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Four Critical Matchups In The Second Falcons-Panthers Game

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It's nearly rematch time!

The Panthers played a tough game despite a woeful run defense the last time around, so you can bet this one will be competitive again. Any time with Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Steve Smith has the weaponry to hang in there. It doesn't help that they're at home, either.

Still, the Falcons have plenty of ways to come out swinging. The defense has only gotten better since the last time these two teams met, Michael Turner is healthy and going against two inexperienced defensive tackles and the Falcons are playing for their postseason lives at this point.

Ultimately, this game will come down to whether the Falcons can put a stop to the Panthers offense. While it may be true that the Panthers' young tackles shut down LaGarette Blount a week ago, this remains a defense that the Falcons can actually do something against.

Ahead, you'll read about the four matchups I consider most important in tomorrow's game.

Michael Turner versus Andre Neblett

Last time around, the Falcons won to no small extent because Turner entered beast mode. They'll hope he can do so again.

This is a different set of tackles than Turner faced the last time. His luck on outside runs should be about the same, but we all know that Mike Mularkey loves to deploy his Burner up the middle. He'll have an interesting go of it this time around.

Nose tackle Frank Kearse is a bear at 325 pounds and will be tough to go around, regardless of his talent level. Instead, Turner should run at Andre Neblett, the second year starter who weighs under 300 pounds.

The Panthers may well be better at stopping the run than last time, but it will hardly matter. Turner should gash them.

Cam Newton versus Sean Weatherspoon

Who can contain one of the league's most mobile quarterbacks better than one of the league's most athletic linebackers?

'Spoon has become a terrific linebacker, and he's the most logical choice to spy on Newton, if Brian Van Gorder is going to use anyone in that role. Even if he's not dedicated solely to crushing Cam's soul, 'Spoon is a guy who can get after Newton and make tough tackles against a guy who runs more like a fullback than a quarterback.

Of course, Newton is a deadly scrambler and a potentially deadly passer, so it won't just be up to Spoonami. He's just a key cog.

Charles Johnson versus Sam Baker

If Will Svitek plays, substitute his name and tone down the concern every so slightly.

Johnson has not come back down to earth following last year's 11 sack season, the one that earned him a huge contract extension from the Panthers. He's got 8.5 this season and remains a potent pass rusher. Perhaps even a potent potable.

The Falcons may be without Svitek, who is questionable to play. That would mean a return to the lineup for Sam Baker, who is probable and has essentially spent the last six weeks recovering. The Falcons' line had really gelled until last week's disaster against the Texans, so it will be interesting to see how Baker's return goes.

I hope the Falcons will give him help early if he struggles. You got Reggie Kelly as a blocking tight end. It wouldn't be unreasonable to ask him to chip.

Matt Ryan versus Panthers Secondary

The Falcons' receivers have struggled badly in recent weeks, plagued by drops and inconsistency. The Panthers should be a panacea.

It's not that Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn aren't quality cornerbacks, because they are. But the Panthers as a whole are woeful against the pass and Ryan should have open weapons throughout the day.

If he can reliably connect with Roddy, Julio, HD and Gonzo throughout the day, it'll be great news for the Falcons.