Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Aqib Talib, cornerback, Buccaneers. Reports have surfaced that Talib missed curfew while the Bucs were in London before their bye week. To clarify, Talib missed curfew the night of the game, not the night before it. The Bucs weren’t flying back to Tampa until that Monday morning and they spent that Sunday night in London.
But this is still a pretty big deal because Talib has had some problems in the past and the Bucs are growing more than a little weary of this trend. Talib still could face a suspension for his involvement in an alleged assault on a cab driver in August. The Bucs once viewed Talib as a cornerstone of their rebuilding program, but the concerns about his off-field behavior continue to grow.
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta. Yes, he threw for 289 yards against the Saints and made some nice plays. But Ryan completed less than 50 percent (19 of 42) of his passes. This is the second straight game where I’ve seen him make more than one or two bad decisions and I couldn’t say that often last year.
I don’t think there’s any sophomore slump and I still think Ryan is a very good quarterback. But to get to the next level, he has got to get that completion percentage up and make better decisions.
Reggie Bush, undeclared, Saints. The roster says Bush is a running back, but I don’t think that really fits anymore. He had two carries for three yards (and a touchdown) against the Falcons. So much for all that offseason talk about how this was the year Bush was going to prove he could run between the tackles. Instead, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell are showing they can do that.
Bush has been relegated to part-time duty as a running back, receiver and return man and he’s not excelling at any one of them.
Will Smith, defensive end, Saints. People have categorized Smith and fellow defensive end Charles Grant as underachievers in recent years. Forget that tag. Smith sacked Matt Ryan twice Monday night and had two quarterback hurries.
Pretty strong performance for a supposed underachiever. Looks like this might be the year Smith and Grant become achievers.
Thomas DeCoud, safety, Falcons. DeCoud was about the only member of Atlanta's 2008 draft class that didn’t make a big impact as a rookie. Well, he has caught up. Although the Falcons drafted William Moore in this year’s draft with the intention of starting him, DeCoud won the job in training camp.
He has got a firm grasp on it now and that’s not just because Moore is out for the season with an injury. DeCoud has been improving each week and he made a huge play against the Saints. On a blitz, he sacked Drew Brees and forced a fumble that defensive end Kroy Biermann, also a member of last year’s draft class, grabbed the ball for a touchdown.
Julius Peppers, defensive end, Panthers. The $18 million man played like it against the Cardinals. He intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown on a play that makes you remember Peppers is one of the most athletic players in the league. He also harassed Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner throughout the game.
If Peppers could play like that every week, he’d wipe out the criticism that he takes plays, sometimes entire games, off.