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If the Falcons defense can't play well against the Panthers, then all hope is lost

Fact: Kemal Ishmael doesn't like when you call him Ishmael

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow's game has meaning. It matters, because the Falcons will be in 1st place in the NFC South with a win and a Saints loss against the middling Bengals. Even at 4-6, that's where we want to be. To get there, the defense will need to step up. If they don't, the Falcons won't win, and they'll waste a great opportunity.

We've talked about the importance of taking advantage of the Panthers' offensive line. It's the best place to start. As a reminder, they aren't very good. According to Football Outsiders, 22nd percent of the Panthers' run plays are stuffed (27th in the NFL). That means their run plays are stopped behind the line of scrimmage 1 out of every 5 times. No bueno. It doesn't get much better for Cam Newton in pass protection.

And this season? This season has been particularly bad. The Panthers' adjusted sack rate is 9.5 percent (30th in the NFL). That, of course, includes the recent, infamous Monday night game wherein Newton almost lost his life.

Some have said, in the Falcons' defense, that this isn't a must-win game. While that may be true, the bottom line is apparent: if the Falcons, especially the Falcons defense, can't play well against the Panthers, they're going to have a very hard time down the stretch. It just doesn't get any easier from here.

Go get 'em, fellas.