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Falcons-Panthers rapid reactions: The offense is back and the defense will shuffle

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Minutes after the game, here’s what we saw.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It wasn’t even a full hour ago that we saw the Falcons beat the Panthers 31-24, but games this close and this interesting warrant some additional quick analysis, before we’ve had time to settle and let attitudes congeal. Here are some of our all over the place reactions to the Falcons-Panthers game in Week 2.

The offense looked great

Carolina’s defense is no slouch, but the Falcons hung 31 points on them and ran for well over 100 yards, with Tevin Coleman alone piling up that total. Ito Smith looked tremendous, Calvin Ridley took off, and with the exception of a handful of annoying play calls, Steve Sarkisan wound up putting together an effective gameplan. That’s exactly what we all needed to see to feel better about this football team.

Sark’s willingness to be aggressive and put the Falcons in position to run the ball against a strong Carolina front seven and take deep strikes against their secondary was a big part of the season the Falcons won, period. The execution was also miles better than it was against the Eagles, with Matt Ryan throwing more accurate passes and relatively few miscues, though I’m sure Austin Hooper wishes he could have that terrible block that caused Ryan to get hit and miss a deep Julio throw back.

The Falcons play a worse defense next week in the Saints, and if they are relatively healthy heading into that one and Sark’s comfortable with this offense, we ought to see more of the same.

The pass rush needs help

Cam Newton is tough to bring down and can avoid pressure, but the Falcons were facing a laughably bad offensive line and managed less pressure than they should have had. For the second straight week, we saw Brian Poole and Takkarist McKinley get sacks, but we saw little else.

The Falcons can’t survive on that against some of the NFL’s better defenses. They need more from Vic Beasley, more from the interior of the defensive line, and probably more from the secondary to let that pass rush get home. The defense wasn’t great but did a solid job today, but that lack of a pass rush is a problem that legitimately worries me.

Duke Riley’s going to be contending for his job

In a more leisurely season, Riley would be competing for a starting job over the course of weeks and even months. The Falcons would work with him on technique and angles, they’d give him extended run, and then determine if they needed to make him a reserve.

In this season, with so much at stake and so many injuries, that may not happen. I’ll need to watch the game again, but on first blush Riley had the kind of game that was once wielded as a cudgel against Paul Worrilow. He was around the ball a lot and piled up the second-highest number of tackles against the Panthers, but he also had at least one bad missed tackle and ceded playing time to Foye Oluokun on that last, crucial drive of the game.

Nothing would make me happier than Riley proving to be an amazing third round pick, locking down the spot in Deion Jones’ absence, and then stepping confidently back into a starting WILL role on Debo’s return. While that possibility is still on the table, though, I think he’s going to be looking over his shoulder the next couple of weeks.

The Falcons didn’t get dejected

That last drive was terrifying, but we saw the Falcons exhibit resilience today, and that resilience certainly matters. At times last year and even in the first game, you could see the game slipping away from Atlanta, and it felt like despite their obvious talent they wouldn’t be able to catch up. In this one, they fell behind early and then fiercely rallied and blew by Carolina in demoralizing fashion, with everyone from Ryan to Robert Alford showing out to hold onto the lead.

With the number of injuries they’ve had and the expectations for Sarkisian, the Falcons could’ve folded neatly into the narrative that has been built for them. But they didn’t, and that’s a good sign going forward.