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Week 8 preview: Falcons vs. Panthers

On a short week, the Falcons hit the road to take on their division foe.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After another tough loss in an unprecedented fashion against the Detroit Lions, the Falcons are back on the road for Week 8. This time, they have their second matchup of the season against division rival Carolina Panthers, a team that knocked off the Falcons a couple of weeks back in Atlanta. There is a bitter, bitter taste in the Falcons mouth and to do away with that distaste, the Falcons must find a way to regroup quickly. Here is the preview of upcoming matchup against Carolina on Thursday night.

About their opponent

Since beating the Falcons in week five, the Panthers have found themselves on a two game losing streak. Losing to the Bears and Saints in back-to-back weeks have the Panthers wanting to get back to their surprise winning ways.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was his normal efficient self this past week against the Saints with a stat line of 23-of-28, 254 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. His 128.3 was his best passer rating of the season. The run game for the Panthers has been bogged down a bit the past couple of weeks and is something to keep note on with the Falcons having the sixth best run defense in the NFL.

Key matchups

Falcons WRs Julio Jones/Calvin Ridley vs. Panthers secondary - Going back to the first matchup, third-year receiver Calvin Ridley was a tough matchup for the Panthers after posting eight receptions for 136 yards. That was with Ridley being the primary target of the game as veteran Julio Jones was sidelined with an hamstring injury, and nobody else really contributing in the passing game. Ridley has had his best games against Carolina with more receptions (28), yards (509), and yards per target (15.4) than any other team he has faced.

The same goes for Jones, who has a career total of 1,390 yards in 15 games against Carolina. The passing defense has improved for Carolina this season but the factor of having Jones on the field poses a real challenge for a defense that struggled to bottle up Ridley a few weeks back.

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Falcons 3rd down offense vs. Panthers 3rd down offense - In this matchup, two offenses that are in the top-10 of third down conversions are on display. The previous matchup between the two teams saw the Panthers win the battle of third down conversions after being successful at a 50% clip compared to 46% for the Falcons.

Between defenses, the Panthers are 31st in opposing third down conversions while the Falcons come in at 13th overall. Being that the Falcons have alarming issues in generating turnovers and registering sacks, the next best bet for them to get defensive stops is to win on third downs and not allow the Panthers to have extended drives.

Analytical outlook

The story of the 2020 season for the Panthers has been the efficiency of veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Panthers are 11th in the NFL in passing behind Bridgewater, but what has stood out in their passing phase is the amount YAC that is being registered by the team. The Panthers are third in the NFL in yards after catch with 922 yards, just behind Kansas City and San Francisco.

To take it one step further, the Panthers have two players in the top five in total YAC yards (Mike Davis, Robby Anderson) and three in the top 20 (DJ Moore), the most of any team. So the efficiency of the Panthers passing game should be credited to Bridgewater and their offensive weapons generating notable yards after the reception, something the Falcons need to watch out for given their sometimes shaky coverage and tackling issues.

Final thought

It has been a very troubling season for the Falcons. A team that has lost games this season in unfathomable manners has to know that playoffs are an incredibly dim possibility at this point and the players are playing for pride instead of postseason seeding.

But their schedule is going to get even more rocky from here, believe it or not. Remaining on the slate are the Buccaneers (2x), Saints (2x), Chiefs, and Raiders, just to name a few. There are very few “winnable” games left for the Falcons, but this upcoming matchup with Carolina is one that the Falcons can definitely steal. The previous affair came down to the final drives in the fourth quarter but the loss led to the firing of a former head coach and general manager.

While there is not much to play for at this juncture, it will be interesting to see if the Falcons are able to muster any fight at all against a Panthers team that is improving but still beatable at this point in the season.