acquire 2 quality targets in one hit, and we all know the price of a decent, established receiver is about the same as a good rookie, and with no picks before the 3rd round this year it will be a challenge to lift the passing game.

Final Piece More productive and positive passing game from Eli Manning. He's 10-8 for TD to interception ratio since joining the Saints. The run can't do it all on the backs of Jacquizz Rodgers and Joe Lima, so Manning needs to lift his game and give his coach and GM some faith in his ability to take control of a game and score. It may be the lack of a statured #2 receiver that is compounding the situation, but a quality quarterback like Manning can overcome underdone receivers and make everyone look good. If the turnover numbers can be brought down the losses to the last and 2nd last ranked teams in the league won't be happening and their divisional position would be much brighter.


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Small Pieces We all know AF likes to trade around half his team every off season hoping to find that perfect combination, so most of these points will be moot by season's end, but here goes anyhow:
Some time is needed to develop LT Frankie Gerard into a top level player. His sub-80 blocking skills are alleviated slightly by his 75 awareness but it's still a big hill to climb to see them near acceptable levels. RG Quinn Matthew and C Brandon Fusco are in the same boat, needing just a few more years under their belt to become highly reliable blockers. There is some veteran talent on the roster to help with this progression but it takes more than those early 3 years of free development to get linemen this raw up to standard.
Antwan Barnes is a talented tackler and athletic player, but he lacks that top level awareness that the field general needs to read the plays. His stats prove he's no slouch but a player with a greater ability to see the field may turn it even greater returns than he has been.

Final Piece Pass coverage that doesn't give up such a big deflection to catch allowed ratio. Brad made a dishonourable mention of this in his 2013 All-Mallett Team. Aqib Talib has stepped up his game from last season's effort, but Morris Claiborne is still languishing at a greater then 2:1 catch-to-deflection ratio, which is about the biggest issue I can find in this Bucc's roster. Overall the team has improved from last year on this ratio and are rated top 10 for pass and overall defense to date so it's already a work in progress.
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