G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
I’ve just come off the plane from a 5 hour flight to Sydney (the other side of the country to my native Perth for those not too familiar with Australia) and after the flight, boy was I tired. The first thing I thought post flight was "Wow I’m tired", but after that my thoughts turned (as they inevitably do) to our black and red Falcons and how monumental it would be to not have to travel again til Dallas. What I’m trying to say, in my rambling way, is that flying = tiring and the Falcons should try and avoid that in future, which they can do with a win against the Panthers. Is it just me, or is anyone else stressed about the game? The New Orleans game was a disappointment offensively, but defensively it was one of the best showings I can remember from the Falcons since Smitty and TD took over. We held a playoff calibre team to 10 points, plus gifted them another 7 with a fumble deep in our own territory (we forgive you Todd, you’ve served us well!). I think we proved, although the Dilfer’s of the world won’t agree, that we can definitely hang with the teams poised for deep playoff runs, as we were a 1 yard run away from winning. However, the reason I’m worried about the Panthers is purely based on the "what ifs" of football. We should beat them, and beat them soundly at that, but something inside me is scared that we’ll do our best to throw away the #1 seed. Nonetheless, here we go, headed into week 17 needing only a win to lock up dome field advantage. As such, the best case scenario against the Panthers comes if Ryan bounces back, the defense continues to shine and if we leave it all out there.
Ryan bounces back: Monday was hard to watch at times because of an all-around lacklustre offensive performance. Against the Eagles, Steelers and Saints we couldn’t get any offense going, and our woes started from our lack of a run game. However, the Ravens held Michael Turner fairly well, but Matt Ryan did his thing and kept us in the game. Last week, Ryan couldn’t get into his groove, and our offense really wouldn’t fire. The last four weeks we haven’t really seen the Ice we know and love; he’s made some plays but has posted ratings under 100 for four consecutive games which, considering the opponents we’ve faced, he shouldn’t have. Potentially spurred on by his Pro Bowl selection, if Ryan comes out and has a big game there is no reason we shouldn’t crush the Panthers and regain our momentum pre playoffs. Injuries continue to plague the Panthers secondary, and Chris Gamble seems poised for a no show against the Falcons. Roddy White is due to explode, and Harry Douglas has seen many, many more targets in recent weeks. Essentially, all signs point to a dominant Falcons performance through the air. If we can reach that potential, then set your cars to park because we’re not going anywhere for a few weeks.
The defense continues its form: Can we all agree that last week was the best defensive performance of the year? Yes? Good.
An alert pick six from Chauncey Davis, a Kroytastic effort from the Predator, along with very few big plays allowed to a powerful Saints offense had me believe we were going to win the game up until the final first down. Either way, the Panthers shouldn’t pose any threat to a defense which has been extremely stout throughout the year. However, last time around the Panthers tore us up on the ground. Most of their yards came when the game was nearly over anyway, but nonetheless the Panthers will probably be encouraged by that. If we can continue our defensive form, there’s no reason the Panthers should be allowed to crack 220 yards of total offense, let alone on the ground.
Leave it all out there: One of the most disappointing things from the Saints loss was the sentiment in the locker room that the Falcons could have taken the game in a completely different direction if they had have made the plays they felt they had the ability and opportunity to make. Seeing the nfl.com videos of the Falcons locker room post win has reinforced Mike Smith’s nature of going about his business quietly and humbly, so the statements made by senior players such as Mike Peterson and John Abraham seemed to me as 100% truth and not just post game disappointment. The Falcons believed they should have won the game and left some of what they had out there. This week, we need to reverse that to not only put away the game and win home field advantage, but to boost the confidence of the team headed into the postseason.
Last week was last week. We lost, it hurt, but we can take a lot of positives from the game. Against the Panthers, we should dominate. If we do, you’d better get your groove in the seats at the Dome sorted because you’ll be spending at least two extra Sundays there. I’m praying for a beatdown of the Panthers, to save my poor heart, but a win is a win and I’m sure at this point we’ll take a W however it comes. It’s New Years for me in about 6 hours, so happy 2011 from the future! Let’s hope it’s a good year for the mighty Atlanta Falcons. Be sure to check out dunlagh’s article here, and finally, go Falcons!