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TAMPA, Fla. -- Give the Tampa Bay Buccaneers credit for finally getting something right.

The team has struggled through a 1-5 start and hasn’t made the playoffs since last decade. But Saturday, the Bucs made the best move they’ve made in a very long time.

McCoy
McCoy
They signed All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to a seven-year contract extension worth $98 million. That makes McCoy the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, but he deserves every bit of it. He’s the best defensive tackle in the league and still has upside.

But McCoy is more than just a defensive tackle. He’s the leader of this franchise on and off the field. He recently has called himself out for not playing up to par and called the Bucs’ defense "soft." Those words mean a lot from McCoy because he has the résumé to back them up.

The McCoy extension is also a sign that coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht are going forward with their plan on how to build the Bucs. Smith has made it clear he wants to build a defense like the Bucs had in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

That’s when the Bucs had Warren Sapp at defensive tackle and Derrick Brooks at weakside linebacker. The new Bucs are in great shape at both of those positions with McCoy filling the Sapp role and Lavonte David drawing favorable comparisons to Brooks.

David is likely to get his contract extension after this season, and that will lock up the Bucs’ nucleus for the long term. Despite the team's record, Smith and Licht are going about things the right way. They’ve made sure their best player doesn’t get anywhere near free agency.

They still need another offseason of personnel moves to really be competitive, but the Bucs have made sure they’ve secured their main building block. McCoy is a leader on and off the field, and, if the Bucs can fill in some of the holes around him on defense, they can truly be like the Bucs of old.
TAMPA, Fla. -- After a full week of practice, Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown said he’s pleased with the progress of his injured right thumb.

 McCown has been out since suffering the injury in a Week 3 loss to Atlanta. He began practicing on Monday.

“It’s just been a day-to-day thing, and every day it feels a little bit better,’’ McCown said after Friday's practice. “It was good to get a little more work in this week and get a better feel for it.’’

All indications are that Mike Glennon will start Sunday’s game against Minnesota. But the big question is if McCown will be activated as the backup. McCown said that decision is up to coach Lovie Smith. But McCown said he’d be ready at any time.

“If I were to play at any time, I’d feel confident in playing,’’ McCown said. “Whether that’s this Sunday or a couple of Sundays from now -- any time you go on the field, you better feel confident in playing.’’

McCown, who still was wearing a wrap on his right hand, said he’s had to temper his enthusiasm about getting back on the field to avoid any setbacks.

“It’s hard not to want to push the gas on it and really throw yourself all into it,’’ McCown said. “It’s different than a leg injury or something like that. You can do everything else. You can take your drops. You can do everything but the main thing for a quarterback and that’s to throw. Being able to throw a little bit more this week has been helpful.’’

In other injury news, the Bucs are relatively healthy. Linebacker Brandon Magee (knee) has been ruled out for Sunday. Smith said all the team’s other injured players should be available.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is having a career season. The Seattle Seahawks are having a nightmarish season against tight ends.

On paper, this seems like an area the Panthers can exploit on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

Olsen won’t go that far.

“Teams happen to have hit some big plays to the tight end, but there’s nothing on tape that jumps out and says, ‘Oh, man, that’s something we have to attack,’ ’’ he said of facing Seattle.

Olsen
Olsen
The Seahawks have faced more than their share of Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends thus far. Among them are San Diego’s Antonio Gates and Denver’s Julius Thomas, who are tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with nine after Gates scored two against the Broncos on Thursday night.

But there’s no denying the tight end has been an effective weapon against the Seahawks. Seattle has given up a league-high eight touchdowns against tight ends and opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 99.1 -- only two teams have allowed a higher rating -- when throwing to the tight end.

Tight ends have a compiled completion percentage of 73.7 against Seattle, according to ESPN Stats and information. Only five teams have allowed a higher percentage.

San Diego, Denver and Dallas each had two or more touchdown passes to tight ends against Seattle. Gates had seven catches for 96 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 2 victory over the Seahawks.

Denver tight ends Thomas and Jacob Tamme scored a touchdown each against Seattle, as did Dallas’ Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar.

There’s every reason to think Olsen will be a major weapon on Sunday. He leads all NFL tight ends in receiving yards with 493 and is tied with Chicago’s Martellus Bennett for first in catches with 41.

