The Boys Are Thirsty In Atlanta..NFC South Preview By Steel Drama
“… and There’s Beer in Texarcana. And We’ll Bring it Back No Matter What it Takes!”
1.) S.O.S Saints
Stout: The Saints’ defense gave up an average of 5.0 yards per rush in 2011. Enter Broderick Bunkley, the best run stopping defensive tackle in the NFL last season. Of all run plays he was on the field for, 11.3% ended up with him making a defensive stop which was highest among defensive tackles.
On the Hops: I’m going to assume that you knew that 44.9 % of Drew Brees’ pass attempts against the blitz were converted for a first down or a touchdown last season. But in case you didn’t hear, Brees threw for 5,490 yards last season which broke Dan Marino’s passing record, a record that has stood since 1984. Despite having a quarterback rating of 132.4 when throwing to Marques Colston, the two players most responsible for Brees’ record breaking season are Darren Sproles and “Superstar” Jimmy Graham. Sproles, a free agent steal, totaled 86 catches and is the ideal back for Sean Payton’s multi-option attack. Jimmy Graham’s 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns is “Babyshit” compared to the type of numbers this kid is going to put up in the coming seasons.
Tap a Keg for the Big Boys: “I forgot to tell you I’m runnin’ blocker for 400 cases of illegal Coors Beer.” The Saints’ most important blocker last season was Left tackle Jermon Bushrod who underwent a "pretty major" surgery for a torn shoulder labrum just after last season but has resumed practicing. Pro Football Focus graded Bushrod as the eighth best left tackle in football last season, charging him with only two sacks in 16 starts.
Ice Cold Draft: The Saints find themselves drawn to sons of former NFL Players. Last year they drafted Cameron Jordan son of former Viking Steve Jordan and Mark Ingram son of former Giant Mark Ingram. This year, they drafted Nick Toon son of former Jet Al Toon. Too bad the Saints missed out on T. Bob Hebert of LSU who signed as an UDFA with the Rams. He’s the son of former Saints’ quarterback Bobby Hebert. “Bandit! Me and my son are here.” “Oh I love your suits. It must’ve been a bitch to get a 68 extra fat and a 12 dwarf.”
Stale Ale: Drew Brees can go on Letterman and spew rhetoric that the NFL is on a media smear campaign toward the Saints all he wants. But the bottom line to me is if the Saints’ organization had heeded Roger Goodell’s request to stop the bounties instead of lie to him about its existence, I can’t help but think none of this would have happened. “Mr. Melon I’m only going to ask you this one time. Is the work you handed in your own?” “I can’t lie to you Dean Martin…yes it is.”
Bitter Beer Face: “So what do you think Jackie do we have a case?” “Your face is my case.” By the time one of Jonathan Vilma’s lawsuits actually gets to trial the season will be over.
Bartender: The Saints’ air attack has finished in the top 5 in the league every season since Sean Payton and Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006, including first-place showings in 2006, 2008 and 2011. Winning the Super Bowl must seem like an eternity ago as Payton has had a nightmare of an offseason not just getting suspended for the year, but getting divorced as well. Despite his recent troubles, I’m guessing Sean Payton, like Drew Brees, will forever drink for free in the French Quarter.
Drinks are on Drama: A shot of Southern for Brett Favre for his response to the Saints putting out a bounty on him during the 2009 NFC Title game. ”My feeling and I mean this whole heartedly is that I really don’t care. What bothers me is we didn’t win the game.” Added Favre, “They didn’t take me out of the game. They came close, but a lot of people came close. I’m just too stubborn to come out. Plus that was kind of a big game. I’m not going to sit the last three minutes. I’m going to go out there with bones sticking out of my skin. I’m gonna finish it.” Favre’s a tough ‘sum bitch who could play on my team any day.
The Hangover: Hands down one of the best football games I’ve ever seen was the Saints stunning last second loss in San Francisco in last years’ playoffs. Simply an incredible football game full of big plays that saw the Saints rack up 472 yards of offense against a “stout” 49ers defense. Sure the Saints season ended in disappointment, but they were 9-0 at home last season and if the “Us against the World” mentality works this season, the Saints could have home field advantage in the Super Bowl. I’m sure ‘Ol Roger would drink to that.
