NFC South Fillability Index

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 15, 2007



 
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NFC SOUTH:
ATLANTA (last year's record: 7-9)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
12
25
1
32
22
t15
9
29
 
 
Additions:
QB Joey Harrington (Miami)
WR Joe Horn (New Orleans)
G Toniu Fonoti (Miami)
FB Ovie Mughelli (Baltimore)
CB Lewis Sanders (Houston)
LB Marcus Wilkins (Cincinnati) 
 
Subtractions:
QB Matt Schaub (Houston)
FB Justin Griffith (Oakland)
WR Ashley Lelie (San Francisco)
G Matt Lehr (Tampa Bay) 
DE Patrick Kerney (Seattle) 
LB Ed Hartwell (Cincinnati) 
 
Draft picks: 
1 (8) Jamaal Anderson, de, Arkansas
2 (39) Justin Blalock, g, Texas
2 (41) Chris Houston, db, Arkansas
3 (75) Laurent Robinson, wr, Illinois State
4 (109) Stephen Nicholas, lb, South Florida
4 (133) Martrez Milner, te, Georgia
6 (185) Trey Lewis, dt, Washburn
6 (194) David Irons, db, Auburn
6 (198) Doug Datish, ot, Ohio State 
6 (203) Daren Stone, db, Maine
7 (244) Jason Snelling, rb, Virginia
 
A simple maxim permeates the Cold, Hard Football Facts and, therefore, should permeate all of football analysis from now and into pigskin perpetuity: balance in football is more important than dominance in any one area.
 
New coach Bobby Petrino, brought in from the college ranks to replace scapegoat Jim Mora Jr., has a lot of work ahead of him to turn Atlanta into a competitive, balanced football team.
 
The Falcons were the historically proficient running the ball, with the No. 1 ground attack last year (183.7 YPG), but utterly inept passing the ball, with the dead last passing attack (148.2 YPG). It's rare in this day and age that a team moves the ball so much more effectively on the ground than it does through the air, but Atlanta and its single-wing offense has managed to drag the NFL back into the pigskin Stone Age. We're fairly certain Valdosta High has a more modern offensive attack.
 
The success of the running game was evident in Atlanta's 5.5 YPA over the course of the entire season. It was just a shade shy of the all-time NFL record for a season (5.7 YPA) held by the 1963 Browns, who were led that year by a certain little back named Jim Brown (he churned out a remarkable 6.3 YPA himself that season).
 
But the Falcons simply could not pass the ball. The result was a 7-9 record, also-ran status, Mora's demise, and another season of criticism heaped upon the best running back in football pretending to be an NFL-caliber QB. Michael Vick set an NFL QB rushing record with 1,039 yards and an amazing 8.4 YPA, but averaged just 5.0 yards per passing attempt using the adjusted CHFF model, which takes sack yardage into account (2,171 yards on 433 attempts). He averaged 6.4 YPA using the conventional model, which does not count sack yardage.
 
Think about that for a moment: Vick averaged 8.4 YPA everytime he ran the ball, but just 6.4 YPA every time he actually got off a pass. 
 
Clearly, Atlanta is a team in need of help in the passing game. But they've made only token attempts to acquire that help. Losing QB Matt Schaub and picking up Joey Harrington is probably, at best, an equal swap at a back-up position. Joe Horn has been a quality NFL receiver and a quality contributor to his community off the field in New Orleans. But it's a lot to ask a 35-year-old wideout to resuscitate a passing game on life support. On Draught Day, the first effort to boost the passing game didn't come unitl the third round and Illinois State WR Laurent Robinson. Maybe he'll turn into another Marques Colston – the small-school, seventh-round steal in New Orleans last year – but, again, that's a lot to ask.
 
The same schizophrenia permeated the defense, where Atlanta was solid against the run, and dreadful against the pass.
 
The Falcons were 29th in total pass defense (229.2 YPG) and 27th in defensive passer rating (88.8). But their only key acquisitions in this area were Lewis Sanders, a guy who has just five picks in seven NFL season and a total of 25 passes defended, and second-round draft pick Chris Houston, a potential impact CB out of Arkansas.
 
The bottom line is obvious: unless something drastic changes between now and September, Atlanta fans are in for another long season watching a team that can't pass the ball and can't stop other teams from moving the ball through the air.
 
