Earlier in the season, the Atlanta Falcons defense put together one of their better performances of the season in the 48-33 victory in Atlanta. It doesn’t seem like a great thing to give up 33 points in an NFL game, but it is important to note that the Falcons defense only gave up 10 points for the first three quarters of that game. During the 4th quarter, the Falcons played prevent defense and gave up plenty of yards/points, but they forced the Panthers to use clock while doing so.
This week, I think we all see that these teams are different from when they first played. The Falcons aren’t as healthy but they are also more experienced, and the Panthers have been through plenty of trouble this season, making them a little more desperate than they were in week four.
In the trenches
In week four, the Falcons were very solid against the run and did a decent job getting to the quarterback. Atlanta held the Panthers to 49 yards rushing on 15 rushing attempts while getting to the quarterback for one sack, and they knocked Cam Newton out of the game in the fourth quarter. The Panthers have left a lot to be desired when it comes to individual performance throughout the season, but they are coming off of a solid performance against Washington.
If we simply look at the individual matchups, based on PFF ratings, the Falcons hold the edge across the line of scrimmage. Vic Beasley looks to have another good game when he rushes the passer, rather than spying Newton like he did with Kaepernick last week, and Grady Jarrett matches up well with Tyler Larsen and Chris Scott inside. In the first matchup, the Falcons were much healthier than they are now, but they seem to be playing better than they were in week four. I think Atlanta may have a couple of the individual matchups covered, so I’ll give them the edge—it is a very slight one, though.
Advantage: Atlanta Falcons
Once Derek Anderson took over in the week four matchup, the Panthers’ offense moved the ball and a lot of that was due to the play of Greg Olsen. Olsen is the perfect style of tight end if teams want to give Atlanta trouble: he knows how to find seems in zones, how to create leverage in one-on-one situations, and is much craftier than Atlanta’s young defenders. I think he really has potential to give the Falcons trouble this week, along with Kelvin Benjamin Fozzy Whittaker.
Atlanta’s secondary has gotten by pretty well since Desmond Trufant got placed on IR but they have not faced great competition, so this matchup actually has be a little more than worried. Neal has grown a lot since week four, but Olsen is still a fantastic tight end and Cam Newton’s favorite target. I think that matchup poses the most problems for Atlanta, but the work that Whittaker does out of the backfield can’t be understated either—Jonathan Stewart is also coming off of a great game Monday night where he ran for 132 yards. Atlanta will win some matchups here but I think the experience, depth, and injuries become an issue at the skill positions.
Advantage: Carolina Panthers
In this game, I think we see moments that make us all cheer when we see how far the young players on this defense have come, but then moments where we see that they still have a long, long way to go. The Panthers offensive line seems like it is in disarray so there should be some opportunity to play well along the line of scrimmage, but the Panthers (and Cam Newton) are familiar with this scheme at this point so they know how to exploit the glaring weaknesses the Falcons have. I’m concerned about the lack of quality depth in the secondary, coupled with the youth of the defense against a couple of talented veterans. Expect a good showing, all things considered, but it will still be on the offense to win the game.