Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

Air it out. There’s a lot of talk about Tampa Bay’s struggles in the running game. It’s all valid because Cadillac Williams hasn’t been able to do much of anything. People are suggesting the Bucs should turn to undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount or move Earnest Graham from fullback to tailback. Do you really think either of those moves is going to fix the running game? I have another suggestion: Let quarterback Josh Freeman throw the heck out of the ball. This kid’s been pretty good so far and keeps getting better. He has a nice group of young wide receivers and a great tight end in Kellen Winslow. I know balance is supposed to be an important concept in an offense. But if you’re not getting anything out of the running game, why bother? At least in the short term, let Freeman throw 35 or 40 times. If he does it well enough, the Bucs can gradually sneak the running game back into the offense because defenses won’t be looking for it.

Stepping back? With Cincinnati coming to town with receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, I’m curious to see how Atlanta’s defense responds. This unit had been playing well up until last week’s loss in Philadelphia. It looks like the Falcons will be without injured cornerback Dunta Robinson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Remember, those were the guys the Falcons added to this defense in the offseason. Their speed and aggressiveness helped during the Falcons’ four-game winning streak. Can the Falcons continue to play that way without them or do they suddenly become last year’s defense again?

Breakout game. When you think about Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, you need to think a little differently because Smith is different. There’s a lot of frustration in Carolina. But, in Smith’s case, frustration might be a good thing. He’s coming back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss one game, and the quarterback chaos limited his production before that. But Smith is one of the league’s more competitive players. He’s way overdue for a breakout game. Against a struggling San Francisco team, it could happen if Matt Moore can just get the ball into Smith’s hands a few times.

Sitting pretty. Are the Saints for real? Even though they beat up on the Bucs last week, we really don’t know because we don’t know how good the Bucs are. But here’s what we do know: The Saints are 4-2 and have Cleveland coming into the Superdome. Even though the Saints have some injuries, there is no reason they shouldn’t come out of this at 5-2. They have a Sunday night game with Pittsburgh on Oct. 31. After that, they don’t play another team that presents a serious challenge until Baltimore on Dec. 19.

Count on it. Most of you know I generally stay away from predictions. But I’m going to make one here. I’m saying New Orleans’ Marques Colston scores his first touchdown of the season Sunday. This guy is too good to stay quiet.