NFC South Report Card: Weeks 3-4

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The NFC South has proven to be an interesting division in the NFL through the first four weeks. The Buccaneers are in first place being led by Tom Brady. New Orleans, tied for second, follows close behind on the arm and mind of Drew Brees. Teddy Bridgewater started slow but has his Carolina Panthers tied for second, and looking like they can be competitive. Last, and certainly least, are the winless Falcons. Not much can be said about the Falcons, who have continually commanding leads. In this NFC South Report Card, we’ll take a more in-depth look at how these teams stack up.

Buccaneers

Graded by Drew Mitty

QB Grade: B+

Tom Brady, had 8 TDs and only 1 INT in his last two games. There are three impressive takeaways to Brady’s performances. First, TB12’s distribution to so many different receiving targets. In the game against the feisty Chargers, Brady threw 5 TDs to five receivers (2 TEs,2 WRs,1 RB). Second, his consistent improvement every game since the opening week #1 loss to the Saints. More accurate and developing rapport with his new receivers. Third, leading a comeback from 24-7 to reclaim the lead against the Los Angeles Chargers. Why just a B+ in this bi-weekly NFC South Report Card? He did not have to be great to beat a depleted DEN team, who is missing Von Miller, among others. Brady also threw another pick-six, an amount now giving him an alarming four pick-sixes in six games. With elite competition, the Buccaneers cannot suffer those turnovers and remain a factor.

RB Grade: B+

Ronald Jones is starting to prove he can be an every-down back in the last two contests against Denver and Los Angeles. With Leonard Fournette sidelined, Jones broke some terrific runs against the Chargers at 21 carries for 111 yds and 5.5 YPC. However his deficiencies as a reliable pass catcher and blocker are glaring, and he is still learning on the job.

WR/TEs Grade: A

Brady is developing terrific chemistry with Mike Evans and Scotty Miller. Though he has a conspicuously banged-up ankle, Evans showed poise and concentration leading to 3 tds in the last two games. HC Bruce Arians has been trying to get TE OJ Howard more targets. Howard scored a TD on a beautiful throw by TB12 against the Chargers. Unfortunately, Howard tore his Achilles and will be out for the season. Not bad to have Cameron Brate and Gronk there to step in to continue production.

OL Grade: B+

Other than Shelby Harris of Denver registering two sacks, the line has been doing a great job protecting Tom Brady. C Ryan Jensen sets the tone with nastiness and grit, and the line was run blocking well in week 4 against Los Angeles. TB’s offensive line is finally getting visibly better, and rookie RT Tristan Wirfs looks like a fixture there.

DL Grade: B-

Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh have anchored the interior line of the Bucs. They are getting a push upfront and not giving any big running plays.

Edge rushers Grade: C+

Shaq Barret has three sacks in two games after recording no sacks against Carolina and New Orleans. Jason Pierre-Paul has looked explosive in recent weeks. Still, Justin Herbert got off for some huge downfield completions because the pressure from the edge has been inconsistent.

LB Grades: A

Levante David won NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. Teamed with budding star Devin White, they are making plays on the second level.

Secondary Grade: C-

This unit is young and maturing. At times, Jordan Whitehead and Carlton Davis looked awful. Chargers’ rookie QB, Justin Herbert, exposed them to the deep ball. The secondary needs to improve if they want to compete for the top of the NFC South.

Panthers

Graded by Drew Mitty

QB Grade: B+

With a Rookie HC Matt Ruhle from Baylor, McCaffery on IR, and no preseason, one would expect a lot of dysfunction with the Panthers. However, Teddy Bridgewater is a cool-in-the-pocket stabilizing influence that uses his weapons well. Carolina is looking balanced on offense, and Bridgewater is looking like a great bargain. With 48 completions in 65 pass attempts, 511 YDs passing, and 3 TDs to 1 INT ratio, Bridgewater keeps the Panthers in games and led them to an upset win over the Cardinals in week 4.

RB Grade: B-

Mike Davis made a good impression at training camp with Carolina. Davis has been given an opportunity to get most of the carries with Christian McCaffrey on IR. At 5’9″ 220, Davis is running hard behind a good offensive line. He had 82 yards and 1 TD against Arizona and helped keep Carolina balanced between run and pass. Despite All-Everything-Back McCaffery being out, the Panthers’ offense was effective in the running game.

WR/TEs Grade: B+

Robby Anderson is consistently proving he is a #1 receiver. He is sixth in both receiving yards and completions in the NFL after the first quarter of the season. DJ Moore is a great complementary target, who can be a #1 receiver when he has the opportunity, and the Panthers passing game is clicking nicely. This combination gives a good grade for the NFC South Report Card.

OL Grade: B+

This line is overachieving in a big way during the last two weeks. Bridgewater’s mobility and decision-making are helping him elude the pass rush and he only got sacked once the last 2 weeks. Some credit must go to this athletic offensive line. The line is creating holes and playing as a unit. Ranked 17th in many season previews, the Panthers OL is playing above that mark.

DL Grade: B-

The Panthers’ defensive front has been substantial. They have youth on defense, and their DT has done a good job of containment. They have improved as an entire defensive unit and that starts up front. Over 30 points allowed in the first two weeks has been turned into a manageable 18.5 points per game allowed in weeks 3 and 4 keeps them competitive.