Olsen is coming off a regular-season career-high 105 yards on eight catches in Sunday’s 38-17 loss to Green Bay. He also has five touchdown catches.

But Olsen isn’t predicting a monster game on Sunday.

“I don’t think there is anything that makes them susceptible," he said. “They’ve played some good guys. I don’t think that’s a weakness of theirs."
TAMPA, Fla. – If Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David and Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater cross paths on Sunday – which they almost certainly will – it won’t be the first time.

David
Bridgewater
When David was a senior at Miami’s Northwestern High, Bridgewater was a freshman there. With David playing a significant role, the school won a mythical national title. Bridgewater didn’t get to start until the next year, but David said he saw something special in the quarterback.

“From the time he was there we always knew he was going to be a superstar in the making," David said. “Great kid. Quiet, humble and a hard worker. I knew him quite a bit.

“I saw him my senior year when I was leaving out and got a chance to watch the spring game. All the old guys came back and we knew he was going to be the next starter at our high school."

David said he’s been impressed with the film he’s seen of Bridgewater this year.

“He’s trying to manage the game, trying to be careful with the football," David said. “He’s making his right reads. He’s just still trying to fit in. He’s doing good so far."

But David and his teammates will be looking to make Bridgewater look bad on Sunday. The defense has been taking a lot of criticism and is ranked last in the league. David, a team captain, said it’s time for the Bucs to get things right on defense.

“We’ve got to fix what we need to fix and that number will go down," David said. “We’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of skill. It’s about putting it all together and that’s what we’re trying to do coming off the bye week."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera turned on the film and liked what he saw. Players were swarming to the runner and pressuring the quarterback. They were making crisp, physical tackles and maintaining containment.

They were disciplined.

The Carolina Panthers coach was watching last year's opener against Seattle when the defenses for both teams looked special.

My how things have changed.

The Seahawks (3-3) and Panthers (3-3-1) finished last season ranked first and second in total defense. Heading into Sunday's rematch at Bank of America Stadium, the Seahawks look average.

[+] EnlargeRon Rivera
AP Photo/Bill HaberRon Rivera's defense has gone from from second in yards allowed per game in 2013 to 27th this season.
The Panthers look horrible.

"As a team, one side of the ball is who they are," Rivera said. "And they haven’t been that way, and neither have we."

Statistics support this. Seattle has gone from first in yards allowed per game to eighth; from first in points allowed to 19th; from first in quarterback pressure percentage to last; from first in opposing quarterback rating to 25th; and from tied for eighth in sacks to tied for 27th.

The Panthers have gone from second in yards allowed per game to 27th; from second in points allowed to 29th; from first in sacks to tied for 16th; from 12th in quarterback pressure percentage to 29th; and from seventh in opposing quarterback rating to 24th.

The points-allowed differential is staggering. Seattle has gone from surrendering 14.4 points a game to 23.5. Carolina has gone from giving up 15.06 points a game to 27.9.

In terms of defensive efficiency, Seattle has gone from first to last. Carolina has gone from third to 30th.

In case you're wondering what defensive efficiency is, here's the explanation from ESPN Stats & Information: It's expected points added (EPA) -- the sum of the differences between the expected points before the play and after the play, based on historical data.

For example, if you have a first-and-10 from the 25-yard line your EP is about plus-one. If you then complete a pass to your opponent's 1, your EP is about plus-six. So the EPA on that play is plus-five.

The simpler explanation: Carolina and Seattle have not been efficient.

It's hard to imagine another defensive struggle like they've had the past two seasons, Seattle winning 12-7 in 2013 and 16-12 the year before.

"We expected to really play lights-out defense, and I know that they did too," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "When it doesn't feel like that, it frustrates you. The coaches are all working hard, the players are all working hard, and everyone is busting their tails and it's not coming out exactly like you want.

"It's frustrating and it just generates -- I'm sure same as us -- a great focus to do better and clean things up and be more precise about the things we're doing."

Some things can be explained by changes in personnel. The Panthers are without sacks leader Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is heard. They also had to replace three-fourths of their secondary.

The Seahawks lost 11.5 sacks and 90 tackles from last year's line: defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant for salary-cap reasons and tackle Clinton McDonald in free agency. They lost cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond to free agency.

