1. Sam Baker, left tackle, Falcons. Drafted in 2008 to protect Matt Ryan's blind side, Baker had ups and downs in his first three seasons. This year, he has experienced only downs. Baker has been routinely beaten in pass blocking. Ryan has been under more pressure than ever before and that’s a major reason the Falcons are off to a 1-2 start. The Atlanta coaching staff is talking about possibly shaking up the offensive line. There’s not much behind Baker, so it may be difficult to bench him. But unless his play turns around dramatically the rest of the way, Baker probably will be gone after this season and the Falcons will have to replace him through free agency or the draft.
2. DeAngelo Williams, running back, Panthers. He has two 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé and is talented as a runner and a pass-catcher. But Williams has done very little this year. He has only 61 rushing yards and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. I don’t think this is a case of Williams suddenly getting old. I think the Carolina coaching staff needs to do a better job of finding ways to utilize one of the team’s most talented players.
3. Corey Peters, defensive tackle, Falcons. Atlanta coach Mike Smith was right when he said one play didn’t cause the Falcons’ loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday. But there really is no excuse for Peters jumping offside on a fourth-down play late in the game. Everyone else in Raymond James Stadium knew the Bucs were trying to get the Falcons to jump. Peters did and it cost the Falcons a chance to get the ball back and attempt a last-minute drive. With Peria Jerry playing well, Peters is probably on his way out of the starting lineup as soon as Jonathan Babineaux is healthy enough to return.
1. Brian Price, defensive tackle, Buccaneers. He is quickly becoming one of the best comeback stories in the league this season. Price missed almost his entire rookie season and had a rare surgery to repair damage to his pelvis. As recently as late June, Price was talking as if he might miss the season or at least the first half of it. But his recovery quickly took off once training camp started and Price has worked his way into the starting lineup. Against Atlanta on Sunday, he was a force, helping the Bucs hold the Falcons to 30 rushing yards and recording his first sack.
2. Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Panthers. Yes, the opponent might have been the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and the weather certainly played a role in slowing both offenses. But McDermott had to be doing something right. Any time you hold an NFL team to 10 points, you’re doing well. And let’s not forget McDermott engineered this defensive performance without linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, who are out for the season with injuries.
3. Jimmy Graham, tight end, Saints. He got an earful from Drew Brees for running a wrong route that led to an interception. But Brees continued throwing to his young tight end, who came up with a key 27-yard touchdown catch. Graham finished the day with four catches for 100 yards.