2.) SweetWater Falcons
Stout: Pro Football Focus called Sean Weatherspoon the "new NFL prototype" for 4-3 weakside backers thanks to his speed and instincts. PFF ranked him the 4th rated outside linebacker against the run last season. Emerging as a defensive leader, Weatherspoon will take over play-calling chores in Mike Nolan's scheme following the departure of Curtis Lofton. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said “Spoon” still "has a lot of upside” after breaking out for 115 tackles and four sacks last season, showing Pro Bowl caliber potential.
On the Hops: Thanks to rookie wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons succeeded in becoming a more explosive team totaling an impressive 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more. The key to Jones improving on his rookie leading eight touchdowns will be his ability to stay healthy. ESPN's Jerry Rice nominated Julio Jones as the NFL's top breakout wide receiver for 2012. "I love this kid," said Rice. "He’s awesome. He’s big, he’s fast. I think he’s gonna have a breakout season this coming year." And you thought Emmitt Smith was insightful.
Tap a Keg: The Falcons were one of ten teams to average less than 4.0 between the tackles last season. Short yardage struggles were particularly evident in the playoff loss to the Giants. Worse, Matty “Ice” showed some cold feet getting sacked 33 times last season. Ron Jaworski believes Matt Ryan's need to become more consistent in a “muddied pocket” is the only thing preventing him from being a top-10 quarterback. "Right now, (Ryan) needs that comfortable cradle, functional space," Jaworski said. "If he improves in that area, he’ll crack my top ten." I’m sure Matt will feel honored to hear that Ron.
Ice Cold Draft: Since the beginning of the common draft in 1967, 189 Georgia Bulldogs have been drafted by NFL teams. Thomas Dmitrov, a GM I respect, has drafted exactly two ‘Dawgs since taking over the Falcons in 2008 (Thomas Brown and Akeem Dent). Check your backyard Thomas.
Stale Ale: Falcons running back Michael Turner, now 31, has ranked in the top two in the NFL in rushing attempts in three of the past four seasons. I believe that he's a player in sharp decline, and yards-per-carry statistics would seem to bear that out. However, Greg Cosell has the nerve to disagree with me. "I think he's always been a good example of the old expression, 'It's not speed to the hole, it's speed through the hole,'" Cosell said. "I think he's always been very good at that. And he's very hard to bring down unless you solidly get a hold of him. So he's been able to run through arm tackles.”
Bitter Beer Face: Despite Brent Grimes giving up just 0.58 yards per snap in coverage (the lowest of all cornerbacks in the league), the Falcons gave up the most plays over 35 yards in the NFL last year. Acquiring a four time Pro Bowler in Asante Samuel who has at least three interceptions every year since he’s entered the league at the bargain price of a 7th round pick should help remedy that stat.
Bartender: Since being hired in 2008, Mike Smith has posted a regular season record of 43-21 (.672 winning pct.) that is nearly identical to what John Harbaugh has achieved in Baltimore (44-20, .688) over the same time span. However, Smith is 0-3 career during the postseason, which includes blowout losses to the Giants (24-2) in 2011 and Packers (48-21) in 2010. Take solace “Smitty” fans. At least those two teams went on to become Super Bowl Champions.
Drinks are on Drama: An ice cold can of now legal Coors beer for GM Thomas Dmitrov for riding his bike to work to help protect the environment. Just be sure to recycle that can when you’re done with it Tom.
The Hangover: Living in the suburbs of Atlanta, I can tell you that what few fans the Falcons have are losing patience. Last season, the Falcons beat just two teams with winning records, the Lions and the Titans. They capped their 2011 season with a gutless 24-2 loss to the Giants in which the offense managed just 242 yards. I do like some of the Falcons’ young players such as Julio Jones and even Matt Ryan, but I think predicting a second place in the South is showing some form of relocation homerism on my part and for that I apologize.
”Bring us a pitcher of beer every seven minutes until somebody passes out. And then bring one every ten minutes.”-Thorton Melon
3.) Ass Clown Panthers
Stout: You want production? In just three seasons of play, Panthers’ top pick Luke Kuechly came within 13 tackles of passing the immortal Tim McGarigle for the most tackles in NCAA FBS history. Former Bears’ great Dick Butkus personally presented the 2011 Butkus Award to Kuechly at the Boston College team banquet a week before the expected formal announcement, but its current Bears’ linebacker Brian Urlacher that I feel Kuechly compares most favorably to.