Then there's the opposition. Teams have figured out the best way to negate the pressure both teams get from their front four is by attacking with quick passes.

When asked the biggest difference between this year's team and the Super Bowl team, Carroll didn't hesitate.

"Really it’s the results of what's going on defense," he said.

The same for Rivera.

Going back and looking at last year's Seattle tape won’t solve all the issues, but it served as a good example of how the defense looked when playing sound fundamentals.

"It's just our defense flying to the ball," Carolina tackle Star Lotulelei said. "Everybody getting to the ball and finishing on plays. It's that simple. We looked at the film from last week (a 38-17 loss at Green Bay) and that was something that was missing. I don't know why it's been missing, but it has and that is what we need to get corrected."

Rivera hopes looking back will help the Panthers moving forward.

"Looking at last year's Seattle game helped us in terms of what we need to do, where we need to get to," he said. "There were a couple of technique things that you look at and say, 'Wow, I see this. We're not doing this. Let's take a look at that.'

"Just understanding what we need to do. Consistency is the name of the game, and we have not been that."

My how things have changed.
METAIRIE, La. -- Corey White is sporting a new look this week. The New Orleans Saints cornerback shaved off his familiar mohawk (which had gone through various shades of orange, gold, black and even pink for breast cancer awareness this year). White said it was "time for a change."

It's not hard to understand his mindset. The third-year pro has had some rough moments since taking over as a full-time starter in Week 2 -- none rougher than this past week, when he allowed Detroit Lions receiver Golden Tate to spring free for a 73-yard touchdown.

And White stressed that there is no more important trait for a cornerback than being able to move past those low points.

"It's about having short-term memory, play by play, game by game. You gotta let it go," said White, who insisted that's not just some cliché that's easier said than done. "At this point of your career it should be easy to move forward from. I'm not a rookie anymore. You've gotta be able to move forward."

It will be interesting to see if the Saints consider another change themselves, with previously-benched veteran Patrick Robinson coming back this week from a hamstring injury and rookies Brian Dixon and Stanley Jean-Baptiste having started to get their feet wet in the NFL.

None is an especially enticing option against the Green Bay Packers and their sizzling-hot passing offense, which will visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night.

But just like the corners themselves, the Saints need to keep the faith moving forward and hope to build off the progress their secondary showed in wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay and the first 56 minutes of the Detroit game.

"The big thing, and it's no different than the rest of our team, is looking for some consistency," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "You're mixing up coverages, so there's times where there's a little bit more stress on that position, and then there's times where maybe you're playing a cloud or safety help over the top. But everyone of us, we're all looking to have that consistency week in and week out."

At some point, the Saints might consider getting Jean-Baptiste more involved. But so far they've been treating their second-round draft pick out of Nebraska as more of a developmental prospect. And he was riding that same roller coaster with highs and lows in the preseason and training camp.

"He's a real raw guy. We got a raw kid, a piece of clay there, but he has a lot of ability," Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder last week. "These big corners are in vogue now because they do some many things to take away the vertical ball and things like that. We're excited about his progression. He's worked really hard, but again we took a piece of clay there and we're betting on the come with him."

Jean-Baptiste wound up playing his first eight snaps of the season at Detroit since Robinson was hurt and No. 1 cornerback Keenan Lewis left the game late in the fourth quarter with an injury.

Jean-Baptiste quickly got his welcome-to-the-NFL moment when he was part of the blown coverage on Corey Fuller's go-ahead 5-yard touchdown catch in the final minutes. Although Jean-Baptiste was covering Fuller to start the play, Payton alluded that there may have been a blown assignment elsewhere, saying, "There's more than just Stanley on that play."

"We've felt like he's come along in the kicking game, and we want to get him some work in the red zone," Payton said. "He's making progress and we've been encouraged with what he is doing."

As for Jean-Baptiste, he too said he's following the cornerback mantra of moving forward.

"That's something you've gotta know. If something happens, you've gotta forget about it and move on. If you let it linger on you, you're just gonna keep having bad plays," Jean-Baptiste said. "I feel like I'm getting better every day. Every time I come to work, I feel like I'm learning something new and just trying to put everything together."

Packers vs. Saints preview

October, 24, 2014
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Recent history suggests we could be in for a lot of points in prime time when the New Orleans Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The past three meetings between Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Packers counterpart Aaron Rodgers have averaged more than 70 points per game, with more than 2,000 total passing yards and a combined 19 touchdown passes.

