The Falcons are headed to Carolina to take on the Panthers. These games tend to be overshadowed by Falcons-Saints—mostly because of the virulent hatred—but games between these two teams tend to be way too close for comfort.
I actually find it likely we'll see that again. The Panthers have a lackluster secondary, something Matt Ryan can take advantage of with his penchant for quick passes. If the Falcons can force a turnover or two and cover the Panthers' receivers, we're talking about a ballgame. It's the nature of the NFC South that games rarely are as lopsided as they look on paper, after all, and I can't make myself write the Falcons off.
For the Falcons to succeed in this one, they'll need to play exceptionally well, put the Cardinals game behind them and win these four critical matchups. Let's get to them.
Charles Johnson vs. Jeremy Trueblood/Lamar Holmes
The Falcons need to keep Matt Ryan upright to win this game. With just a little bit of time, Ryan should be able to slice through a suspect Panthers secondary. That's easier said than done.
Charles Johnson against whoever starts at right tackle is a potential mismatch. Jeremy Trueblood has played quality football for the last couple of weeks, but there's no guarantee that'll hold up over the long haul. Evidence from the last several years suggests it won't.
If the Falcons start Sam Baker at left tackle this week, Lamar Holmes could take back over at right tackle or head to the bench. Holmes is a godawful run blocker, but he could at least be decent against the pass rush on the right side. Either way, Charles Johnson eats worlds, so this'll be a tough one. If they can hold Johnson at bay, it makes life a little easier for the rest of the line. Oh, about that line....
Peter Konz/The Guards vs. Star Lotulelei
Normally I try not to pick two players from the same unit, but it's impossible not to. Star Loutleilei has been, in my humble opinion, the most impressive rookie of the 2013 class. He's capable of collapsing a pocket like a neutron star, he can get after the passer and he's incredibly stout against the run. Star's going to be in the conversation for best defensive tackle in the NFL within a couple of years.
To counter him, the Falcons have Justin Blalock and Garrett Reynolds, who are playing reasonably well. They also have Peter Konz, who has had a rough second season in the NFL. A little tall for a center and lacking elite strength, Konz has shown he can be pushed around. The Panthers will send Star right at him at times, and if Konz can't hold the line, it's going to lead to a lot of problems. You're likely to see Loutlelei
Again, the Falcons need to buy Ryan enough time to do damage, or they're not walking out of this one with a win. The interior of the line will need to be very good, and Konz in particular must be excellent on those snaps where he finds Lotulelei coming his way.
Akeem Dent vs. Cam Newton
Newton is still somewhat of a streaky player, but he's undeniably dangerous with the ball in his hands. He can throw bombs on the fly and is difficult to bring down as a runner.
Given that, and given that the corners are going to be plenty busy on Sunday, it's going to be up to the front seven to keep Newton in the pocket and take away one dimension. Akeem Dent seems like the likeliest choice to be the team's eyes on Newton. There's two reasons for that:
- Dent is athletic, a good tackler and someone who has shown he can get into the backfield this season
- Dent is no good in coverage, which leaves the outside linebackers to pick up the slack there
HD has been undeniably excellent over the last two weeks, giving Matt Ryan one dependable option in the passing game. Ryan has leaned on him heavily as a result.
This week, HD's got arguably his best matchup yet. Captain Munnerlyn is an average cornerback with an extraordinary name, someone who the Falcons could truly victimize with Roddy White or Julio Jones in the lineup. It's still a favorable opportunity for Douglas, and with the Panthers likely to once again double team Tony Gonzalez, HD provides Ryan's best chance of keeping the offense humming.
Go get 'em, HD.
Your thoughts on matchups for Sunday's game?