On the Hops: NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell ranks Steve Smith as the NFL's fourth-best wide receiver, behind Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Cosell believes that there's no tougher wide receiver in the game or a better route runner versus man coverage than Smith. "Physicality and explosiveness define him," said Cosell. "Vertical speed, lateral explosion, physical strength and mental toughness: you normally don't see that combination of traits in one receiver. You could argue that not even the top three embody each of those characteristics in the all-inclusive way in which Smith does." Former Georgia Bulldog A.J. Green completes Cosell's top-five.
Tap a Keg: “I’m east bound just watch ‘ol Bandit run.” The Panthers with Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Cam Newton are a run first team leading in the league in rushing efficiency (per Pro Football Outsiders). Jonathan Stewart is the key cog in the Panthers’ attack grading out as Pro Football Focus' most elusive back of the last three seasons. PFF uses a formula that factors in missed tackles and production after contact to grade each player. Since the start of the 2009 season, Stewart's 58.8 rating paces the league. Fred Jackson, Michael Turner, Adrian Peterson, and Marshawn Lynch round out their top-five.
Ice Cold Draft: The aforementioned Luke Kuechly is the highest drafted linebacker from Boston College in school history. Bill Romanowski must be oh so proud as is BC homer Mike Mayock,"I call him Clark Kent, and he can turn into Superman on Saturdays and Sundays. He's one of the cleanest players in this draft. His instincts and his pass-coverage ability might be the best of any linebacker I've seen come out of the draft."
Stale Ale: After watching every 2011 snap taken by Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford, NFL Films guru Greg Cosell deemed them, "without any qualification," the two best young quarterbacks in the league. “The trick for Stafford was just staying healthy. For Newton, it involved transitioning from Auburn's option offense into Rob Chudzinski's pro-style scheme. "I watched every Newton snap in 2011, and the reality was he played exceptionally well from the pocket," Cosell wrote. "He was poised and composed, decisive and accurate. He stood tall and delivered the ball in the eye of the storm. He made difficult throws into tight coverage." So my question to Marty Hurney is why didn’t you get Cam some more weapons ya “barrel of monkey nuts!”
Bitter Beer Face: “Picked Off.” Nope I’m not talking about the Panthers’ lack of interceptions, but rather a show on the History channel about picking through garbage. Apparently a Panthers’ cheerleader was a guest “picker” on the show and had this to say about her love for “picking“, “It’s so much fun climbing over stuff, getting dirty and pulling something out of a pile of trash. You’re like 'Oh my gosh, look what I found.' It's a blast.” Damn, there’s some real “garbage” on TV isn’t there?
Bartender: Don’t let their 6-10 record fool you. The Panthers under first year head coach Ron Riviera played an entertaining brand of football and were highly competitive as they led in 14 games while six of their ten losses were by eight points or less. Despite the lockout and a raw, rookie quarterback under center, the Panthers finished 5th in the league in scoring and 7th in total yards. Simply a GREAT coaching job by offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Drinks are on Drama: A Cutty and water for Panthers’ GM Marty Hurney. I’m not a big fan of Hurney but I give him credit for saving his job with the drafting of Cam Newton. Newton played like the number one pick in the draft is supposed to, eclipsing Peyton Manning’s rookie record for passing yards with 4,051 while his 14 rushing touchdowns were more than any quarterback in the history of the league. Even more impressive to me was his 65 plays of 20+yards which compared favorably to the 69 posted by record setting passer Drew Brees.
The Hangover: The Panthers’ will look awfully similar to last year’s team as they return 20 of 22 starters. I’m not sure that’s such a good thing especially for a defense that finished 28th overall as well as 32nd in both pass and run efficiency. They also ranked last in net yards passing per play allowed last season. Despite their troubles on defense, the Panthers have their first difference maker in the 17 year history of the franchise and will ultimately go as far as Cam Newton takes them.