For that trend to continue, the Saints need to recapture their missing mojo. While the Packers have been among the hottest teams in football during a four-game win streak, the Saints have been maddeningly up-and-down all season, even in their victories. New Orleans is 2-0 at home this year, though, and it has won 13 straight prime-time home games by nearly 20 points per game.

ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett and ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss this week's matchup:

Triplett: Rob, the Packers have always reminded me a lot of the Saints in that they look untouchable when their offense gets hot. Is their offense playing as well right now as it ever has in the Rodgers era?

Demovsky: It's close, Mike. But several players this week said they're still not quite to where they were in 2011 when, as offensive lineman T.J. Lang put it, they "could do whatever they wanted." But there's no question Rodgers is dialed in. His only interception, which came in the opener, went off the hands of Jordy Nelson. And here's why the offense might be close to resembling Rodgers' MVP season of '11: He's starting to spread the ball around more. The offense isn't just Nelson, like it was the first three weeks. In Sunday's win over the Panthers, Rodgers hit nine different receivers. That's the way he operated in 2011.

What's the difference with the Saints' offense right now than when it clicks like it has so often in the past?

Triplett: I'll give you the same answer. It's close. Brees and the Saints have still looked excellent at times, and they lead the NFL in yards per play. But they've shot themselves in the foot too much with a total of 12 turnovers and seemingly one bad stretch in every game. Sunday, Brees threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters at Detroit. Then they collapsed in the fourth quarter, including a really bad interception.

But all of the elements are still there. Brees has been mostly sharp and accurate with short passes, and he finally rediscovered the deep passing game Sunday. His biggest problem: He has thrown seven interceptions while under duress. The run game has been as good as ever during the Brees-Sean Payton era. They need Jimmy Graham healthy, but he's on the way. They need consistency more than anything else, and playing at home should help kick-start things.

What kind of a defense will the Saints be facing on Sunday night? Green Bay has reminded me of the Saints on that side of the ball with so much inconsistency over the years.

Demovsky: Up until Sunday against the Panthers, it was a defense that was reliant on taking the ball away. The Packers had 11 takeaways (including eight interceptions) in their four previous games but they finally played a solid defensive game where turnovers weren't the overriding difference. Yes, they did have one interception against Carolina, but it wasn't the reason they shut down Cam Newton & Co. The Packers forced three-and-outs on four of the Panthers' first five possessions. If there's an area where they're still a little shaky, it's against the run. They finally climbed out of last place in rushing defense, but not by much. They're 31st this week.

What's been the bigger issue for the Saints on defense: their secondary or their lack of a pass rush, which was supposed to be a strength?

Triplett: The two go hand in hand. The defensive line is a disappointment because, as you said, it was supposed to be a strength and the Saints are loaded with talent with outside linebacker Junior Galette and ends Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks. Instead, they've just been OK. But they remain the greatest reason for optimism, and they just played their best game last week at Detroit.

The secondary is a much bigger concern. Top cornerback Keenan Lewis remains excellent, but they've struggled badly at the No. 2 and No. 3 cornerback spots with a variety of players. They lost safety Jairus Byrd to a season-ending injury, and fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro has battled inconsistency and some uncharacteristic missed tackles. This matchup against Green Bay's offense is daunting, to say the least.

You mentioned that the Packers aren't relying solely on Nelson, which is interesting. The Saints have actually done an OK job keeping the most dangerous weapons in check (Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, etc.). But they've been in big trouble against deeper offenses like Atlanta's and Dallas' because they spread the Saints thin and burned them underneath. I know Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy could cause problems. Do they go even deeper than that?

Demovsky: The emergence of rookie receiver Davante Adams has gone a long way toward diversifying their offense. Even if teams want to sit back in Cover 2 and roll one safety toward Nelson and the other toward Cobb, they now have Adams, who has good size and speed. Rodgers has looked to him more often of late, and he has a touchdown catch in two of the past three games. If they can get their tight ends involved, then they might be virtually impossible to stop, but so far they haven't gotten much from that spot.

The Packers' two losses have come in loud environments -- at Seattle and at Detroit -- and the Superdome certainly fits into that category. Despite all of their struggles this season, why should the Packers be worried about playing the Saints down there?

