Bucs' offensive line improving

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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TAMPA, Fla. -- On Monday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith realized it had been several days since he had fielded a media question about the offensive line.

“I think just about every time I’ve come in here someone has asked about the offensive line," Smith said. “I don’t hear any questions now, and that’s a good thing."

It seems as if the biggest question of the preseason has faded into a non-issue. An offensive line that hasn’t been together very long seems to be developing some chemistry. It helped running back Bobby Rainey rush for 144 yards in Sunday’s loss to St. Louis.

The line is in a much better spot than it was early in the preseason after former All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team. The Bucs experimented with a bunch of guards before trading with New England to bring in Logan Mankins.

The group still is developing chemistry, but you can see some tangible progress.

“It’s coming along," left tackle Anthony Collins said. “I’ve got my All-Pro [Mankins] next to me, and the center [Evan Dietrich-Smith], he’s getting it down. We’ve got a good right tackle [Demar Dotson]. [Right guard Patrick Omameh] is playing very, very well. I’ve just got to take care of my business. And the chemistry is going to be there with the tight ends. It’s coming.”
METAIRIE, La. -- Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan pointed the blame for the New Orleans Saints' 0-2 start squarely toward himself and the defense during an interview on the WWL Radio coaches' show on Monday night.

Like Sean Payton did earlier in the day, Ryan pointed to the defense's inability to finish and to assignment errors that have plagued the team in certain situations.

"Every two-minute situation we've had this year, we've blown," Ryan said, pointing to the end of both halves in Week 1 at Atlanta and the final drive in Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. "We want to be a great defense, and great defenses always finish. And that's something you just have to point the finger at us, and we have to get corrected."

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Rob Ryan
(Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images"Every two-minute situation we've had this year, we've blown," Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.
Ryan said the defense has to do a better job of communicating. Obviously the most egregious example was a coverage breakdown on Cleveland's final offensive play, when cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Corey White both covered the same receiver, leaving another wide open.

"These communication errors can't keep happening. Or we're just killing the team right now," Ryan said. "We know we're solely responsible for the two losses that we have. Our offense has been doing great, our special teams have been doing great.

"Hey, we have some good effort in places, and we've got some guys playing well. But as a unit that we take pride in, we've definitely failed us two weeks in a row."

When asked if the lack of practice time in the preseason for injured defensive backs like Jairus Byrd and Patrick Robinson is part of the problem, Ryan said nobody is saying that at all.

"We've limited our checks, and we still busted some things. So we can't have that. And that's not our style of play," Ryan said. "Right now, we need to develop our style of play and prove who we are. Right now we're not very good.

"We're gonna be great, we're gonna work at it. We've got the players, I know we've got the coaches here too. So together we've gotta do better quickly."

Some of the plays that irked both Payton and Ryan were obvious -- that final play and two pre-snap offside penalties (on Robinson in the first quarter and on Kenny Vaccaro on the final drive). It was Vaccaro's offside penalty that led to the moment when TV cameras captured Payton shouting and pointing at Ryan on the sideline.

Interestingly, both coaches also brought up a specific reference during their coaches' show interviews to a third-and-4 or third-and-3 play where the defense backed up and gave a receiver too much cushion.

Payton called it a "common sense thing we've got to correct." And Ryan said it was an "awareness issue you can't have," calling it "inexcusable" and "all on me."

Reviewing the tape, it appears that they might have been referencing a third-quarter play in which the Saints' defensive backs were still communicating right up until the snap as the Browns receivers motioned into a different formation, and Robinson backed up at the last moment before an easy 6-yard pass to Miles Austin.

Ryan was also asked about needing to get more of a pass rush out of the front four. He said that's absolutely needed, but he insisted he's confident the Saints can do that going forward.

And Ryan pointed out that the Saints defense wasn't exactly "gangbusters" in its first two games last year, despite a 2-0 start after two close victories.

Loomis' take: Saints general manager Mickey Loomis also spoke Monday at the Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club. Loomis said, "There's no way to sugarcoat being 0-2," but he stressed that they have been total team losses and can't be pinned on any one unit, as chronicled by The Times-Picayune.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie left tackle Jake Matthews, who suffered an ankle sprain in the season opener against New Orleans, said he expects to play against Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

In the same breath, Matthews cautioned that the decision is not up to him.

