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Tdwii's Divisional Observations: Week 1


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Tampa Bay – Greg Schiano knew that if he was going to implement a smashmouth style of football in Tampa, Step 1 was going to be to completely revamp his defense. I spent a good part of the late afternoon watching the Panthers/Bucs game and there was a night and day difference between the team we saw last year that lack direction and focus and this years bunch. This team realizes that 2011 is in the past and while they are a far from being termed a playoff contender, what is clear is that this franchise is back on track in terms of being back on plan. With that said, I still wasn’t all that impressed with Josh Freeman. Let’s remember, Carolina’s defense was nothing to write home about and yet Freeman was quite pedestrian. He didn’t put the Bucs in any compromising positions… but save for a play here or there, didn’t create a heck of a lot of opportunity either. Doug Martin ran hard, but he’s got about 10-15 pounds to go before he looks like Ray Rice. Rice is built like a bigger Jacquizz Rodgers. Martin seems more like a bigger Warrick Dunn. What is clear is that is a team that knows success will only come with over-achievement. It’s not a recipe for long term success, but it’s a nice foundation by which to build a nice start.

With that said, the Bucs face a similar quandary as a lot of teams. They have a guy who they’ve tabbed to be their franchise QB and this is Year 4 for Freeman and I get the sense that he is still being handled with kid gloves. He’s doing the right things – he works hard and it would appear the physical talent is there. I just don’t get the feeling yet that he’s the guy.

Carolina Panthers – On the other end of the spectrum, how does an offense with Cam Newton generate 10 yards rushing? Tampa was admittedly focused on stopping all aspects of the Panthers run game. But, for as much urgency as Tampa played with, Carolina seemed to sleepwalk through this game. And this is the danger building a team around Cam Newton. It’s not a reflection on Cam who remains an incredible threat, but I got the sense that this was a team waiting around for Newton to do something. It’s a lot to place on his shoulders and what it also seems to reap is a propensity for Newton to press and create dumb plays. You can argue that the first INT was not his fault as the ball hit off Brandon LaFell’s hands and ricocheted into Ronde Barber’s. But the ball was thrown into triple coverage…and the second INT was simply a poor decision altogether.

Newton’s biggest weakness IMO is his propensity to sulk amidst adversity. For as wonderful a talent as he is, he has to do a better job of internalizing his emotions and not having them rub off on teammates. Cam was clearly frustrated all day and quite frankly – so were the Panthers it seemed. I’m projecting here, but until Cam learns emote more calmly in these situations – Carolina while still being a dangerous team, will also be inconsistent.

New Orleans – Perhaps the most shocking result of Week 1. In 6 seasons as the Saints starting QB, only 13 times did Drew Brees post a completion percentage lower than 60%. Never had he dropped below 50%. At 46.2% in Brees first game of the post-Payton era…it’s fair to wonder what the ultimate impact will be now of Payton’s full year absence. Now, I expect that Brees and New Orleans will get the ship righted. And the Redskins defense is one of the more underrated units in the NFL so the Saints struggles shouldn’t be explained away solely due to poor execution. But 0 carries for Darren Sproles? A 54-10 pass:run ratio? It’s a testament to the Saints that they still put up 32 points in what they would say was one of their worst efforts in recent memory. But consistent offensive execution has been a franchise hallmark with Brees at the helm and some of that consistency simply emanates from having a guy like Payton – the brainchild of this offense and organization being present. New Orleans isn’t in danger of going 6-10. And they were prone to similar stinkers in years past as well (2011 L – STL; 21-31; 2010 L – CLE; 17-30; 2010 L – ARI; 20-30). But the little time I was watching this game – the Saints felt disjointed. This will pass, they are too good of a team not have this affect them over the course of the season. But even New Orleans fans have to wonder how sometimes these stinkers pop-up for a team that on the surface seems too good to have them.

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