Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Tuesday morning. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
• Falcons QB Matt Ryan is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. Just four years ago Ryan was the NFL MVP and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. So most would agree he is a very talented passer. But the best in the NFC South? A division with Tom Brady and Drew Brees? According to Ryan, he thinks he is.
“Currently, yeah, I’ll go with myself,” Ryan told Pardon My Take Podcast recently.
However, Ryan isn’t the only one who thinks he is the best in the NFC South. The Pro Football Talk duo of Mike Florio and Chris Simms ranked Ryan the seventh best quarterback in the NFL and had Brees and Brady ranked 15th and 16th, respectively.
The good news is that the answer will come on the field this season as the three quarterbacks will face each other twice this season. And only one team can come out as NFC South champs.
• Former Bucs head coach and current Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris recently participated in the Quarterback Coaching Summit designed to help minority coaches get ahead in their careers. Morris had some strong words of support for the organization, particularly owner Arthur Blank.
“We talked about some of the injustices and how our organization handles things differently,” Morris told AJC.com’s D. Orlando Ledbetter. “Just starting right from the top with Arthur Blank going to Dan Quinn and how it’s a different vibe in Atlanta. For whatever reason, it just is. It’s because of the owner, it’s because of the head coach and it’s because of the pride of the people of Atlanta have always instilled in Arthur. He didn’t just start thinking about social injustices when the crisis happened that made everybody in the world break out and start to protest. He was ahead of the game. He was one of the people who led that charge right from the beginning from what he’s started to do in the city of Atlanta.”
• Back-to-back 7-9 seasons aren’t the worst thing in the world for a football team, but it rarely gets a team in the playoffs. The name of the game is the postseason, and being stagnant doesn’t sit well with billionaire owners. That is the case with Blank, who retained Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after the last two mediocre seasons. Blank made it clear he wants to see improvement in 2020 and Dimitroff understands the expectations.
“I believe that we are in a really good spot,” Dimitroff told the team’s website recently. “Of course . . . there are high expectations coming into this season. Everyone knows that. No one is shying away from that. Dan and myself included.”
Former Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton was released by Carolina earlier this year as the team decided to go with free agent Teddy Bridgewater as his successor. Newton signed a one-year deal with the Patriots over the weekend and soon posted a farewell video for his fans.
• With Newton now a Patriot, and Bridgewater now firmly entrenched as the starter for Carolina, the big question is how will Bridgewater perform in new head coach Matt Rhule’s offense. Some have questioned Bridgewater’s arm strength, but new head coach Matt Rhule doesn’t see that being a problem at all.
“Teddy, for us, is exactly what we want,” Rhule told Joe Person of TheAthletic.com. “I think this offense in general, when you look at in New Orleans, that iteration of it, where [offensive coordinator] Joe [Brady] first learned it, is not necessarily a vertical, down-the-field passing game as much as it is a catch-and-run, underneath, match-up type passing game.
“You obviously have to be able to throw the ball downfield. Teddy’s got a great arm. I can remember he threw what I would call a launch route 48 yards down the right sideline to the 12-yard line against somebody. So he certainly has the arm strength to do it.”
• With the social justice reform wave going on around the country currently, expect to see a much larger number of players take a knee during the national anthem in 2020. But it might not just be players who are kneeling.
“I would consider anything as we move forward,” Rhule said last week on a conference call. “I’m supportive of the cause. I’m supportive of the movement. I’m supportive of social justice. I think for every person, coach or player, that will be a very personal decision. I think it has to be made at the right time and the right reason for everybody.”
New Orleans Saints
• No one can say for sure what a 2020 COVID-19 NFL season will look like yet, or even if there will be a season. But the NFL is making plans and part of that is to block off the first several rows of seats near the field for games this year. The Saints have begun reaching out to their season ticket holders who have those seats and working on things that can be done to accommodate them losing their spots.
“Based on the NFL meeting today, it will be mandated that stadiums cover the first eight rows in the stadiums,” Saints vice president of communications Greg Bensel said last week. “This covering is being done for health and safety of players, staff, employees, fans and broadcasters. We are already in the process of working with and reaching out to our season ticket holders making it a priority to accommodate and relocate them. We will also offer them a number of options for the 2020 season including a refund or credit and it will not impact their season ticket holder status moving forward.”
• Staying safe in 2020 will be the big focus by the NFL, but how will that happen? Saints Malcom Jenkins says it will have to be a trust system in place and followed by everyone involved.
“We kinda end up being on this trust system,” Jenkins said. “The honor system, where we just have to kind of hope that people are social distancing and things like that. And that puts all of us at risk. Not only us as players and who’s in the building, but when you go home to your families. I have parents who I don’t want to get sick.
“Until we get to the point where we have protocols in place and until we get to a place as a country where we feel safe doing it, we have to understand that football is a nonessential business and so we don’t need to do it. So the risk, you know, has to be really eliminated before we, before I would feel comfortable with going back.”
• The Saints are adding two former players to their team Hall of Fame it was announced last week.
Offensive tackle Jahri Evans, who played for the Saints from 2006 to 2015, and safety Roman Harper, who played for the Saints from 2006 to 2013, will both enter the Saints Hall of Fame in 2020.
“These two gentlemen are part of a draft class that completely changed the culture and began really the pillars of a Super Bowl run,” said Saints coach Sean Payton.