To say that the Falcons offense disappointed in their opening game would be an understatement. The undeniably talented unit continued to struggle in the red zone, prompting fans to call for the head of OC Steve Sarkisian and question if QB Matt Ryan was secretly hurt during the game.
The offense looks to get back on track against another good defense in the Carolina Panthers. Though they’ll be missing LB Thomas Davis, this is still a difficult unit to go up against. Here’s how they match up.
Note: Assessments based on PFF scores.
In the trenches
Though the Falcons offensive line struggled against an elite Eagles defensive line, they are still a quality unit overall. Alex Mack is arguably one of the three best centers in the league. Jake Matthews is a good left tackle who has improved every year he’s been in the league. On the other side, Ryan Schraeder has struggled a bit as of late, but has been a quality player through most of his career. Andy Levitre is underappreciated at left guard, though he’s clearly on the backside of his career. Brandon Fusco isn’t someone you write home to momma about, but he’s a decent starter.
Carolina features another strong defensive line, though it’s arguably not at the same level as the Eagles from last week. In the middle, Kawann Short is an elite level defensive tackle who can wreak havoc against the run and the pass. New teammate Dontari Poe is another high quality starter who can disrupt the run or the pass. On the edges, Mario Addison is a quality pass rusher, though probably not someone you’d put in that elite tier. Wes Horton will get snaps on run downs, but is not of the same caliber as his teammates. Julius Peppers continues to defy Father Time and is still capable of getting to the QB. This is a good unit, if not necessarily as dominant as they have been in the past.
This is another tough matchup for the Falcons offensive line. Though this Panthers defensive line is not the same as the Eagles, it’s a quality one nonetheless. This matchup is too close to call.
The skill positions
Despite his horrid game last week, Matt Ryan is a high-quality QB who figures to bounce back this week. Julio Jones is still one of the best in the league, while Mohamed Sanu is a nice complement who wins in traffic more than with speed. Calvin Ridley is still a question mark with upside that needs to be realized. The Falcons have two great running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, though it’s unclear whether Freeman will be healthy for the game. Austin Hooper is still improving as a tight end, but the team needs more from him this year. This is an immensely talented group, but they need to live up to the lofty expectations.
The Panthers have the best linebacker in the game in Luke Kuechly. He’s dominant in all phases and is nearly impossible to beat consistently. Shaq Thompson — who is playing instead of Thomas Davis — is hardly a downgrade. He’s played very well and figures to be a great long-term replacement for Davis. David Mayo is the weak link in this group.
The safeties are a mixed bag. Mike Adams has been around for a long time, but has played at a decent level the last few years. Da’Norris Searcy has been OK over the past few years, but is probably the weaker of these two. CB James Bradberry has been developing nicely for the Panthers, but isn’t someone that can handle Julio one-on-one. Rookie CB Donte Jackson is a wildcard who the Falcons will likely target early and often. Veteran CB Captain Munnerlyn is the same inconsistent CB who is just as likely to make a big play as he is to give up one.
This matchup is close, but mostly because of the talented linebackers in the middle. Ignoring coordinator struggles, the Falcons’ talent level has the slight edge here. Let’s hope they live up to it.
This game will come down to whether or not the Falcons can utilize their offensive weapons better. There’s reason to believe that will happen, as Matt Ryan has a long history of bouncing back after a really bad game. If he can do that and if Sark can extend his creativity outside the first quarter, the Falcons offense could be in for a nice game. God knows we need it.