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Falcons offense vs. Panthers defense: Who wins this matchup?

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Establishing the run could be critical for Atlanta.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Despite some renewed confidence in the Falcons defense, the team needs the offense to perform at a high level if they’re going to continue winning games. With both Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman likely to miss the game on Sunday, the task of scoring against this Panthers defense gets that much harder. Here’s a look at how things shake out.

In the trenches

While the Falcons offensive line performed far better against the Saints, this is still a unit that is having a rough season overall. There’s hope that Kaleb McGary can build off his strong showing versus Cameron Jordan and Alex Mack is beginning to look more like his normal self as of late. Still, guard play is not what it needs to be with James Carpenter and Jamon Brown both failing to live up to the deals given to them this off-season. Jake Matthews is the only player who has played well all season. Unfortunately, they have a very difficult matchup coming up.

The Panthers defensive front is fierce - against the pass. This is a unit that is at the top in sacks and against the pass but is near the bottom against the run. This is a very talented unit, though. Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler and Gerald McCoy can all wreck you up the middle. Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin and Brian Burns can get to you off the edge. If Ryan is forced to throw the ball 30 or more times, this game could get ugly very quick.

The Falcons best course of action is to establish the run against one of the worst run defenses in the league. Yet, this is one of the areas where this OL has struggled the most all year long. This is not a good matchup for Atlanta.

Advantage: Panthers

The skill positions

Matt Ryan is definitely going to miss Austin Hooper on Sunday. He’s been one of the most reliable targets for our QB. He hasn’t even dropped a pass through 9 games played.

It’s going to fall to Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Brian Hill to carry the load. These guys are capable, clearly, but none is more important than Hill on Sunday. The running game has to get going against Carolina or Ryan could be clobbered in the pocket all game long. Don’t expect too much out of Jaeden Graham, who doesn’t have a favorable matchup on Sunday.

The Panthers linebackers are fantastic, even if they’re struggling against the run. Luke Kuechly is still one of the best in the league and Shaq Thompson has filled in nicely since the departure of Thomas Davis. Safties Eric Reid and Tre Boston are good as well. At corner, Donte Jackson is still growing into the position but he clearly has the elite traits to be successful. James Bradberry is more targetable, however, and Ross Cockrell was just declared out.

Without Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith and Austin Hooper, this Falcons offense is missing some needed firepower. Ryan has to be more accurate in this game than he was in New Orleans and his injury status makes that a bit of a concern. This game will depend largely on Brian Hill, which makes this a complete unknown.

Advantage: Push

Overall

Honestly, this is a bit of nightmare matchup for the Falcons offense. A top-tier pass rush that’s vulnerable against the run when you can’t consistently establish the run. Brian Hill (and possibly Qadree Ollison?) will need to be highly productive on Sunday. If they can’t get going, this matchup could go downhill fast for Atlanta. The Falcons need everything to go right, which by definition gives the nod to the Panthers.

Advantage: Panthers