Fillability grade: D
 
CAROLINA (8-8)
Where they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
24
27
24
15
7
t8
11
4
 
Additions:
QB David Carr (Houston)
DE Dave Ball (New York Jets) 
LB Terrence Melton (New Orleans) 
CB Curtis Deloatch (New Orleans)
S Deke Cooper (San Francisco) 
 
Subtractions:
WR Keyshawn Johnson (released)
TE Kris Mangum (retired) 
LB Chris Draft (St. Louis)
LB Vinny Ciurciu (Minnesota)
S Kevin McCadam (Jacksonville) 
 
Draft picks:
1 (25) Jon Beason, lb, Miami
2 (45) Dwayne Jarrett, wr, Southern Cal
2 (59) Ryan Kalil, c, Southern Cal
3 (83) Charles Johnson, de, Georgia
4 (118) Ryne Robinson, wr, Miami (Ohio)
5 (155) Dante Rosario, te, Oregon
5 (164) Tim Shaw, lb, Penn State
7 (226) C.J. Wilson, db, Baylor
 
The Panthers were everyone's favorite to win the NFC heading into 2006. Instead of a season to remember, Carolina fans got a season easy to forget: a meandering, undefined 8-8 campaign lowlighted by four straight losses from Turkey Day to Christmas that, like a gridiron Grinch, snuffed out the last rays of hope in a once-bright season.
 
The Panthers were fairly solid on defense, ranking in the top half of the league in every single defensive category measured above, both in terms of common stats and Quality Stats.
 
Several defensive additions, especially LB Jon Beason, one of the top defenders in the 2007 draft, should solidify a defense that's already fairly stout.
 
But the offense was generally unproductive and – even worse – highly inefficient, as obvious from its 29th ranking in our Scoreability Index.
 
That Scoreability ranking speaks loud and clear: it says that Carolina did not play smart football. When you see a team that was so inefficient, you'll ALWAYS find a team that committed a lot of penalties and turnovers, and was not every effective on third down.
 
Sure enough, Carolina was dead last in third-down efficiency (31.1%), committed more offensive penalties (103) than all but nine teams, and was tied for 26th in turnover differential (-5). It's a recipe for mediocrity and the Panthers certainly turned out a heapig batch of mediocrity in 2006.
 
Playing smarter football will obviously help Carolina in 2007, but a lot of improvements need to be made, especially in the ground game. The Panthers were incredibly ineffective running the ball last year, especially for a team with a reputation as a smash-mouth bully.
 
Carolina picked up just 103.7 YPG on the ground and averaged a sub-mediocre 3.9 YPA (the average should not be surprising ... even in its Super Bowl season of 2003, Carolina was not particularly productive with each carry, it was just persistent).
 
The Panthers did not make any particular big splashes to improve its running game, though former USC center Ryan Kalil, a second-round pick some believe had first-round talent, has the potential to become an OL stalwart. His former teammate, WR Dwayne Jarrett, has the potential himself to bolster a mediocre passing attack. Certainly, Delhomme has begun to wear out his gunslinger's hero reputation in Carolina, but David Carr is hardly the guy you want to put the fear of God in your struggling, No. 1 QB.
 
But this remains a team in desperate need of an injection of life in the ground game. DeShaun Foster is simply not a first-rate caliber back, as evidenced by his career-best 897 rushing yards last year. DeAngelo Williams, the team's No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, was supposed to be that guy to lift the running attack. He showed flashes of brilliance last year, but was hobbled by minor injuries and did not offer up quite the production Carolina expected from its top pick, with just 501 yards, 4.1 YPA and 1 TD.
 
If Williams can live up to the expectations of a No. 1 pick, and Kalil can perform above and beyond the call of duty, Carolina might find the balance it needs to compete. But this is a team that clearly should have done more to lift its offense. The reputation of a great ground game will only carry you so far ... like to another 8-8 campaign.
 
Fillability grade: C
 
NEW ORLEANS (10-6)
Where they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
1
5
19
1
11
13
23
3
 
 
Additions:
TE Eric Johnson (San Francisco)
S Kevin Kaesviharn (Cincinnati)
LB Brian Simmons (Cincinnati)
LB Troy Evans (Houston) 
CB Jason David (Indianapolis)
P Chris Hanson (Jacksonville)
 
Subtractions:
WR Joe Horn (Atlanta)
G Montrae Holland (Denver)
LB Danny Clark (Houston) 
LB Terrence Melton (Carolina) 
S Bryan Scott (Tennessee)
S Omar Stoutmire (Washington) 
CB Curtis Deloatch (Carolina) 
 
Draft picks: 
1 (27) Robert Meachem, wr, Tennessee.
3 (66) Usama Young, db, Kent St.
3 (88) Andy Alleman, g, Akron.
4 (107) Antonio Pittman, rb, Ohio St.
4 (125) Jermon Bushrod, ot, Towson.
5 (145) David Jones, db, Wingate.
7 (220) Marvin Mitchell, lb, Tennessee.
 
