With two games left to go before the 2018 season is mercifully over, the Falcons offense has another tough test ahead of it. While they handily scored on the Panthers earlier in the year in Atlanta, they go on the road to take on a unit that just held the Saints to 12 points. Here’s how the teams match up.
Note: Assessments based on 2018 PFF scores.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been one of the biggest disappointments this year. That’s partly due to the injuries of Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, but it goes deeper than that. Ryan Schraeder was benched in favor of Ty Sambrailo, who has actually played decently the past few games. Ben Garland was replaced by Zane Beadles, who hasn’t been any better at right guard. At least Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are playing well. Wes Schweitzer has been good enough to not be a disaster, so baby steps. Right now, this offensive line is in flux. They’re capable of putting together good games and also capable of bombing them.
The Panthers defensive front has talent. Kawann Short is one of the best interior pass rushers in the league. Dontari Poe has been OK, but has probably not lived up to the expectations they had for him coming in. Wes Horton has been pretty bad while Mario Addison leads the team in sacks with eight. Julius Peppers is still playing and is a great situational pass rusher for them. In many ways, this is a good, but sometimes inconsistent unit.
Based on talent alone and the ever-shifting landscape of the Falcons offensive line, the advantage has to go to the Panthers here.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have both been having stellar seasons. Ryan has put up statistics that rival his best seasons while Julio just continues to set record after record. Mohamed Sanu has been a reliable target, but he’s more of a possession receiver at this point. Calvin Ridley has looked great at times, but his drops have been incredibly frustrating. Austin Hooper has turned into a very good receiving option in his third year. At running back, Tevin Coleman had a great game last week but has been hot and cold all year. With Ito Smith now on injured reserve (my god), Brian Hill - last year’s fifth round draft pick - will likely get some snaps. As they demonstrated last week, if they play well, this unit can score with the best of them. Toss a coin, though, because that if has become a big one.
The Panthers still have the best linebacker in the league in Luke Kuechly and he hasn’t slowed down one bit. Thomas Davis is still a quality player in his last year, and while Shaq Thompson is not of the same caliber, he’s still a good player. The safety situation is not as great. Mike Adams is having a down year after playing well the past few seasons. Eric Reid has stepped in at strong safety and is playing ok, which was probably enough for the Panthers. At corner, James Bradberry is a quality player though not a dominant one. Draft pick Donte Jackson has shown flashes of brilliant play mixed with the normal rookie mistakes while Captain Munnerlyn is having a down year as their nickel corner.
This matchup is close. Atlanta can win on the outsides while the middle of the field is going to be tough sledding. If the Falcons can’t repeat what they did last week, it could be a long day at the office.
The Falcons have the ability to win this matchup, but they have proven to be incredibly inconsistent this year. Even though the Panthers are on their own slide, the matchup on paper is really close. With Carolina playing at home, I think they get the slight nod in this one.