For the second time this year the Falcons defense will face off against a Panthers team that may have their best player back in Christian McCaffrey. Obviously, if he does play, he changes the entire complexion of this matchup. Has Atlanta improved since their first matchup which was Dan Quinn’s last as head coach? Let’s take a look.
In the trenches
While the Falcons secondary has seen some improvement in recent weeks, the defensive front remains a problem. Outside of Grady Jarrett, this unit is just not getting to the QB. Allen Bailey and Charles Harris have been good in spots and Takk McKinley looked good at the start of the year, but there’s just not consistency in this unit. Dante Fowler has been a bit of a disappointment considering his big payday. This unit does not inspire much confidence right now.
The Panthers OL is pretty well set on the outside. Russell Okung and Taylor Moton do a nice job on the outside. The guards Chris Reed and Dennis Daley offer the best opportunity to put pressure on Teddy Bridgewater as neither guy is doing well in pass blocking.
There’s an opportunity here for Jarrett to wreck things, but he can’t do it alone. Put no faith in this unit until they consistently earn it.
The skill positions
While the Falcons linebackers, safeties and corners are not great, they have been playing better lately. Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and A.J. Terrell have all been quite good over the past few weeks, while Foye Oluokunhas been playing well most of the year. Even rookie linebacker Mykal Walker has looked impressive in streaks. Everyone else, however, has been a mix of bad to awful.
Here’s the thing: if McCaffrey does play, this could get ugly. He’s a great all around weapon and a game changer on this offense. Teddy Bridgewater has been serviceable - and looked like an All-Pro against us earlier this year - but McCaffrey is the game changer. D.J. Moore and Kenny Anderson could also be a problem on the outside, but all eyes will be on the backfield. If McCaffrey does not play, don’t forget that Mike Davis averaged 5.6 yards per carry against us in week 5.
The Falcons defense has been playing better, but they still aren’t good. Atlanta does have some opportunities to even out this matchup here, but they have too many holes to do it consistently.
It’s a conclusion as old as time. If you’re going against an Atlanta defense, bet on the other guy.