Point/Counterpoint: Which NFC South foe has most thoroughly addressed a weakness from last season?

I’ve heard, from multiple sources, that using the NFL offseason to analyze your football team, identify your weak points and address your team needs through free agency, trades and the NFL Draft is a good strategy.

I’m no general manager, but this theory does sound pretty good to me. And taking a look at a couple numbers from the Buccaneers in the last few seasons shows that Mark Dominik, Greg Schiano and company are certainly making the moves to make this a better team and make the push to the next level.

The 2011 season ended with the Buccaneers ranked 27th in points scored and 30th in rushing yardage, and as one of nine NFL teams without a receiver eclipsing the 800-yard mark. Cue the offseason and the Buccaneers add three key players on offense, turning those numbers around.

Despite a midseason injury, Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks did spend some time paving the way for the offense. Vincent Jackson took pressure off of Mike Williams and gave Josh Freeman a big target. Doug Martin had a tremendous rookie season ending in a Pro Bowl appearance and adding to the newfound explosiveness of the Bucs offense.

By the end of 2012, the Bucs had sprung to 13th in points per game, Doug Martin had racked up the fifth most rushing yards and TDs in the NFL and Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams had both finished in the top 20 in receiving yards.

As we all know, the Buccaneers turned to a new need this offseason. Coming out of a 2012 season in which they allowed the most passing yards in the league, the Buccaneers acquired the top-ranked free agent safety in Dashon Goldson, traded for perhaps the best cornerback in the league in Darrelle Revis and drafted 2012 Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Johnthan Banks. With Eric Wright and Mark Barron added into the mix, the Buccaneers now have one of the scariest secondaries in the league.

So, we all know that the Buccaneers have done a fantastic job isolating their weaknesses and turning them into strengths, but what about the rest of the NFC South? And thus ends my lengthy setup to today’s Point/Counterpoint query. I’ll pass it on to you Scott.

Which division rival has done the most this offseason to address and, most importantly, improve upon their biggest weaknesses?

Scott Smith: Y’know something, Andrew?  I think you’re on to something with that theory from your first paragraph.  That’s subtle, but I detect an element of truth in there.

And I like the question, too.  Yes, the Buccaneers have (at least on paper, and probably on the grass when the time comes) vastly improved their biggest 2012 weakness.  Really, there may not be another team in the NFL that so thoroughly addressed a pressing issue than the Bucs and their defensive backfield.  But enough about us.  Who else in the always-competitive NFC South has done something similar?  Well, I’m going to say it’s the Falcons.

You know how hesitant I am to say anything nice about the Falcons, but you’ve got to admit they made one of the best round-peg-in-a-round-hole signings in free agency when they swiped RB Steven Jackson from the St. Louis Rams in March.  That wasn’t good news for the rest of the division.

Obviously, the Falcons were very good in 2012, compiling an NFC-best 13-3 record and advancing to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl.  Statistically, however, there was one area in which they were among the league’s worst, and that was in rushing offense.  Michael Turner had lost it, and wasn’t really a good fit for a pass-first offense anyway, and as much as they tried to claim so before the start of free agency, Jacquizz Rodgers was probably not destined to be an every-down back.  So they go out and get Jackson, who is a much more versatile and well-rounded back than Turner and who is a 1,000-yard-season machine.

With Jackson added to an offense that already has Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones, Roddy White and the decidedly-unretired Tony Gonzalez, opponents will have to fear that this offense will shape up like those great Vikings attacks of the late ’90s.  You know, when you couldn’t pay too much attention to Cris Carter or Randy Moss or they’d kill you with Robert Smith?  And vice versa.  Man, that team was a pain in the butt.  I hope the Falcons’ offense doesn’t end up being that good and well-rounded, but I think they took the right step in trying to get there by adding Jackson.

I know that’s only one added player, so I may be stretching the “thoroughly addressed” qualification, but that’s my answer.  You could add in there that they re-signed left tackle Sam Baker (though some consider that an overpayment) and got Gonzalez to come back, thus keeping the front line as intact as possible.  But, really, they just found the exact thing they needed for their biggest deficiency.

What about you?  What team do we have to worry more about in the NFC South now?

Andrew Norton: I think that of the three choices it will be the New Orleans Saints that ended up filling the most needs this offseason. Much like you said with the Falcons, I don’t believe that the Saints (or any NFC South team, for that matter) did as good a job turning around a weakness as the Buccaneers did. But, unlike your Falcons choice, the Saints addressed their needs through quantity.

Granted, the Saints had a few more needs that the Atlanta Falcons did.

Last year, the Saints and Drew Brees had one heck of a terrifying offense. First in the NFL in passing offense, second in total yards per game. They had a myriad of weapons with a three-headed running back monster and enough quality wide receivers to give any fantasy owner a migraine. Still though, that offense needed some help. Primarily on the line.

And what do the Saints do to address their weakness at safety and loss of Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod? Well, I really set this one up to be a bit more impressive than it is, but you never know. They added a second rounder in the Draft with Terron Armstead and a former second-overall pick Jason Smith who will look to wipe “bust” status off of his name.

While that was certainly a need, I think the Saints most lacked in pass rushers and safeties, both which were pretty thoroughly addressed this offseason. But, again, the quality remains to be seen.

The Saints tied for 25th in the league in sacks last season, showing that they are without very much pressure on the edge. They re-signed Junior Galette, who was their best rushing linebacker of last season. They also signed free agent pass rush specialist Victor Butler, a former Cowboy who is going to be reunited with his Defensive Coordinator, Rob Ryan. Butler has not seen a lot of field time, but that is mostly because he has spent his career as backup and understudy to DeMarcus Ware. I’ve read he’s pretty good.

And, addressing the secondary, the Saints found two capable safeties while signing CB Keenan Allen, regarded as one of the top available. To replace/assist Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins at safety, the Saints signed Jim Leonhard who saw his best playing days as a New York Jet. They also used their first-round pick to acquire the top-rated safety in the draft, Kenny Vaccaro.

As I said before, the Saints had a lot of holes, and while they didn’t find any big names or guarantees to plug those holes, they did at least find their weaknesses and address them. I think they found a few upgrades at a few positions of need.

Oh, do I get to count the biggest need filled by the Saints: The fact that they are getting their head coach back this offseason? I feel that should count. Yeah, I’m gonna count it.

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