Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

The pressure is on Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Mike Mularkey. The Atlanta Falcons finally have put together a respectable defense, so that unit is no longer any easy target for blame after a loss. The offense simply did not get the job done in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh. When you have players such as Ryan and Turner, there is no excuse for not scoring touchdowns. It’s up to Mularkey, Atlanta's offensive coordinator, to put his guys in position to make big plays. He must play to Ryan’s strengths a bit more and let the quarterback throw the ball downfield. He also must find a way to get Turner, who had 42 yards on 19 carries against the Steelers, going against Arizona. If Atlanta’s offense doesn’t show up for this game, a once-promising season is suddenly going to be in big trouble.

Lofton’s rising. The one positive I took from Atlanta’s opening loss was the play of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. He said he wants to be more of a leader and make some big plays this year. He showed signs of both against the Steelers. The Falcons will take big plays any way they can get them.

Strength on strength. We’ll see how often they end up going head to head, but I think the best individual matchup this week could be between Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib. These are unique individuals. Both are very competitive and talkative on the field. They’re also both very talented. It should make for good entertainment. Both these guys also have a history of letting their tempers get the best of them. If this matchup starts heading down a road like that, the winner will be the guy who does the better job of keeping his actions within the rules.

A very short leash. It looks like Carolina quarterback Matt Moore will start against the Buccaneers. He has practiced this week after suffering a concussion in the season-opening loss to the Giants. I understand why coach John Fox is sticking with the quarterback who went through the entire offseason getting first-team work. But I don’t think Fox can afford to handle this like the Jake Delhomme situation if Moore makes the kind of mistakes he made in the opener (three interceptions). Fox stayed with Delhomme way too long last season. The coach doesn’t have the time to do that anymore. Plus, there’s a legitimate alternative now: rookie Jimmy Clausen. Fox may be loyal to veterans and very stubborn, but there are people in the organization who have powerful opinions and were instrumental in drafting Clausen. They’re not going to stay quiet if Moore continues to struggle.

Wait and hurry up. The Saints don’t play until Monday night in San Francisco. That gave New Orleans a little extra time to get healthy and rested. But the flip side is the Saints are going to face a short week after San Francisco. They’ll have Atlanta coming to town, a game that could have big implications on the division race. Not to get ahead of things, but let’s face it, Sean Payton is always thinking ahead. I’m pretty sure he’d like nothing more than to jump to an early lead on the 49ers, get his starters out of the game and get that plane flying back to New Orleans as quickly as possible.