Heading into Week 2, the Falcons and Panthers are both ridiculously injured for contending teams who only played one game. That means this matchup is a little trickier to suss out than others have been and will be, because there are so many players on both teams who are stepping into starting roles for the first time, or at least the first time for this team.
Let’s dive into one reason to feel good about this matchup, mostly thanks to Carolina’s ineptitude and injuries, and one reason to worry, mostly due to the Falcons’ injuries.
Feel confident about the pass defense
Yes, Cam Newton has the talent to throw all over Atlanta if he really wants to. Yes, it’s possible the Falcons will surrender some big plays. But out of all the things that could kill the Falcons in this game, from poor red zone offense to injuries to run defense (more on that in a moment), their ability to stop the Panthers passing game has to come last on the list.
The Panthers currently have one offensive lineman starting in the same place as he did in training camp, and that would be Pro Bowl-caliber center Ryan Kalil. Outside of that, they have injuries ravaging guard and tackle, and may start a former Texans tackle (Chris Clark) they just picked up off the street this week. This will be a powerful test of their Falcons defensive line, as a failure to get home against Cam Newton with this line will be pretty much a disaster.
Taking away the struggles of the offensive line, Newton still doesn’t have many inspiring options to throw to. Devin Funchess is a fine receiver and a big red zone target, but he’s not particularly great. Curtis Samuel is hurt. Greg Olsen is hurt. Ian Thomas is an unproven if promising rookie tight end. D.J. Moore is an afterthought at the moment, and aside from the very dangerous Christian McCaffrey, there aren’t any other options who strike fear into your heart. The Panthers should struggle mightily to throw the ball for the sixth time in seven tries against Dan Quinn, and if the pass rush gets home, it could be a nightmarish day for Newton.
Worry about the run defense
The flip side of the coin is that the run defense is a legitimate concern, even with that Panthers offensive line looking so awful. The reasons for that are myriad, but let’s break them down:
- Cam Newton has pretty much never been held in check on the ground against a Dan Quinn defense. He’s not been able to break games open with his legs all by himself, sure, but he’s done great work on the ground against defenses that featured both Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. That’s not a great sign.
- Christian McCaffrey already looks better as a runner this year than he did a year ago, and his speed and sometimes impressive physicality makes him a problem for a defense without a couple of playmakers. The Falcons let Jay Ajayi run all over them in the second half of the Eagles game, and while McCaffrey isn’t exactly the bullet train that Ajayi is, he’s plenty good enough to cause problems.
- C.J. Anderson is also good, though he’s the third-tier threat for this ground game in my opinion.
- The Falcons are just missing some of their best players. No Neal and no Jones puts the Falcons in the position of counting on relatively unproven players, and the run defense took a nosedive last week without Neal. The Panthers are good enough on the ground to exploit that.
I’ll go ahead and say the Panthers running the ball at will should ensure they win this game. If the Falcons can clamp down and the offense rebounds, though, they should be in great shape.
What are you confident and worried about heading into this one?