The Falcons have an opportunity on Sunday to take an early lead in the NFC South. Unfortunately, doing so will mean beating the Carolina Panthers. We’ve already examined how the Falcons offense matches up against their defense, so today we take a look at how our defense matches up to their offense. This won’t be pretty.
In the Trenches
The Falcons feature a defensive line that has been a disappointment so far in 2016. As a whole, the team has only 3 sacks through 3 games, and one of those sacks belongs to our top cover corner in Desmond Trufant. Grady Jarrett is having a nice second season, but may be one of the only players that is. Jonathan Babineaux doesn’t look like himself, while Tyson Jackson unfortunately does. Brooks Reed is still not doing much, while Ra’Shede Hageman is back to showing a flash here or there, but otherwise doing nothing. Dwight Freeney has been a good signing as he’s been our only pass rush threat so far. Vic Beasley has yet to get a sack, but did show some improvement in the Saints game. Overall, it’s an uninspiring unit so far, and until they can show us considerably better play, we have no reason to believe things will improve.
On the other side, the Panthers have a decent interior offensive line, with offensive tackles that can be beat. Ryan Kalil is one of the better centers in the league, and is surrounded by two good guards in Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell. This will be a hard unit to beat for interior pressure. If the Falcons are going to pressure Cam Newton, it will have to be on the edges. Left tackle Michael Oher has been the very definition of inconsistent while Mike Remmers can also be taken advantage of. Overall, though, this is a decent offensive line and a tough match-up for the Falcons. Unless Freeney and Vic can take over this game on the edges, this match-up definitely favors Carolina.
The Skill Positions
The Panthers have some good offensive weapons. Kelvin Benjamin is turning into a solid WR1, though he was completely shutout against the Vikings. Tedd Ginn has great speed and can be very dangerous, but is also prone to head-scratching drops. Greg Olsen is one of the top tight-ends in the league and is someone Falcons fans should be terrified of seeing on the field. Cam Newton may not be having his best season, but he’s still a highly dangerous QB and an especially dangerous runner. Cameron Artis-Payne in the back field is not particularly dynamic, but he’s a capable runner. This is a good Panthers offense that was one of the best in the league last year.
The Falcons secondary, on the other hand, has some issues. Desmond Trufant is a pro-bowler and will likely see many snaps against Kelvin Benjamin. Robert Alford is having a down year so far, and will need to step up considerably when matched up against Tedd Ginn. Our linebackers are in for a rude awakening, facing Newton as a runner and Olsen as a receiver. Deion Jones has the speed, but can he consistently take down Cam? Likewise, I’m not sure that Weatherspoon has the wheels to keep up with Olsen consistently. If De’Vondre Campbell were healthy, that match-up would look slightly better, but his status is questionable at best. Ricardo Allen is capable but undersized and Keanu Neal is a rookie but could be a factor in the secondary.
There’s not much about this unit that makes me believe they’ll be able to shut down the Panthers offense. At best, we should hope they can slow them down and do whatever it takes to keep Olsen from going off for over 200 yards.
I hate being negative about this Falcons defense, but so far, this unit has been one of the worst in the league. There are several young players that I really like, and I do believe Keanu Neal and Deion Jones could be factors in this game - but that’s asking a lot of two rookie starters.
The Panthers offense is highly dangerous, and I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of the second game against the Panthers last year, though I hope to be surprised. If the Falcons are going to win, our defense will need to step up in a way they haven’t so far. Until they do though, they won’t get the benefit of the doubt.