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The top matchups to watch in Falcons-Panthers Week 4

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The Falcons’ woeful pass rush versus Cam Newton, a shaky-tackling secondary against the Falcons’ tight ends, and a stout Carolina run defense against Atlanta’s dynamic running back duo.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

You’ve had extended looks at some of the things to watch in this Sunday’s game, plus the Falcons’ offense and defense versus the Panthers. Now it’s time to talk about three matchups that might swing the outcome of the game, both for the Panthers and the Falcons.

As always, we’ll re-visit these after the game to see how impactful these matchups were. Onward!

Cam Newton versus the Falcons’ “pass rush”

Dwight Freeney has quietly been gaining steam, earning a sack and four hurries a week ago against Drew Brees. The defense also found some success by sending rushers from unorthodox places, like Desmond Trufant coming off the edge. For all that, though, this remains a profoundly uninspiring pass rush, which is too bad given that the Falcons really need it to be effective this week.

The Panthers don’t have a great offensive line, and they’re particularly weak at tackle, where the Vikings whipped them repeatedly a week ago en route to eight sacks of Cam Newton. Atlanta will be up against Mike Remmers at left tackle and something called a Daryl Williams at right tackle, which gives Vic Beasley, Dwight Freeney, and others a legitimate chance to make some noise. If they’re ever going to have a game where they’ll collectively get going, this is it, because this line is arguably even weaker than the Saints’.

It still won’t be easy. Newton is a load to bring down with his size and strength, and he’s not going to simply sit there in the pocket and let the Falcons flail away at him. Your best bet is to catch him trying to hold on to the ball a little too long in order to make a play, which means you might have a chance to catch him unawares.

Newton can beat teams with his legs even if your coverage is excellent, so the Falcons have to be able to bring him down. That means sound tackling, but it would be even better if they could actually sack him, giving the defense a fighting chance of getting off the field.

The Panther secondary versus Jacob Tamme & Co.

Julio Jones is always a major threat and the Falcons should have their full receiving corps intact, which gives me hope for a productive afternoon. If you’re looking for the #1 reason for optimism for the passing game, though, it involves the tight ends.

As our friend Jaxon at Cat Scratch Reader will note in our Q&A earlier today, the Panther safety duo has turned back into the kind of mediocre tandem you would expect Tre Boston and Kurt Coleman to be, with missed tackles and poor coverage decisions. The Panthers have truly excellent linebackers, but it’s the safeties that will draw coverage responsibility against the Falcons’ tight ends most often, and it looks like a potential mismatch for the offense. Tamme has been productive this year, and Austin Hooper’s speed makes him a problem even if he’s not yet the kind of refined route runner who will cause massive issues for the defense. I fully expect one of Tamme or Hooper to have a big day, and if Coleman and Boston can’t clean up their coverage, both might bust out.

Falcons’ running backs versus Carolina front seven

If the secondary is problematic for Carolina, the front seven is whatever the opposite of problematic is. They haven’t brought a great pass rush yet this year, but the run defense has been as stout as ever. What does that mean for Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman?

It could mean something closer to the first game of the season than the last two, though I don’t expect Carolina to completely bottle the duo up. Still, given that they’ll be running against a strong, savvy group up front, chances are good Freeman’s not going to rumble for 150 yards and Coleman isn’t going to get a ton of daylight to work with. Chances are good that the Falcons will pound the ball early and, if the desired results are not there, they’ll substitute a short passing game that heavily involves both Coleman and Freeman for running. Look for the Falcons to combine for about 120 yards on the ground.