"Let them!" you cry, your jowls quivering with righteous indignation. "Box this unseemly lot about the ears!" But no, sir, that would be a mistake. Taking the Panthers too lightly could well be our undoing.
Let's start with quarterback, where Jake Delhomme has been doing his best Jim Hardy impression since collapsing in on himself and forming point of awfulness so dense that not even mediocrity can escape it in the 2008 playoffs. Admittedly it's only two games, but he's looked bad enough that the Carolina coaching staff isn't likely to let him throw all day long. With the passing game somewhat muted, that really leaves the running game to carry that load. That could be very bad news.
The Falcons' run defense looked more stout against the Dolphins than it did at many points last year, and it's clear that young Peria Jerry, not-so-young Jonathan Babineaux and the linebacking corps had plenty to do with that. As functional as the tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams is, however, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart completely blow them out of the water. Take a quick look at these stat lines from last year:
- DeAngelo Williams, 273 carries, 1,515 yards, 18 TDs, 5.5 YPC
- Jonathan Stewart, 184 carries, 836 yards, 10 TDs, 4.5 YPC
- Michael Turner, 376 carries, 1,699 yards, 17 TDs, 4.5 YPC
- Adrian Peterson, 363 carries, 1,760 yards, 10 TDs, 4.8 YPC
What immediately jumps out at me from that list is how unbelievable DeAngelo Williams was last year. In about 100 less carries than both Turner and Peterson, who are widely considered to be two of the best running backs in the league, he piled up almost as many yards, more TDs, and almost a full yard better per carry. Stewart, meanwhile, had numbers that could be roughly doubled and come out about the same as Turner. There's no telling if that actually would've happened, of course, but you get my point.
That point is that this, despite a pretty average first game from Williams, is one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL. Given how far the scales are tipping in the direction of this tandem, it's pretty clear that the Falcons will have to aim to shut down the Panthers on the ground and dare Delhomme to beat them, which isn't quite as frightening as it's been in years past. Because they run pretty well in between the tackles, it might be a good time to see what Trey Lewis and Thomas Johnson can do clogging up the middle, or at least try to free up Jerry and Babs to play the run. We absolutely cannot afford to let them run roughshod over our defensive ends, so this may be Jamaal Anderson's time to shine.
This post may be stating the obvious a bit, but I do hope that we don't take the entire team lightly because of what Delhomme's done recently. The Panthers may end up doing poorly this year, but the Falcons really aren't in any position to look past them, especially with that two-headed monster staring us in the face. Here's hoping we shut them down so viciously that we all have high school prom flashbacks.
Leave your strategies for stopping Williams and Stewart.