Dave Choate: Cam Newton's talent is evident, even for Falcons fans, but he's taking a pounding and perhaps holding on to the ball a little too long in an effort to make things happen. Is that a long-term concern for Newton?
Jaxon: Yes certainly the number of hits Newton is taking is both a short term concern (especially when the hits are to the helmet) and the long term health of Newton the person, not just the QB. That would suggest the Panthers are calling fewer designed runs for Newton and instead instructing him to throw more check downs. We saw that in the first two games but this past weekend he did hold the ball too long. I blame the play calling and his receivers not getting open but at the same time Newton has to know he has to get rid of the ball. I think him holding the ball too long, which he did 3 or 4 times versus the Vikings, won’t be a recurring theme going forward.
Dave Choate: It was striking to see Kelvin Benjamin not receive a target in Week 3. Is he going to become more integrated as the season moves along, or are the Panthers content to spread the ball around?
Jaxon: After reviewing an All 22 analysis posting on CSR recently I think KB is most to blame for his goose egg against the Vikings. Newton wanted to throw the ball to him on several occasions, but KB wasn’t working hard enough to get open, he was running lazy routes and was letting defenders affect his play. I expect to see a concerted effort to get KB the ball this Sunday and I also expect to see more effort from KB himself.
Dave Choate: The front seven is always a problem for other teams, and while the Falcons look good up front on offense, it's a major concern for me. How has the defense looked thus far, and the pass rush in particular?
Jaxon: The pass rush is a definite concern for the Panthers right now. While the run defense has been stellar the front four is not getting enough pressure by themselves. Consequently the Panthers are having to run more zone blitzes to get the pressure they need on 3rd down. I’m not exactly sure what the problem is in that regard but I’m hopeful the front four will get better as the season progresses.
Dave Choate: Josh Norman is gone, and the cornerbacks left here are mostly unknowns to non-Panthers fans. Tell us a little bit about how the cornerbacks corps is faring so far, and if there's anyone here the Falcons should try to pick on.
Jaxon: Rookie 2nd round pick CB James Bradberry (they guy we all yelled ‘Who?!!’ when drafted) has been very solid. He is a starter and has played tight coverage and keep the play in front of him while also being a sure tackler. But he’s a rookie so you’ll want to go after him versus Bene Benwikere. The other rookie CB Darryl Worley will get snaps and has been more of a liability at times but he is also more likely to make plays on the ball.
Honestly it’s been our safety play that is more of a concern in the secondary, hence the recent signing of Michael Griffin. Tackling has been a problem with both Tre Boston and Kurt Coleman while Boston also takes poor angles in coverage. While we haven’t been beaten over the top much it’s a huge concern facing Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Dave Choate: You're obviously not going to see the Panthers go 15-1 again, but they still seem like the team to beat in the NFC South. What's your record prediction, and what's your prediction for this game?
Jaxon: While we remain confident this team will turn in better performances going forward there are legitimate concerns with the offensive line, the pass rush and sub-par special teams play. We really thought this team could be better than last year’s squad outside of the loss of Josh Norman. That saidn we have faced two of the better defenses in the league, maybe the best two defenses when it’s all said and done. So that should prepare us well for this next three game stretch against all three of our NFCS brethren.
A clean sweep and all is right with the world. This first game in ATL will no doubt be the toughest of the three but even falling to 1-3 won’t cause panic. I still think this team can win 12 games as the Seattle and Oakland road games aren’t looking so tough anymore.
As far as a game prediction, I don’t think it will be quite the shoot out we saw this past Monday.
Panthers 34 Falcons 24