One thing and one thing only kept New Orleans from becoming a serious Super Bowl contender in 2006: an inability to stop the run.
 
This inability hurt them throughout the season, as they surrendered a dreadful 4.94 YPA, 31st in the NFL last year, and nearly placing the Saints among the very worst run defenses in the history of football.
 
The inability to stop the run also haunted New Orleans in the NFC title game, where the Bears churned out a punishing 196 yards on 46 carries (4.3 YPA).
 
The obvious move in off-season would have been to pick up some stud defenders in free agency and the draft, maybe an earth-mover like Michigan's 6-6, 331-pound DT Alan Branch, who was still on the board when New Orleans's first pick rolled around.
 
Instead, they made a critical mistake with their No. 1 draft pick, grabbing Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem. Surely, the team felt a need to replace WR Joe Horn. But the Saints had an incredibly productive passing game last year. What they needed to do was fill the holes in their game, not accentuate their positives. The fact that the position they chose to grab, wide receiver, is normally one of the most likely to fail, only compounds the problem. It seems some teams just can't resist the allure of a sexy wideout, and it seems the Saints are in that category.
 
The Saints did pick up a couple LBs in free agency (Evans, Simmons), but neither has had a particularly productive career. They are not the tools you use to fill the gabs in the run defense.
 
Based upon their off-season moves, it's likely we'll see a repeat performance from the Saints in 2007: an exciting team loaded with offensive talent that simply does have the defensive studs (and balance) needed to turn the team into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
 
Call it a blown opportunity for the New Orleans front office here in 2007.
 
Fillability grade: F
  
 TAMPA BAY (4-12)
 Where they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
29
31
28
26
17
21
17
19
 
 
Additions:
QB Jeff Garcia (Philadelphia)
RB B.J. Askew (Jets)
TE Jerramy Stevens (Seattle)
G Matt Lehr (Atlanta) 
T Luke Petitgout (New York Giants)
DE Kevin Carter (Miami) 
LB Patrick Chukwura (Denver)
LB Cato June (Indianapolis)
CB Sammy Davis (San Francisco) 
 
Subtractions:
G Cornell Green (Oakland)
DE DeWayne White (Detroit)
C Sean Mahan (Pittsburgh)
 
Draft picks: 
1 (4) Gaines Adams, de, Clemson.
2 (35) Arron Sears, g, Tennessee.
2 (64) Sabby Piscitelli, db, Oregon St.
3 (68) Quincy Black, lb, New Mexico.
4 (106) Tanard Jackson, db, Syracuse.
5 (141) Greg Peterson, dt, N.C. Central.
6 (182) Adam Hayward, lb, Portland St.
7 (214) Chris Denman, ot, Fresno St.
7 (245) Marcus Hamilton, db, Virginia.
7 (246) Ken Darby, rb, Alabama.
 
The Tampa Bay passing attack in 2006 displayed all the aerial pageantry of a beer-can chicken, without the tasty sage and rosemary dry rub. You could blame it on the long-suffering spleen of one Chris Simms, the starting QB who went down in the third game of the season, but the TB passing attack actually got better under rookie Bruce Gradkowski.
 
Of course, better is all relative. The Bucs averaged a pathetic 4.93 yards per passing attempt over the course of the season, placing them ahead of only the historically inept Raiders.
 
Wandering QB minstrel Jeff Garcia, a CHFF favorite who entertains, produces and wins wherever he goes, should provide an instant kick-start to the Tampa's offense, assuming he's handed the ball. He was brilliant off the bench for Philly las year – as evidenced by his 5-to-1 TD-INT ratio (10/2) and 95.8 passer rating. If he's not handed the ball, it will probably spell the end of the line for former Golden Boy head coach Chuckie, who's 27-37 with three losing seasons since winning Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002.
 
The Bucs also picked up a pair of free agents, and a second-round draft pick, to shore up their 28th rated offensive line, according to our Offensive Hog Index. They don't seem, however, to have dumped enough resources into one of the worst pass defenses in football. Tampa was 31st last year when it came to forcing opponents into negative pass plays – they did so 6.95 percent of the time with 25 sacks and 11 INTs, a far cry from the glory days of the Tampa defense in 2002.
 
But first-round pick Gaines Adams is seen as a potential game-changing defensive end, while Tampa has stocked up on defensive players in free agency, including potential impact player Cato June, who seems to fit the small-fast-aggressive mold that earned the Bucs that Super Bowl ticket in 2002.

It's a long road from lethargic 4-12 offensively inept also-ran. But Tampa, at least, has at least started to take steps down that road.
 
Fillability grade: B
 
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