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Week 5 preview: Falcons vs. Panthers

Is this the week the Falcons pick up their first win of the season?

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

For the first time since 1999, the Atlanta Falcons find themselves winless after four weeks of play. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the precise reason is for this team’s fortunes at this point. It is safe to say that the list of items that has gone wrong for the Falcons this season is extensive.

As they return home after a hard lesson learned on Monday night against the Packers, awaiting the Falcons is a division foe in the Carolina Panthers that are quietly 2-2 on the season and provides a few tricky elements that the Falcons must make note of. Here is the Week 5 preview for Falcons vs. Panthers.

About their opponent

As mentioned, the Panthers are 2-2 on the season after winning their last two contests against the Chargers and Cardinals. Impressively, they won those two games without the services of their best player overall in running back Christian McCaffrey. Starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been steady, to say the least, this season with 1,147 passing yards so far while completing 73% of his passes.

The defensive side of the ball however has probably been the story of the season for Carolina. A young unit that is sixth in the NFL in takeaways per game, which is easily the best aspect of the Panthers defense so far this season.

Key matchups

Falcons RB Todd Gurley vs. Panthers run defense - If there was ever a week for the Falcons run game to elevate itself and have an outstanding day, this is the matchup for it. While the young and still developing Panthers defense has made a few plays and look good at times this season, their run defense has been average at best.

On the season, the Panthers are 21st in rushing yards allowed per game (125.2), 29th in yards per carry allowed (5.1), and 30th in rushing touchdowns allowed (seven). Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has neglected the run game at times this season and as a result, their overall scheme has been pretty predictable. Out of the four losses for Atlanta, the two with the smallest of margin (Dallas, Chicago) are the only two games in which the Falcons ran for over 100 yards. Reviews have been mixed so far with the Todd Gurley experiment in Atlanta. This matchup paints an opportunity for him to have his best game of the season.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Falcons red zone defense vs. Panthers red zone defense - Both offenses in this contest are able to move the ball a bit. So what may seem to be a small factor to some may actually be worth looking at once the game concludes. Between the two defenses are a pair of units that are ranked 27th (Carolina) and 28th (Atlanta) in opponent red zone touchdown scoring. This will play a considerable part if a play or two is made by a particular defensive unit that may limit the opposing offense to a field goal or not even a score at all. This an aspect that can definitely be key in a one or two possession game.

Analytical outlook

Coming into the NFL season, the Panthers were beginning a new era on the defensive side of the ball. Longtime starter Luke Kuechly surprisingly retired in January and the team moved on from a number of veteran starters from last season. That transition resulted in six new starters on the unit that are either rookies or defenders who are new faces.

One facet they have executed very respectfully over the last few games is generating turnovers. When you view things from a per drive perspective, Carolina is fifth in the NFL in turnovers per drive and second in the league in forced fumbles per drive. It makes sense as the unit needs time to gel collectively, so an emphasis has been established generate turnovers to somewhat mask a few deficiencies early on. That’s an approach that once worked for the Falcons, and it’s something to watch out for today as it could turn the tide of the game.

Final thought

Since the beginning of the Dan Quinn era in Atlanta, the 10 meetings between the two teams has seen the Falcons tally eight wins. That also includes a current five-game winning streak. However, this time around, it is the team that is in a current rebuilding phase that is playing better football than the team that is built to win now.

In terms of talent from top to bottom, the Falcons may have the upper hand. But leading up to this game, it without a doubt a tricky matchup. The Panthers are playing for their future with a game group of players, while the Falcons are trying to resuscitate whatever playoff hopes they may have. In other words, the Panthers are likely to play a little looser and have no pressure on themselves one bit. A win here is desperately needed by the Falcons, ahd that’s quite honestly is an understatement.