Triplett: That could be the great equalizer for the Saints. They're much more dangerous at home -- and for some reason almost unstoppable in home night games. Obviously the atmosphere has a lot to do with it. It's truly one of the loudest venues in the league. And that helps both the offense and the defense quite a bit because of communication. Plus they've got the fast track to work with and no weather conditions, which suits their style (though it won't hurt Green Bay's offense). And players also said they get into the idea of playing in that prime-time showcase knowing everyone is watching. As Brees said, "You feel like you want to kind of back up the reason for them putting you on [that stage]."

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Debating who is better between Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers really isn’t a debate.

Statistically, Wilson wins almost every category.

Perhaps the debate should be on whether Wilson would have gotten a chance to develop into a Super Bowl winning quarterback had the Panthers drafted him in 2012 instead of Seattle.

Actually, that wouldn’t be much of a debate, either. The Panthers were and are committed to Newton.

Newton
Newton
Wilson
But Carolina did look at the quarterback it will face on Sunday as a potential backup for Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft. Panthers management believed Wilson’s running ability made him a good candidate to run a similar offense to Newton, should Newton get hurt.

The Panthers just weren’t willing to use a third-round pick on the 5-foot-11 dynamo, as Seattle did. They only were looking at him as a late-round pick if he fell that far.

So Wilson likely would have wasted away on the bench, just as he would have at New Orleans, Green Bay and San Diego, three other teams that showed interest before the draft.

“This league is like that, being in the right place at the right time," said Carolina backup quarterback Derek Anderson. “It’s not necessarily if you have the ability or don’t have the ability. I’ve got buddies that played just a couple of years in this league, but easily could have played 10.

“The situation by him going there worked perfect."

It worked out well for both teams. Newton has been a two-time Pro Bowl selection, leading Carolina to a 12-4 record last season. Wilson is a two-time Pro Bowl pick with a Super Bowl ring.

“I remember the Carolina Panthers talking to me and the GM and the coaching staff and all that in terms of trying to bring me in for the Panthers," Wilson recalled. “Obviously, I wanted to play. I believed that my height didn’t define my skill set.

“It has worked out well for me. Just to be in the NFL is an amazing thing; you don’t take that for granted."

Wilson has a 27-11 record as a starter, including a victory over Denver in the Super Bowl. Newton has a 27-26-1 record and is 0-1 in the playoffs.

Wilson has completed 64 percent of his career passes for 62 touchdowns. Newton is at 59.9 percent for 72 touchdowns in 16 more starts.

Newton’s biggest edge over Wilson is in rushing touchdowns. He has 29 to Wilson’s eight. The Panthers use Newton more on goal-line runs because of his size.

But in terms of rushing average, Wilson is at 5.9 yards per attempt to Newton’s 5.5.

Many will say they are the same player – minus six inches in height – because they both run. But Wilson picks up more of his rush yards off scrambling. Newton has more plays designed for him to run out of the read option.

“Some of the things that he does I don’t necessarily try to do, just because of the size difference he has over me," Wilson said.

Newton says Wilson is fun to watch, but reiterates they’re two different players. Wilson has a lot of admiration for Newton.

That the two never competed for a spot is a plus.

“A lot of times you get picked wherever somebody takes you, and for me, I was prepared to go wherever," Wilson said. “But I just believed that where I was selected I was going to make 31 other teams regret it, and that was my mindset.”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly says he didn’t get a personal apology from the league, which has admitted it made a mistake when referees ejected the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year from Sunday’s 38-17 loss at Green Bay.

Kuechly
That wasn’t his goal.

“I didn’t get fined," Kuechly said on Thursday, his first public comment on the league admitting a mistake was made. “That was the big news, and that’s what I was hoping for, so that made me happy."

“It put a big smile on my face, and that’s all I could really hope for."

Kuechly swung his arm as he was being restrained from behind by back judge Steve Freeman with 1:39 left in the third quarter.

Kuechly said he wasn’t aware it was Freeman that grabbed him, adding he simply was trying to free himself from the scrum when he made contact with the official. He said there was no malicious intent or attempt to make contact with an official.

Coach Ron Rivera said the league contacted him on Tuesday to say Kuechly shouldn’t have been ejected and that he wouldn’t be fined.

