Can NFC South defenses slow down division's offenses?

On the previous episode of "As the NFC South Turns," we left you with this: 

"And, maybe, as each team builds up its offense, the deciding factor in the NFC South will ultimately come down to who has the best defense."

So it probably makes sense to get a snapshot of how those defenses are shaping up heading into next season, eh? 

Well, first, let's look at how they did last season. 

SPOILER: It wasn't good. 

170512_nfcs_defenses_inside.jpg

On the previous episode of "As the NFC South Turns," we left you with this: 

"And, maybe, as each team builds up its offense, the deciding factor in the NFC South will ultimately come down to who has the best defense."

So it probably makes sense to get a snapshot of how those defenses are shaping up heading into next season, eh? 

Well, first, let's look at how they did last season. 

SPOILER: It wasn't good. 

2016 NFL RANKINGS
Team Yds Allowed
Carolina 21st (359.8)
Tampa Bay 23rd (367.9)
Atlanta 25th (371.2)
New Orleans 27th (375.4)
Team Pts Allowed
Tampa Bay 15th (23.1)
Carolina 26th (25.1)
Atlanta 27th (25.4)
New Orleans 31st (28.4)
Team Rush Yds Allowed
Carolina 6th (91.6)
New Orleans 14th (101.6)
Atlanta 17th (104.5)
Tampa Bay 22nd (117.2)
Team Pass Yds Allowed
Tampa Bay 22nd (250.8)
Atlanta 28th (266.7)
Carolina 29th (268.2)
New Orleans 32nd (273.8)

Some notes about those numbers:

  • For the Panthers, 2016 was the first time they've finished outside the top-10 in total defense since 2011. And as was well-documented inside and outside the Carolinas, a major reason for the fall was a rebuilt secondary that finished with a franchise-worst 29th ranking against the pass.
  • Somehow, Tampa Bay, who gave up a league-high 96 explosive plays, topped the division with its 22nd-ranked pass defense. But the Buccaneers slid 13 spots in total defense from their No. 10 ranking in 2015. 
  • The Falcons, who have finished with a top-10 defense just once in the past 30 years (1998), wound up 27th in points allowed for the third time in the past four seasons. 
  • After ranking fourth in both yards and points allowed in 2014, the Saints' have since averaged rankings of 30.3 and 29.7, respectively.

As you'd expect, the division's forgettable defensive showing meant each team tried to plug holes via free agency and the draft the past couple of months.

Here's how that looked:

NOTABLE ADDITIONS
Carolina
How Acquired
DE Daeshon Hall 3rd round
CB Corn Elder 5th round
DE Julius Peppers Free agent
CB Captain Munnerlyn Free agent
S Mike Adams Free agent
Atlanta
DE Takkarist McKinley 1st round
LB Duke Riley 2nd round
CB Damontae Kazee 5th round
DT Dontari Poe Free agent
DE Jack Crawford Free agent
New Orleans
CB Marshon Lattimore 1st round
S Marcus Williams 2nd round
LB Alex Anzalone 3rd round
DE Trey Hendrickson 3rd round
LB A.J. Klein Free agent
Tampa Bay
S Justin Evans 2nd round
LB Kendell Beckwith 3rd round
DE Chris Baker Free agent
CB Robert McClain Free agent

If we're making snap judgments - and considering it's mid-May, that's most of what all this is - the Panthers added a future Hall of Famer, plus an answer at nickel. The Falcons bulked up their line. The Saints tried to shore up their secondary. And the Bucs spent most of their resources on offense. 

It's unlikely all four teams will make marked improvements, so all we can do right now is guess which team(s) will make the biggest leaps. The safest bets seems to be Carolina and Atlanta. Defensive-minded Falcons coach Dan Quinn is still building something potentially dangerous, and if you look at the whole of what Ron Rivera has done with the Panthers, 2016's struggles may have only been a blip.

Of course, both teams also have new defensive coordinators, so the real answers to these questions remain at least four months away.

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