The Panthers, on the other hand, have had some issues on and off the field that are not helping their overall performance. On the surface, these are not evenly-matched teams, however, the Panthers have a lot of talent, and anything can happen in a division matchup.
Carolina Offense vs. Atlanta Defense
Let’s begin by reveling for a moment in the fact that, through the first three games of the season, the Falcons defense looks incredible. The Falcons’ turnover ratio is currently +10, and they are allowing the 4th-fewest points per game in the league right now, at just 16.
The Panthers have had injury struggles and personality struggles of late, but Cam Newton was not rookie of the year last season for nothing. He has a ton of talent, and he’s putting up decent stats this season. Steve Smith is one of the best WRs in the league, and Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen are favorite targets of Newton’s so far this season. Coverage will have to be solid, and the Falcons will need to be prepared to stop Newton and DeAngelo Williams, and maybe Jonathan Stewart, who was limited in practice on Thursday, on the run, also.
The Panthers’ turnover ratio is -6, and the Falcons should be opportunistic and try to force turnovers. If Peyton Manning was caught off guard by the dynamic Falcons defense, it is reasonable to expect that it might throw Newton off, too.
Falcons Offense vs. Panthers Defense
Matt Ryan is playing extremely well so far this season. In each game, he has looked confident and accurate. Ryan is completing 72% of passes, has 8 TDs and 1 INT, and a passer rating of 114. The offense under his leadership looks fantastic. What Julio Jones said in preseason about the Falcons' receiving corps is turning out to be true; it is very difficult to adequately cover them all.
Michael Turner has historically been very successful rushing against the Panthers, and a balanced attack certainly would help the Falcons exert their will upon Carolina’s defense. The Falcons did run the ball more effectively last week against the Chargers--run blocking seemed to be improved.
The Panthers are allowing an average of 383 yards of total offense per game; the Falcons have been able to move the ball effectively and capitalize on red zone opportunities so far this season, and it's reasonable to expect that Sunday will be no different in that regard.
In other news:
If you’re going to be at the game on Sunday, please know that Mike Smith expects the crowd to be as loud and energetic as they were on Monday Night Football against the Broncos, as stated in this post-game interview transcript on AtlantaFalcons.com.
The Falcons safety tandem of William Moore and Thomas DeCoud are getting all kinds of national attention. DeCoud has been interviewed on SportsCenter and NFL AM this week.
Even as Willy Mo and DeCoud are being acknowledged for their excellent level of play through three games, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has stated that he sees their style of play as a potential weakness, and he plans to exploit it. Read more about that in Pete Holby’s piece on SB Nation Atlanta, but don’t worry too much about it. Mike Nolan has surely already schemed for this, and we all know that Willy Mo is always ready, anyway.
Newton has had a rough week after losing big to the Giants a week ago on Thursday Night Football. Steve Smith called Newton out publicly for his attitude after the game, and the Charlotte Observer ran this unflattering cartoon mocking Newton, and much drama has ensued. This could be a huge distraction and detract from their preparation, or it could have a galvanizing effect on a team that will not want to be embarrassed against a division rival. The Panthers are coming off of a nice long week to prepare for Sunday’s game. Don’t get me wrong, the Falcons absolutely should win this Sunday, but it would be a mistake to look past the Panthers.
What will you be looking for from both teams on Sunday?