“What it came down to was I didn’t get fined, and I appreciate that," Kuechly said. “I was hoping for one thing and one thing only, and not to get fined. I’m very pleased with that."
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints re-discovered their downfield passing game last week, with receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills both gaining more than 100 receiving yards in a 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Stills
 
Colston
 If that’s a sign of things to come, the Saints’ offense could indeed be ready to start rolling, as quarterback Drew Brees and others have suggested. That was the one missing element earlier this season, as they’ve been very efficient with the shorter passes and run game. Turnovers have obviously been a huge problem, as well, with seven interceptions and five lost fumbles. But the Saints actually lead the NFL in yards per play (6.3).

“That just showed we have a bright, young corps,” said Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, who had a quiet game at Detroit but has quickly emerged as a big part of New Orleans’ offense. “It’s getting close to where they really start having to pick their poison because Kenny went off, Colston went off, and I’ve had a couple of good games. Jimmy [Graham] has done his thing.

“I feel like it’s getting close to us just busting out.”

Although Colston struggled early this season with a fumble, dropped passes and even a rare game where he wasn’t targeted once, there was little doubt that the Saints would continue to rely on him.

Colston once again emerged as Brees’ go-to guy at Detroit -- on a day when Graham was limited by a shoulder injury and the Saints’ run game was limited by Detroit’s stingy defensive front.

Colston caught six passes for 111 yards, his first 100-yard game since Week 1.

“He’s one of the most consistent guys I’ve ever played with, continues to be,” Brees said. “I don’t know his statistics this year, I know he’s coming off a 100-yard game. I know that I’m always looking for him. And so there may be those times where, hey, he’s not getting it as much as he has in the past or on a consistent basis as he has in the past, but it’s by no means an indication of anything.

“I can just tell you right now I look to him as much or more than I always have.”

Stills also had a big game, catching five passes for 103 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown.

The Saints would still like to hit on a few more of those “shot” plays they’ve missed on to Stills, Robert Meachem and others.

Cooks could become a factor in that department, too. Despite his blazing speed, most of his touches have come on shorter routes and run plays so far. But he showed that ability in training camp, and coach Sean Payton said some of it has just been circumstance this year.

“He’s been on some that weren’t thrown that way,” Payton said. “He’s someone that we certainly feel like has deep speed, and we can get the ball too down the field.”
Surprisingly, Atlanta Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox didn’t resort to foul language in describing the play of his unit thus far.

Cox, however, is far from satisfied with the effort. And he primarily pointed to one person in particular.

"Not good enough," Cox said. "At the end of the day, I’ve got to coach it better.

[+] EnlargePaul Soliai and Tyson Jackson
Jason Getz/USA TODAY SportsPaul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were signed as free agents to shore up Atlanta's run defense, but the D-line has continued to struggle.
"We’ve got to play together better. And we have to do a better job in order to help us be successful."

The lack of pressure up front has been one of the biggest issues plaguing the 2-5 Falcons as they prepare to face capable Matthew Stafford and the 5-2 Detroit Lions on Sunday in London. The Falcons have allowed an NFL-high 8.3 yards per dropback. They are tied for 27th in the league with just seven sacks and are tied for 29th in sacks per pass attempt.

"I don’t get caught up in [statistics]," Cox said. "At the end of the day, we have a job to do. At the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses. And right now, we don’t have enough wins.

"To get caught up in the reason behind on dropbacks and this and that … at the end of the day, let’s do a better job and find a way to win some games. If you do that, I think we’ll all be happy and nobody will pay attention to the numbers. Sometimes, numbers don’t mean a whole lot."

It does mean something, however, when opposing quarterbacks get all day to find their receivers. And it means something when defensive back have to defend down field for an inordinate amount of time or have to resort to holding because there is no push up front.

The 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons through seven games have had a lot to do with the lack of pressure up front. That number of plays could increase on Sunday, particularly if Lions standout receiver Calvin Johnson returns from an ankle injury and the Falcons fail to get pressure on Stafford.

Cox singled out Jonathan Massaquoi and Corey Peters as two players who have made strides as pass-rushers. Their contributions haven’t been nearly enough to compensate for the struggles.

