The Falcons offense has not been good this year. At this point, it looks pretty clear that Dirk Koetter is not the guy to lead the Atlanta offense to greatness once again. In fact, he may get Matt Ryan killed before his second tenure with the Falcons comes to a close.
The Panthers defense has been able to get after QBs this year, so this would seem like a recipe for disaster, if it weren’t for the fact that it didn’t play out that way a few weeks ago in Carolina.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has been bad. A unit that was supposed to be overhauled has been wildly disappointing. Jake Matthews is the only player who has played consistently well. Alex Mack is having one of his worst seasons ever. Free agent signings Jamon Brown and James Carpenter have been bad and/or injured, and rookie Kaleb McGary leads the league in sacks surrendered. This unit has had a few decent games here and there (including in Carolina) but they’ve mostly been a disappointment.
I wouldn’t bet on the Panthers not getting any sacks against Atlanta again. With guys like Brian Burns, Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin and Gerald McCoy on the defensive line, you have to think these guys are not going to repeat their performance from a few weeks ago. With the Falcons having surrendered 15 sacks in the last two games (how!?!?), color me nervous about this matchup.
Say a prayer for Matt Ryan. He will probably need as many as he can get.
The skill positions
A unit with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper should be so much better than this. While the offensive line has certainly been an issue, it seems like the scheme that Dirk Koetter is deploying is limiting the talent here. It has been nice to see guys like Russell Gage and Christian Blake contributing lately, however. As for the running game, I hesitate to say that Devonta Freeman and Brian Hill are a letdown with as bad as the run blocking has been. A unit this talented deserves a scheme that utilizes them better.
The Panthers linebackers are their strength on the back end. Luke Kuechly is still one of the best in the league and Shaq Thompson has played well in lieu of Thomas Davis. The corners and safeties are a mixed bag. Donte Jackson is loaded with potential but is inconsistent. James Bradberry is decent, but hardly a shutdown corner. Eric Reid and Tre Boston are capable safeties.
The Falcons should dominate this matchup. Dirk Koetter makes it closer than it should be. If the offensive line continues their poor performance, they will also set this unit behind. The change at head coach for Carolina could be a problem for this unit, though, so we’ll give a slight edge to Atlanta.
I just don’t think this one will play out the same way. Those 15 sacks in the last two games give me serious reservations about what this offense can do. They should be able to do more, but that’s been the story all year. Carolina’s defense is similarly inconsistent, so good luck figuring out how this one is going to shake out.
Advantage: Absolutely no one