Matthews
"We'll see what coach says," Matthews said.

The Falcons had a walkthrough Monday. Had it been a full practice, Matthews would have been a limited participant along with Julio Jones (ankle) and linebacker Prince Shembo (knee), while Roddy White (hamstring) would have been held out. White was expected to have his practice schedule limited coming off a left knee injury, so the hamstring is a new addition to the equation.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said he anticipated the limited players -- Matthews, Jones, and Shembo -- to be full participants during Tuesday's practice.

"I hope that I can," Matthews said about going through a full practice. "We'll see what the coaches allow me to do. But I'm going to go out there and do some stuff, so we'll see how it goes."

Matthews returned to the field last Friday for some light drill work.

"I'm feeling better," he said. "They're doing a really good job with treatments and all that stuff to get me back as soon as possible. It's feeling better every day. I'm excited to see how this week goes for the game. I know they're going to do a good job and get me taped up and ready for the game."

It would make sense for the Falcons to be extra cautious with Matthews. Not playing him Thursday would give him extra time to get fully healthy for the team's Sept. 28 trip to Minnesota.

Whenever Matthews returns, it wouldn't be a surprise to see current left tackle Gabe Carimi shifted back over to right tackle as the starter, considering how Lamar Holmes struggled in Sunday's 24-10 loss to Cincinnati. Carimi graded out well.

"Wherever I'm needed, I think I'm pretty versatile," Carimi said.

Carimi also has some familiarity with the next opponent. He played for the Buccaneers last season and was drafted by Chicago when first-year Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith was coaching the Bears.

DeAngelo Williams ready to return

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers expect all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams to return to practice on Wednesday and be ready for Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh.

Ponder
Williams
Williams missed Sunday's 24-7 victory against Detroit that improved Carolina to 2-0 with a thigh injury that flared up after Wednesday's practice.

Without him, the Panthers rushed for only 62 yards, the team's fewest since Week 10 of the 2012 season when it had 52 yards on 21 carries against Denver. Thirty-seven of those came from Jonathan Stewart, and 22 of those came on one run.

"It was a tough day,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said on Monday.

Rivera hopes Williams, who led the team in rushing with 72 yards on 14 carries in the opener, will provide a boost. If anything, he will restore depth to a unit that saw Mike Tolbert suffer a shoulder contusion in the second half and Fozzy Whittaker go down with a quad injury.

Rivera said Whittaker would be listed as week to week. Tolbert appears all right.

Quarterback Cam Newton jokingly limped into the locker room when he noticed reporters watching him. Newton underwent offseason ankle surgery in March and fractured his ribs during an Aug. 22 exhibition game that forced him to miss the opener at Tampa Bay.

Rivera said Newton's foot was a little sore, actually calling that a good thing.

"Because it’s more sore than his back,” Rivera said. “Which is good. At least, I think it’s good. He’s moving around pretty good and he’s feeling pretty good about himself.

"I thought he played a heckuva football game.”

Newton completed 22 of 34 pass attempts for 281 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 19 yards.

Bucs promote LB Brandon Magee

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
6:29
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Magee
TAMPA, Fla. -- In what could be a sign that middle linebacker Mason Foster may miss some playing time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added a linebacker Monday afternoon.

Brandon Magee was promoted from the practice squad. Magee appeared in eight games for the Cleveland Browns last year. To make room for Magee, the Bucs waived cornerback Rashaan Melvin with an injury settlement. Melvin had been sidelined by an ankle injury since the preseason. The Bucs filled Magee's spot on the practice squad by signing linebacker Ka'Lial Glaud, who was with the team last year and this preseason.

Foster suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday's loss to St. Louis. Dane Fletcher is the primary backup to Foster, but adding Magee gives the Bucs more depth at the position.

Lovie Smith unhappy with defense

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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TAMPA, Fla. -- When a football team is losing, the easy scapegoats are the quarterback and the head coach. Josh McCown and Lovie Smith have been getting their share of the blame during Tampa Bay's 0-2 start.

Smith
But Smith pointed the finger in another direction Monday.

"A lot's being said about our offense and what we're doing in certain situations," Smith said. "But where we're really not performing well enough is on the defensive side. From long drives to taking the ball away to third downs. Our first goal on the defensive side is to score. We haven't come close to any of those things right now at this stage of our season. But they will come."

Smith brought up a good point. In his system, strong defense is supposed to be the key. In losses to Carolina and St. Louis, the defense has been ordinary. The Bucs rank No. 14 in overall defense (tied for 19th against the run and 15th against the pass).

A lot of people just assumed that the return of Smith, who served as linebackers coach under Tony Dungy, would mean instant defensive success. Smith brought the Tampa 2 scheme back, but he hasn't been happy with the way the defensive backs have been executing it.

"To a man, we're not pleased with how we're playing," Smith said. "That's starting with breaking on the ball, stripping the ball, taking the ball away. Our entire game right now, we're not pleased with. Even tackling. It's all of the above right now. We have to see more improvement. If we can just do that, we're going to be in pretty good shape."

Smith also said he hasn't been happy with the play of the defensive front. The Bucs have lost to backup quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Austin Davis.

"We need to get more up front," Smith said. "We're not getting enough. We've had two quarterbacks come in and we haven't pressured them enough and gotten ourselves into a position where we felt like we had to blitz more just to be able to get some pressure."
Peterson
Peterson
METAIRIE, La. -- Adrian Peterson's return to the football field will come Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Minnesota Vikings announced Monday that Peterson will return to work after he was held out of last Sunday's game following a grand jury indictment on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

"We're gonna have to prepare to play him, along with the rest of the team. That's the only thing," Payton said, keeping the focus strictly on football when asked Monday about the news of Peterson's return to the lineup.

"Obviously from a scheme standpoint, it's significant because of his ability," Payton said of the six-time Pro Bowl running back, who was named the NFL's MVP in 2012. "It's probably better to know that now than later in the week and try to prepare for all the different scenarios."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Kalil brothers could share some interesting stories about handling adversity with everything that's going on with their respective teams.

If they wanted to, that is.

R. Kalil
Ryan Kalil is the starting center for the Carolina Panthers, who on Sunday deactivated defensive end Greg Hardy because of scrutiny concerning his domestic violence case.

Matt Kalil is the starting left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, who on Sunday deactivated Adrian Peterson after the running back was indicted on a child injury charge.

But instead of discussing those issues, they talk about ... well, hair.

"Mostly, I talk to him about stuff I want to tease him about," Ryan said on Monday, 24 hours after the Panthers improved to 2-0 with a 24-7 victory over Detroit. "He has these really bad haircuts he thinks are really trendy. Those are the kind of things we talk about and just how each other plays."

Kalil gets enough talk about Hardy, particularly since Sunday when the 2013 Pro Bowl selection was placed on the inactive list an hour and a half before kickoff.

Coach Ron Rivera said the decision was made to keep a distracting situation from becoming a bigger distraction. Kalil doesn't envy Rivera for having to make those type of calls. For Kalil and the rest of the players, though, it's about preparing for the next game.

That will be Pittsburgh (1-1) on Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

"Well, there's nothing for us to do about it," said Kalil, a team captain. "What we have to do is go about our business and play a tough Pittsburgh Steelers opponent. We don't have to make those decisions. I'm glad we don't have to make those decision."

But Kalil admitted he's tired of having to answer questions about Hardy, who is appealing a July 15 conviction of assaulting and threatening ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder.

"Listen, I'm a football player," he said."It's my job. It's not who I am. It doesn't define me. But at the same time, that's where I want my focus to be and that's where I want my focus to be for my team.

"But yeah, you get tired of it."

Kalil looks forward to the day when the questions are all about football.

"There's a lot of really good people in this league," he said. "Somebody I think about is [tight end] Greg Olsen. A guy that does so much. He's such a professional. He's got this heart thing going on with his son. At the same time he does all these great things with hospital and charities he's working on."

Olsen's son recently underwent his third open heart surgery after being born in 2012 with a congenital heart defect. He left practice in a hurry one day last week because T.J. had to have another procedure.

Despite dealing with that, Olsen leads the team in catches (14) and receiving yards (155).

"My hope is at some point we can focus on those guys," Kalil said. "I know these things are the topic right now, but it's disappointing a lot of it overshadows a lot of good people."
TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the stranger quirks in the NFL is the injury report for a Thursday night game.

McCoy
McCoy
Teams are required to put out an injury report on Monday. But that report generally is hypothetical because teams usually don’t practice on Mondays. So the report is an estimate of players who would not have practiced if there was practice.

Tampa Bay’s hypothetical report contained three players that would not have practiced. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (hand) and middle linebacker Mason Foster (shoulder) suffered injuries during Sunday’s game. Rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (ankle) did not play Sunday and also was on the injured list.

McCoy and Foster declined to talk to the media during Monday’s open locker room period. McCoy first was seen with nothing on his hand and it was visibly swollen. A few minutes later, McCoy was seen with wrapping on his hand.

Coach Lovie Smith said it’s possible McCoy could have his hand placed in a cast, but that’s not the first priority.

“That is an option,’’ Smith said. “Some positions, you can get by with that. On the defensive line, it’s a lot harder to do. You need to be able to grip and hold. Yes, that’s an option. But, hopefully, we won’t have to go that far down the road with it, but we’ll see.’’

If McCoy is unable to play Thursday against Atlanta, Smith said the Bucs would employ a three-man rotation that would include Clinton McDonald, Akeem Spence and Da’Quan Bowers as the defensive tackles. If Foster can’t play, Dane Fletcher would be the likely starter.

The Film Don't Lie: Panthers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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A weekly look at what the Carolina Panthers must fix:
  • Running game: Of the 19 rushes by a running back, 11 were for 1 yard or less. Seven of those went for negative yards. I know leading rusher DeAngelo Williams was out with a thigh injury, but even against Tampa Bay in Week 1 the team struggled. Take away quarterback Cam Newton's 19 yards on three carries and an 11-yard end-around and the Panthers rushed for 32 yards, a woeful 1.6 yards per carry. Twenty-two yards came on one Jonathan Stewart run. The team averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 126.6 yards rushing a season ago. In two games they are averaging 3.1 yards per carry and 87.5 yards.
  • As well as the Panthers played defensively, they gave up 16 plays of 10 or more yards and allowed the Lions to convert 40 percent of third-down opportunities while making only 25 percent. Coach Ron Rivera wasn't happy with either, particularly the defensive side.
  • Start fast. The Panthers haven't scored a point in the first quarter. The good news is they haven't given up a point in the first quarter. Twenty-five of their 44 points have come in the fourth quarter. Only 16 have come in the first half. Even with a defense playing well, that's putting a lot of pressure on that side of the ball.

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
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A weekly look at what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must fix:

Back in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about how the Buccaneers could use the size of their receiving crew to create all sorts of matchup advantages.

But that hasn’t materialized so far, and the Bucs have to fix that as they try to offset a high-powered Atlanta offense Thursday night.

Sunday's 19-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams revealed some telling numbers about the passing game. Although taking shots downfield is supposed to be a big part of the offense, Josh McCown's longest completion was a 29-yarder to Mike Evans. That was a desperation heave on the last play of the game. Other than that, the only pass of at least 20 yards was a 20-yarder to Vincent Jackson.

Evans and Jackson are big, physical receivers who should be able to use their size to get open downfield. The Bucs need to start taking advantage of their skills.

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

The Saints have had a handful of costly errors from every unit during their 0-2 start. The one common bond: They have to be smarter in their home debut Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Sean Payton said his biggest disappointment has been the struggles in "situational football," whether it be the blown coverage at the end of Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the missed blocking assignment on a sack or an offsides penalty on a field-goal attempt.

"That's the one thing that's stood out now, two weeks in a row," Payton said.

The most maddening yet was the blown coverage in the final seconds, when Cleveland receiver Andrew Hawkins broke wide open out of a bunch formation. Cornerbacks Corey White and Keenan Lewis both covered the same player, while Patrick Robinson was flagged for holding another receiver across the field.

“You gotta be able to handle bunch. You gotta be able to handle receiver motion,” Payton said. “I mean, shoot, when you play man-to-man like we do, you’re gonna get that.”

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro agreed, saying, “We’ve got smart players. It’s just disappointing that we're not playing up to our abilities. I put that on us.”

The Film Don't Lie: Falcons

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
4:00
PM ET
A weekly look at what the Falcons must fix:

The Atlanta Falcons have to be more physical on both the offensive and defensive lines as they prepare for Thursday night's quick turnaround game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On offense, right tackle Lamar Holmes got dominated with speed and power when he matched up against Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Holmes' poor technique was part of the reason Dunlap put two hits on quarterback Matt Ryan, including one that the Falcons thought was a "cheap shot" late in the game.

Defensively, one run in particular was indicative of how the Falcons got pushed around. Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill ran straight up the middle for a 13-yard gain with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left before halftime. Nose tackle Paul Soliai got caught leaning one way while fellow defensive lineman Tyson Jackson had to battle a double-team. Inside linebacker Paul Worrilow couldn't shed a block by an offensive lineman while outside linebacker Kroy Biermann stood and watched instead of his throwing his body in the way.

Maybe the Falcons were still stunned and tired by Giovani Bernard's 46-yard catch-and-run off a checkdown by Andy Dalton on the previous play. Whatever the case, the Falcons can't hope to have success stuffing the run if they let a running back bust through the middle like that.
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METAIRIE, La. -- Two thoughts immediately spring to mind following the news that New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram will be out for at least a month with a broken hand:

The negative: Geez, it sure feels like the Saints are in "anything that can go wrong" mode right now. They're 0-2, and they just lost arguably their most consistent player from the first two weeks.

The positive: If any team is equipped to handle such a loss, it's the Saints. They have great depth with both Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson available. Both guys are more than capable of filling the void. And because the Saints were in a running back timeshare anyway, Ingram was averaging only 14 touches per game.

Ingram
It seems like a huge disservice to Ingram, however, to suggest the Saints will be OK without him.

After three turbulent years filled with injuries and inconsistency, things were finally coming together for the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick this season.

Not only was Ingram healthy and running great -- did you see some of those cuts he made Sunday at Cleveland? -- he was finally playing the versatile role he has yearned for.

Since the Saints traded Darren Sproles in the offseason, Ingram was freed up to play in more versatile packages instead of the base and short-yardage packages to which he was mostly relegated in years past. Both of Ingram's touchdown runs at Atlanta in Week 1 came out of a shotgun formation with four receivers and tight ends split wide.

Ideally, the Saints will have similar success with Thomas and Robinson, both of whom also have played very well in less predictable roles this season.

The Saints' entire run game has been thriving since late last season, when Ingram and Robinson had breakout performances in the playoffs. And coach Sean Payton has shown faith in the run game during the first two weeks. So there's no reason to expect a significant drop-off now.

But hopefully for Ingram, the broken hand doesn't set him back much.

He has been passionate about finally breaking through over the past two seasons. His emotional, competitive nature was on display last year on the field against the Dallas Cowboys and last week on the sideline against the Atlanta Falcons.

And on top of everything else, this is a contract year for Ingram, who's hoping to prove to the Saints and any other prospective employers that he's capable of carrying the load for a team.

Buccaneers need to win on road

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
1:23
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Officially, the Buccaneers are 0-2. But you could make an argument that they already are 0-5.

That’s the very real possibility they’re staring at with three straight road games coming up. They travel to Atlanta for a Thursday night game. They follow that up with games at Pittsburgh and New Orleans.

So far, we’ve seen nothing out of the Bucs to create a real strong belief that they can win any of those three games. Start off 0-5 and the season is over.

That’s why it’s critical that the Bucs somehow find a way to win one (maybe two) of these road games. That’s not an easy task.

But this is the hole the Bucs have dug for themselves. They made a lot of noise about wanting to win all of their home games. So far, they’re 0-2 at Raymond James Stadium.

If they’re going to save their season, the Bucs have to start playing a lot better and show they can win on the road.

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