"We’ve got to do a better job collectively: me coaching; them playing," Cox said. "And we’ve got to stick together because it’s a point in time when people want to start pointing fingers. But as a person who has been a competitor at this level and a person that has coached at this level and played at this level, the teams that find a way to stick together and come together are the teams that usually find a way to have success and get out of slumps.

"It ain’t a surprise to any of us that people are calling us out for not doing well. We’re not doing a good enough job."

That carries over into the run defense as well. There have been a handful of times when defensive linemen have been out of their gaps, leading to big run plays. The Falcons are 27th in run defense, allowing 137.7 rushing yards per game.

The free-agent additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were expected to help the Falcons stuff the run. Such hasn’t been the case, at least not consistently. Both Soliai and Jackson have talked about being disappointed with their respective performances.

"We don’t talk about the things that we can do better," Cox said in reference to the specific shortcomings for Soliai and Jackson. "What they do well is they eat blocks. They take double-teams. Anytime you see our linebackers have success with 14, 15 double-digit tackles, that means that (Soliai and Jackson) are doing their jobs. We’ve had some games where Paul Worrilow has had some double-digit tackles.

"When you (take on blocks), you sacrifice yourself for the good of the team. They eat double-team blocks. Their numbers are not what some people would want. They’ve never been pass-rushers. Their job is to eat blocks, and they’ve done a good job with that."
METAIRIE, La. -- Eric Olsen was admittedly frustrated when the New Orleans Saints released him last season after he suffered a Lisfranc foot injury in the summer that sidelined him for about two months. But the journeyman guard/center said he understood the "business side" of the decision.

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Goodwin
Olsen said Wednesday that he felt even better about it when the Saints brought him back this week when they needed depth in the wake of starting center Jonathan Goodwin's knee injury.

"I always had the feeling they still liked me here, and it was an injury-related thing that ended up happening. And it was good to know that I wasn't just imagining that, and that they still know what I can do and still feel comfortable enough to bring me back," said Olsen, who spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans over the past year, but didn’t crack the active rosters.

The Saints have not offered any updates on the severity of Goodwin’s injury, which he suffered during last Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions. But it appears to be a good sign that the Saints haven’t placed Goodwin on injured reserve. In the meantime, they trust second-year pro Tim Lelito as his replacement. Lelito, who lost a close battle to Goodwin for the starting job this summer, has played well in three appearances this season after Goodwin went down with three separate injuries.

In another roster move Wednesday, the Saints brought back rookie linebacker Todd Davis to their practice squad. Davis was activated for one game, but was released after he made his NFL debut as a backup and special teamer last Sunday.
TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson reportedly is drawing heavy interest from around the league as Tuesday’s trading deadline approaches.

Several media outlets have reported the Bucs have been getting a lot of calls about Jackson. But coach Lovie Smith said Jackson is not being shopped around the league.

“In this business, those things get talked about quite often," Jackson said. "Each and every year there are going to be guys [who] are moved around different teams. I’m not surprised by it. Obviously, I appreciate, I guess, the interest. But I’m happy here in Tampa. I’ve heard nothing here that would suggest that I’m going anywhere. So I’m just going to let that pass on and keep doing my job.

It would be understandable if Jackson, 31, wanted to go to a playoff contender. But Jackson said Thursday he wants to stay in Tampa. Even though the Bucs are off to a 1-5 start, Jackson said he believes things will turn around under Smith, who is in his first season, and the Bucs soon will be winners.

“That’s exactly what I want to do here. I think bringing Lovie in and the staff that he’s brought and his mentality and his goals are aligned with mine and I think a lot of guys in this locker room. I hope for us to start the tradition here of winning football in Tampa Bay. I hope to stay in this uniform and this jersey and help bring that.’’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton doesn't plan to be an "idiot" when it comes to attacking Seattle's Richard Sherman on Sunday.

Newton also doesn't plan to avoid arguably the best cover cornerback in the NFL.

"If the play is called for me to read it to Richard's side, by all means I'm going to do it," Newton said Wednesday. "And I'm going to give each and every receiver an opportunity to make plays.

"I'm not going to force it. I'm not going to be an idiot. I'm going to do a great job of protecting the football and be aggressively patient in taking what the defense gives me."