4.) Jack The Quaffer Buccaneers
Stout: “Duck or you’re gonna be talkin’ outta your assss!” The Bucs haven’t had an enforcer in the secondary since John Lynch left for Denver. Cue Drama favorite Mark Barron, the Bucs’ top draft pick this year. Gruden loved the pick saying, “This isn’t Mark Barron this is the Red Barron, he flies around and hits anything that wiggles” Added Gruden, “He’s one of those old school Denver Broncos safeties like Dennis Smith or Steve Atwater.” You better watch out Jimmy Graham… here comes the thunder!
On the Hops: Mike Williams caught the same 65 passes in 2011 as he did in 2010. He just didn’t do nearly as much with them. His per-catch average of 14.8 as a rookie made him a legitimate weapon. Clearly not giving 100%, Williams averaged just 11.9 yards this past season. Enter free agent Vincent Jackson and his career 17.4 yards per catch average to give quarterback Josh Freeman a legitimate #1 receiving option.
Tap a Keg: Better tap two kegs for these guys as Josh Freeman and his 9 fumbles (5 lost) and 22 interceptions made the offensive line look worse than they are. Help is on the way from free agent signee Carl Nicks who over the last three seasons with the Saints was called upon to pass block a league leading 1,959 times while giving up 53 quarterback pressures good enough to rank 6th among his peers.
Ice Cold Draft: Another underachieving Buccaneer last season was running back LeGarrette Blount who went from 1,007 yards in 2011 to just 781 yards last season. To serve as the Ray Rice of his offense, new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano traded up for the “Muscle Hamster”, Doug Martin, the first ever Boise St. running back drafted in the first round. Martin didn’t impress me against Georgia as the ‘Dawgs bad ass front seven held Martin to just 57 yards on 24 carries but Mayock likes him saying, “This makes a ton of sense. He's a three-down back. When I put the tape on, for 229 pounds, he's got a surprising burst. He's patient too behind the offensive line. I really like him."
Stale Ale: Yet another Tampa Buc who regressed last season is quarterback Josh Freeman. A year previously, Freeman looked like an emerging star, leading the Bucs to a 10 win season with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His eight comeback wins in the 4th quarter or overtime in his first two seasons is still a league record. This past season Freeman regressed terribly throwing for just 16 touchdowns to go with 22 interceptions, 9 of which were intended for the now departed Kellen Winslow Jr.
Bitter Beer Face: “Did you see that? They went right through our road block.” “You ‘sum bitches couldn’t close an umbrella!” The 2011 Buccaneers allowed 30.9 points per game the worst in team history. They also finished last in the NFL against the run and last with just 23 sacks which is hard to fathom given how many high draft picks the Bucs have used on the defensive line in recent drafts. So to help bolster their porous defense, the Bucs drafted arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the draft, Lavonte David. So Coach Gruden what do you think of David? “I don’t compare players to Derrick Brooks.” Ooookay, but do you like the pick? “I don’t compare players to Derrick Brooks.” Thanks Jon.
Bartender: Like me, Greg Cosell like Tampa’s hiring of Greg Schiano and likes the approach the Bucs are taking. “They are the polar opposite of the Eagles. Their draft told you how they see the world, and therefore how they want their team to look and play in 2012. New head coach Greg Schiano is old school, a believer in the principles that have defined football, in one way or another, since time immemorial. The Cliffs Notes version goes like this: You run the ball, you play physical defense, you limit mistakes and the result is an opportunity to win every game.”
Drinks are on Drama: A bottle of Barolo for Greg Schiano for signing defensive tackle Eric LeGrand who was paralyzed while covering a kickoff for Rutgers in 2010. “Leading up to the draft, I couldn’t help but think that this should’ve been Eric’s draft class," said Schiano. "This small gesture is the least we could do to recognize his character, spirit, and perseverance. The way Eric lives his life epitomizes what we are looking for in Buccaneer Men." Classy move coach…Salute!
The Hangover: As much as I like the hiring of Greg Schiano and some of the young talent on this Bucs team, they’re quitters. They got outscored by 207 points last season after I picked them to be a wild card team last season. The Bucs can at least say they won the offseason with the high priced signings of Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks, but as Daniel Snyder can attest, that doesn’t always add up to wins on Sundays.
“A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the decency to thank her.” - W. C. Fields