Biggest Concerns FOR NFC South Teams

By Steve Moore

Answering the question marks of your team is part of being a good team. Can the NFC South find the answer to their question marks?

We are through three weeks of the pre-season and while we have one game to go, outside of about two or three guys on the roster, most teams do not actually learn anything in the fourth game.

However, the preseason has identified some potential weaknesses for NFL teams. Some of these are just products of preseason tinkering but some may boil down to something deeper. After the first three weeks of the preseason, what one thing will be playing on the minds of each of NFC South teams?

This Buccaneers O-Line is still REALLY bad

Any Buccaneers fan will tell you that the offensive line has been a problem for a very long time. All casual fans need to do is look at the Madden 20 ratings to see that the Bucs have a 68-rated starting left tackle and a 64-rated starting left guard. Even by the new standard of stretched ratings, that’s bad.

So, how did the Bucs have the number one passing offense in terms of yards last year?

The answer to that can be found on Gamepass and the All-22 footage. The reason for the success of the offense was the use of a lot of max protection plays last season to counteract the weakness.

Bruce Arians’ playbook basically does not use max protection. It’s all about giving more options in the passing game and placing more strain on the offensive line. The Cleveland Browns defense proved the folly of that in week three of the pre-season. If your quarterback is getting hit 12 times per game, as happened against the Browns, then it doesn’t matter who is under centre. This was not a case of backups getting beaten up either; the first team offense was in until halftime. At which point the Bucs had precisely zero points and given up five sacks on Jameis Winston.

A fix is needed and quickly.

The Panthers have multiple QB problems

Pre-season had two major wants in Charlotte under centre. The first was that they got to see the kind of power in Cam Newton’s shoulder that at least showed the latest surgery might have worked to at least the point that Taylor Heinicke would not have to replace him in a Hail Mary situation. Meanwhile, the second is that third-round pick, Will Grier, would at least show enough that if Can Newton had to come off the field at any point, he would not be replaced by Taylor Heinicke.

Yes, basically a lot of the pre-season was about NOT having the possibility of Taylor Heinicke being on the field in a Panthers uniform come the regular season.

In that aim, they could not have failed more dramatically. Not only is Heinicke the only Panthers passer to have a positive TD/INT ratio this pre-season but with Cam Newton suffering a completely separate injury, this time to his ankle, he may end up being the Panthers Week 1 starter at this point.

So what about Will Grier? Well, his performances have actually been so bad that various Panthers wires are suggesting that the only reason Grier makes the Week 1 roster is that they don’t want to take the risk of losing a third-round pick by trying to stash him on the practice squad!

Atlanta repeating the Buccaneers mistakes

A decade ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut Matt Bryant for no other reason than they wanted to spend less money on a kicker. Since then, they have had constant problems finding anyone to be even serviceable as a kicker.

This was no more highlighted than with the entire Roberto Aguayo fiasco.

This off-season, after spending that entire decade making the Buccaneers pay twice a year for that decision, the Falcons looked at Matt Bryant’s contract and decided that the $3 million he was due in 2019 and the $4 million he was due in 2020 would be better served elsewhere on the roster.

Handing the reigns to Giorgio Tavecchio, who filled in for Bryant for three games last year due to a hamstring tear (one of only two injuries that Bryant had in his entire Falcons career), the Milan-born kicker has had a pre-season that makes $4 million for reliable kicking look cheap at twice the price.

Handed the starting job without any competition, the Italian has managed to go just 4 for 8 with his field goal attempts this pre-season with a long of just 38 yards. After completing that set with a 39-yard miss against Washington on Thursday, he was gone.

Sure they have brought in a decent kicker in Blair Walsh, but the kicking game relies on the relationship between long snapper, holder and kicker. To be changing it this close to the season will make it very difficult to find any kind of rhythm.

Taysom Hill can play Quarterback

It says something about the state of the New Orleans Saints that their biggest problem is that someone CAN play quarterback, but it just shows up how positive things are down on the Bayou right now.

It will be a problem though. Maybe not in the short-term, but at some point, Taysom Hill is going to have to decide whether he wants to attempt to be a bonafide NFL QB or if he is happy being Sean Payton’s gadget man.

And make no mistake, this pre-season has shown is that Hill has got the tools to be a genuine full-time passer, at least at the backup level. Sure, Sean Payton’s references to Steve Young are likely to be over the top but Hill has shown poise, awareness, arm strength and decision-making that are light-years ahead of other guys competing for NFL jobs, including the above mentioned Will Grier.

The biggest issue for the Saints will be what to do with him. After week 2 of the pre-season, some Saints fans wanted Bridgewater out the door and Hill to step up to backup now. A much improved performance against the Jets by the former Viking has quietened things down in those respects but it brings up the argument.

At some point, Hill will want to be number 2 on the depth chart somewhere. Even if the Saints decide it is in the Superdome, they surely have to take his entire role in the rest of the offense away. Is that something Sean Payton is willing to do?

Steve Moore

NFL Analyst


Image credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports