Behind Enemy Lines is a look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every week. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?

Atlanta Falcons

• While the bigger news is always the head coach when he gets fired, maybe when the general manager gets canned that should the biggest upcoming hire. You could make an argument that the general manager hire is even more crucial than the hire of a new head coach, as they are the person in charge of managing the salary cap while acquiring talent.

In the case of the Falcons, people still talk about Dan Quinn getting the boot earlier this season and if interim coach Raheem Morris might get the job on a permanent basis, but shouldn’t there be more focus on who succeeds former G.M. Thomas Dimitroff?

The Falcons have begun the process of finding Dimitroff’s replacement according to multiple reports this week, and have tabbed the Saints’ Terry Fontenot as a possible successor. Besides Fontenot – the Saints vice president/assistant general manager-pro personnel – reports says that other names Atlanta will interview are Rick Smith, a former Houston Texans general manager, and Brad Holmes, the Rams’ director of college scouting.

• The Falcons took the Saints to the wire last Sunday before a late fourth-quarter drive stalled in the red zone and Matt Ryan’s fourth-down pass to Julio Jones fell incomplete. The series was really a reflection on the entire Falcons’ season – close, but no cigar. Atlanta drove the length of the field and were in position to score the go-ahead touchdown inside of two minutes but running back Todd Gurley lost nine yards on a run, making things more difficult for Atlanta.

Head coach Raheem Morris defended his star running back following the game.

“Gurley saw the bounce look and he took the bounce look,”  Morris said. “You don’t really want to take the bounce look in that situation. He did. He reacted as a football player would do. They were able to get him down around his ankles and get a big-time loss.”

After a solid start with the Falcons this year, Gurley and the Atlanta running game has struggled the last few weeks, with the former Pro Bowler averaging just 2.6 yards per carry since Week 6, last in the NFL in the time-span according to ESPN.com.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

• Former Bucs head coach, and now Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has taken some heat as of late, but his QB is still solidly behind him.

“I do have confidence ( in Koetter) who does a good job of putting the plan together and putting us in situations to be successful,” Ryan said. “I think like every week, there’s some things he would do differently. And there’s things we gotta do differently as players and make plays when the situations present themselves. That’s how I feel at this point. I feel like we’ve gotta find a way to get the job done.

“I don’t think we’ve played well enough for sure. I don’t think we’ve played up to the standard that we’re capable of. And I think everybody needs to look in the mirror and find out what are the things individually we can all do better.”

Carolina Panthers

• Panthers Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey is once again set to return from his second significant injury of the season, this one a shoulder injury suffered in a loss to the Chiefs nearly a month ago.

“[It was] really frustrating. You work so hard for so long to come back and then something separate happens and that’s just the nature of the game,” McCaffrey told the Charlotte Observer. “I think the best thing that’s come out of it, though, is I’ve learned a lot about the game, learned a lot about myself and I’ve been able to kind of experience that adversity of watching from the side.”

Carolina head coach Matt Rhule told the media he expects to see see Rhule back on the field this Sunday against Denver. McCaffrey also missed a chunk of the season earlier this year after suffering an ankle injury in Week 2 against the Buccaneers.

Bucs ILB Lavonte David
Bucs ILB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

• The Panthers closed their faculty on Monday and Tuesday due to COVID concerns and placed eight players on then COVID-19 reserve list, including wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Defensively Derrick Brown and Zach Kerr were also added to the list. It is not known if any of the players tested positive or were exposed to someone who had, and their availability for Sunday’s game against the Broncos is still unknown.

• Panthers rookie safety/linebacker Jeremy Chinn was named NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for the second straight time last week and could be in the driver’s seat to take home Rookie of the Year honors.

Last month Chinn led all rookies with 30 tackles while also forcing a fumble and recording a pass breakup in his three games. For the season, Chinn has totaled  87 tackles, an interception, five passes breakups, a forced fumble, and two fumble returns for touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints

When will the Saints get Drew Brees back under center? According to head coach Sean Payton, the answer is still up in the air.

“I honestly wouldn’t be able to give you a time frame,” Payton said this week. “He’s like a handful of the other guys that are down there working their tails off to get back healthy, 100 percent, and we’ll kind of see when that is.”

Brees has missed three games and is eligible to come off the short-term injured reserve list but that doesn’t appear likely to be the case anytime soon. And the Saints don’t appear to be in any hurry to rush their future Hall of Famer back into action with backup Taysom Hill leading New Orleans to a 3-0 record in his absence.

• Is Hill a legitimate NFL starting quarterback or a system player? If you ask Hill he will tell you he believes he can be a full-time NFL starter under center. In an interview with PFT.com recently Hill talked about it.

Saints QB Taysom Hill and Bucs ILB Devin White
Saints QB Taysom Hill and Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Coach [Payton] and I have had, we’ve had a few conversations about that,” Hill said on Sunday following his third win in a row. “And I have said that. He knows how I feel about how I can play and I know how he feels about me, too.

“I would say that my timing with the receivers has probably gotten better and where I would say that I’ve seen the most improvement. I felt like timing-wise with everybody was really good. I was really happy with our timing and our rhythm.”

Whether Hill is a long-term starter in the league or just a gadget QB that defenses will eventually figure out how to defend is still up in the air. One thing that isn’t up in the air is the brilliance of Payton as an offensive mind. Last season it was Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 in Brees’ absence, this year Hill is also undefeated as a backup QB as well.

• Someone who has been impressed with Payton and knows a thing or two about the QB position is former NFL quarterback and Saints radio analyst Ron Jaworski.

“The brilliance of Sean Payton. I think it is absolutely amazing what he has done with his young man,” Jaworski said. “I don’t think people understand how hard the position is to play, and yes, he has some experience getting a few snaps each game when there is a package for him, and I think that certainly helped him, but to play at a consistent level that he has played at is just remarkable. I give a lot of that credit to Sean Payton, developing him the proper way. There are a lot of guys in this league that have great quarterback talent that never make it, it’s up to the coach to set him up for success, and Sean Payton has done that.”

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