Edge rushers Grade: D+

The pass rush has been a weak link for Carolina. It’s not that they aren’t flushing the QB out of the pocket and getting some pressure, but they are not scaring anyone and getting to the opposition’s QB enough to record sacks.

LB Grades: C+

In his sixth season, Shaq Thompson is becoming a leader and a top performer on the Panthers’ defense. With over 100 tackles last year, he could surpass that in 2020.

Secondary Grade: C

This unit has been giving up yardage by the mile. Some would say the secondary is bending and not breaking. Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray moved the ball well against Carolina’s secondary. Kyler netted 3 TD passes alone. Still, they are developing as a unit in a landscape where many teams have a secondary that is an awful liability.

Saints

Graded By Zach Murphy

QB Grade: A

You can never say enough about Drew Brees. In weeks 3 and 4, Brees has been consistent with an 88 QBR and has thrown for a combined 5 TDs with only 1 INT. Brees remains calm and confident in the pocket and has continued to lead his Saints to 2 more 30+ point games. Brees remains top tier in the NFC South and NFL.

RB Grade: A

Weeks 3 & 4 have shown a backfield by committee for New Orleans. Murray and Kamara have almost mirror images of each other as far as the rushing attack is concerned but have still scored high in the NFC South Report Card. This may be a little concerning, as better production is to be expected out of Kamara. A combined 286 yds rushing through the last two weeks is nothing to be upset about, not to mention their backfield’s heavy and instrumental use in the passing game.

WR/TEs Grade: B

This is a group that has been giving solid production for New Orleans. It’s hard to positively grade a receiving corps that has, at times, been led by an RB. In this case, it is more by design than by necessity. Still, the WRs and TEs have been performing well and have been giving Brees solid targets to hit.

OL Grade: B+

Their backfield production and limited sacks allowed are the the product of good offensive line play. They have only allowed 2 sacks in each of the last two games. The line has also allowed their RBs to have solid games by opening running lanes in the defense. There have been very few mental errors and missed assignments with this unit

DL Grade: C

The defensive line for the Saints is a very forgettable group. They have merely done average in these last two games. Their only claim to fame is that they have held both the Packers and Lions to sub 100 yd rushing games. On the flip side, they have recorded only 1 sack and haven’t shown that they are a true force to be reckoned with.

Edge rushers Grade: C

With no sacks against Aaron Rodgers and only two against Mathew Stafford, this group finds themselves average. The edge-rushers will have to increase their motor if they want to lead their team to a deep postseason run.

LB Grades: C+

The linebackers for the Saints could use some improvement, but they aren’t the worst out there. They do far better in run support than they do in pass coverage. These last two weeks have recorded only 1 sack and have allowed Stafford and Rodgers to throw anywhere they want. The second level of New Orleans defense has helped contain the ground game, despite their issues in the air.

Secondary Grade: D

No one expects any secondary to shut down QBs like Rodgers or Stafford completely, but they are expected to show up and perform much better. Allowing 3 passing touchdowns per game is doing a huge disservice to their team. At this point, offensive coordinators don’t have much to worry about when game planning for this corps.

Falcons

Graded by Zach Murphy

QB Grade: C

Is it time we consider Matt Ryan as only average? This installment of NFC South Report Card answers yes. Nothing jumps off the page when looking at his stat lines and his game film does little more to impress viewers. Ryan hasn’t lost any games this season, but he definitely hasn’t won any for the winless Falcons. He’s not all to blame for their last-place standing in the NFC South.

RB Grade: B-

Todd Gurley leads this backfield for Atlanta. Gurley finds himself as only good through these last two weeks. In weeks 4 & 5, Gurley has combined for 3 TDs, 137 yds, and his longest run has only been for 16 yds. Good, but lackluster, is the overall grade for Gurley and his backfield.

WR/TEs Grade: D-

In week 3 the Falcons’ receiving corps combined for 238 yds and 1 TD. In week 4 they had 285 yds and 0 TDs. Disappointing is the only word that comes to mind for these pass catchers. Yet another blown lead followed by no meaningful production is all you need to know.

OL Grade: D

Keeping Matt Ryan upright has been difficult. Through the last two weeks, the Falcons’ line has surrendered 6 sacks and has their QB looking uncomfortable in the pocket. The line has also failed to provide consistent running lanes for their backfield. Despite early leads, this group shows an inconsistency that plagues Atlanta at large.

DL Grade: D

Atlanta’s defensive line has only recorded 1 sack in the last two weeks and surrendered 130 yds rushing against the Bears alone. They put up a better performance against the Packers, but that doesn’t say much as the Packers still rely heavily on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. Late collapses continue to mare this group.

Edge rushers Grade: F

Only two sacks against Trubisky, while he was still in, and 1 against Rodgers. This group allowed backup QB Nick Foles to feel comfortable enough in the pocket to launch a comeback and win. They also allowed Rodgers to do anything he wanted Monday night. No quarterback feels the need to worry when staring down this defensive front.

LB Grades: F

Not only has the linebacking corps failed to protect the defensive backfield, but they have crumbled when the game was on the line. It’s not a good thing when your calling card is late-game collapses. The Falcons hope for an improvement from this group on the next NFC South Report Card.

Secondary Grade: F+

There’s only one reason for the plus, 2 INTs against the Bears in week 3. However, that has been against career backup Nick Foles and first-round bust Mitchell Trubisky. That’s the only positive thing that can be said about Atlanta’s secondary unit, 2 INTs against subpar QBs.