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)Richard Sherman will have to work on Sunday, although Cam Newton says he won't force passes Sherman's way.
Although ESPN Stats & Information doesn't track how many times individual corners have been targeted, it does have numbers showing that quarterbacks have successfully thrown to the right side of Seattle's formation -- where Sherman plays -- more this season.

Seattle's opponents already have as many touchdowns (6) throwing to that side as they did in 2014. There has been only one interception to that side, compared to 12 last year.

Completion percentage is up, too -- 69.1 percent in 2014 compared to 55.1 percent last year. Passer ratings to that side have increased from 49.7 percent to 88.9.

The biggest exception was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had only 6 passing yards to the right side in a 36-16 loss to Seattle in Week 1.

In Week 2, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw to Sherman's side because he believed wide receiver Keenan Allen could win some of those one-on-one battles. Allen had five catches for 55 yards in San Diego's 30-21 victory.

In Week 6, the Dallas Cowboys threw to Dez Bryant on that side in their 30-23 victory, although Sherman moved around more in that game. Bryant was targeted 10 times. He caught four passes for 63 yards.

In all likelihood, Sherman will draw rookie Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin a lot on Sunday. At 6-foot-3, Sherman will be the biggest defensive back the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin has matched up against this season.

Benjamin doesn't appear concerned.

"You can tell he loves the game," said Benjamin, whose 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns lead all Carolina wide receivers. "He brings the passion to it. He has fun. He talks a lot of smack out there, but this is football.

"I'm just going to come out there and match his intensity, play fast and be sound in all my assignments."

While the "smack" might bother some receivers, Benjamin welcomes it.

"I might come off a little harder and block him a little harder, but that's on him -- how much he talks," he said.

Talking is a big part of Sherman's game. He said on live TV after last season's NFC Championship Game that he's "the best corner in the game."

Carolina cornerback Josh Norman says you need that kind of confidence to play the position.

"As an analyst looking in, you probably think, 'OK, that guy. He's always talking. He's cocky. He has a big mouth,'" Norman said. "But at the same time, when you're looking at 4.3 [speed] guys in front of your face running down the field, what are you going to do?

"I hope you're going to be cocky. I hope you have some kind of moxie about yourself. If you don't, you're just going to get torched."

But avoiding Sherman isn't part of Carolina's game plan. Newton understands that to beat the Seahawks, you have to attack not only him, but the entire secondary.

"They have a very dominant secondary, physical secondary that does not hesitate to come downhill and play with reckless abandon and do bodily harm to the opposing team," Newton said. "As a fan of the game, you kind of like watching that from your TV.

"But when you're out there playing the game, you've got to make sure your chin strap is tightened up a little tighter and [you] understand executing the game plan is going to be at a premium this week more than any other week."
Tony Dungy thinks New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees could “take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ book” and needs to relax.

Brees
 “Their defense is not holding leads, they're giving up some big plays. So Drew is feeling like, ‘I gotta score every time I've got the ball,’” Dungy said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show Tuesday. “‘Now I’m getting rushed a little bit, the pressure's around me. And rather than throw the ball away and punt, or rather than just take the checkdown and let my backs work with it, I've gotta try to make something happen because I'm worried about the defense.’ And he’s throwing interceptions at inopportune times I think because of that.

“So they just need to relax, let their playmakers play, and they’re gonna be fine. They play better at home. This is one of those statement games [Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers]. In my opinion, they have to win this game if they want to be a playoff team.”

Dungy’s take on the Saints has become a popular one in the wake of some of Brees’ costliest interceptions over the past two games against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees has been sharp in several areas this season, but he has struggled when trying to force the ball out under duress. According to ESPN Stats and Info, he has the NFL’s worst passer rating this season while under pressure.

However, Brees, coach Sean Payton and teammates like offensive tackle Zach Strief have all agreed with Dungy’s assessment that, “They’re going to be fine.”

They feel -- and I agree -- that Brees is the least of the Saints’ worries going forward and their best chance of leading them back into contention.

Also worth a click:

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter points out that the Saints still have a good shot at winning the NFC South, where no team is above .500 right now in this piece that requires Insider access.

ESPN Stats and Information took a look at how in sync Rodgers is with his receivers right now.

For all your Packers news and notes this week, check out their ESPN.com team page. And follow Packers reporter Rob Demovsky on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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