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Falcons vs Panthers preview: Offensive and defensive stats comparison for Week 8

After finding another creative way to lose, the Falcons (1-6) now face a primetime rematch with the division rival Panthers (3-4) on Thursday Night Football. We take a look at how Atlanta and Carolina matchup on offense and defense heading into Week 8.

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

The Falcons just can’t seem to stay out of the news. It seems like every week, the team finds new and exciting ways to blow leads or lose games. They’re innovators of ineptitude, as was evidenced by managing to lose a game by scoring a TD. It’s a crazy world we live in, but the one comforting thing we have is knowing that Atlanta is going to find a way to cause us pain on a weekly basis.

With that pep talk out of the way, our attention now turns to a Thursday Night Football matchup with the division-rival Carolina Panthers (3-4). The Falcons lost the first meeting by playing poor football on offense and allowing a few too many big plays to Teddy Bridgewater and the passing attack. Can Atlanta turn it around and prevent the sweep in primetime? Let’s take a closer look at the offensive and defensive statistics for both teams as we head into Week 8’s game.

OFFENSE - WEEK 10

Statistic Falcons Cowboys
Statistic Falcons Cowboys
Points/game 21.9 (21st) 30.1 (3rd)
Total yards/game 338.0 (20th) 434.3 (1st)
Yards per play 5.3 (T-22nd) 6.4 (1st)
Passing yards/game 257.6 (12th) 291.5 (4th)
Passing yards per attempt 7.1 (T-18th) 8.2 (T-5th)
Sack Percentage 4.4% (8th) 4.5% (9th)
Rushing yards/game 80.4 (29th) 142.8 (3rd)
Rushing yards per attempt 3.4 (31st) 4.9 (T-4th)
Scoring Efficiency 37.9% (19th) 46.0% (4th)
Red Zone Efficiency 63.0% (12th) 58.6% (16th)
Turnover Percentage 11.5% (T-18th) 11.5% (T-18th)
Third Down Efficiency 43.5% (10th) 46.1% (4th)

The Falcons once again followed a strong offensive performance with a mediocre one, managing just 22 points and an embarrassing 2.5 yards per carry against a below-average Lions defense (that was allowing nearly 4.9 yards per carry, on average). Atlanta is currently 13th in scoring offense, 6th in total yardage, and T-17th in yards per play. In the passing game, the Falcons are an impressive 3rd in yardage but just T-17th in yards per attempt—a sign that their offensive production is mostly the result of high volume. On the ground, Atlanta has returned to the dregs of the NFL: T-20th in rushing yardage but a pitiful T-28th in yards per carry (just 3.8).

The advanced statistics once again paint a rosier picture of the Falcons offense—a sign that they probably should be better overall. Atlanta is currently 8th in scoring efficiency and 12th in third down conversion rate. Both are good numbers, but the issue is that much of that scoring comes from field goals, and the team is in an utterly absurd number of third down situations—the Falcons are currently 1st in the league in 3rd down attempts, as Dave Choate covered here. Atlanta has also been above-average in pass protection (T-12th in sack rate) and have been good at limiting turnovers (7th in TO rate).

The Panthers have been better than expected on offense, but have been pretty mediocre overall. Carolina is currently 25th in scoring offense, 16th in total yardage, and an impressive T-5th in yards per play. In short, they’ve been very efficient but have struggled to turn that efficiency into sustained production and points. The Panthers are currently 11th in passing yardage and T-4th in yards per attempt. Without RB Christian McCaffrey, the run game has struggled: the team is T-20th in rushing yardage and T-18th in yards per carry.

The advanced statistics also tell a mixed story for the Panthers. On the one hand, Carolina has been top-10 in both scoring efficiency (6th) and third down conversion rate (8th). On the other hand, they’ve been poor in turnover rate (20th) and have been merely average in pass protection (T-16th). Overall, the Panthers have been an effective offense that has been slowed by turnover issues and a reliance on kicking FGs instead of getting TDs.

Offensive Advantage: Falcons

DEFENSE - WEEK 10

Statistic Falcons Cowboys
Statistic Falcons Cowboys
Points/game 27.5 (28th) 24.0 (T-18th)
Total yards/game 360.5 (17th) 371.5 (21st)
Yards per play 5.6 (T-17th) 6.0 (T-27th)
Passing yards/game 237.4 (13th) 270.5 (25th)
Passing yards per attempt 7.1 (T-10th) 7.8 (T-22nd)
Pressure Rate 18.6% (31st) 25.1% (16th)
Rushing yards/game 123.1 (24th) 101.0 (10th)
Rushing yards per attempt 4.4 (T-19th) 4.3 (T-14th)
Scoring Efficiency 43.9% (25th) 35.9% (13th)
Red Zone Efficiency 66.7% (T-21st) 68.0% (25th)
Turnover Percentage 8.5% (24th) 15.2% (6th)
Third Down Efficiency 47.9% (30th) 34.7% (7th)

The Falcons have benefitted from playing some more league-average offenses after starting the season by facing three of the league’s best in Seattle, a (healthy) Dallas, and Green Bay. Even so, Atlanta is clearly a below-average defense weighed down by a disastrous secondary and mediocre pass rush. The Falcons are currently 26th in scoring defense, 31st in total yardage allowed, and 32nd in yards per play. In the passing game, Atlanta has nearly taken the crown of “worst in the league” from the Seahawks: 31st in passing yardage allowed and 32nd in yards per attempt. On the ground, however, Atlanta has been very stout: an impressive 6th in rushing yardage allowed and 7th in yards per carry.

The advanced statistics continue to paint a maddening picture of the defense, as they all signal that the Falcons should be better overall. Atlanta is currently 22nd in scoring efficiency and an impressive 13th in third down conversion rate—relatively strong numbers considering the league-worst passing stats allowed. The Falcons have also been below-average in turnover rate (T-21st) and pressure rate (20th), but again, neither of those are that bad.

I’m not sure there’s a more surprising unit in the entire NFL than the Panthers defense in 2020. Widely considered to be the least talented in the league, Carolina has cobbled together a solid group that puts Atlanta’s to shame. The Panthers are currently 13th in scoring defense, 13th in total yardage allowed, and T-15th in yards per play. In the passing game, Carolina is 10th in yardage allowed and an incredible 1st in yards per attempt. They’ve been vulnerable on the ground, however: 18th in rushing yardage allowed and T-26th in yards per carry.

The advanced statistics are where things start to get weird. Carolina’s best trait thus far has been creating turnovers, as they’re 8th in the NFL in turnover rate. Outside of that, however, they’ve struggled in nearly every category. In the efficiency metrics, they’re bad: 25th in scoring efficiency and an awful 31st in third down conversion rate (allowing 56.3% of attempts). As a pass rush, the Panthers have been the NFL’s worst defense: 32nd in pressure rate with just 17%. These stats show a defense that is overperforming and is likely due for regression in the second half of the 2020 season.

Defensive Advantage: Panthers

The Falcons go into the rematch with the Panthers in a better statistical position than last time. Atlanta’s offense has taken the slight lead in the statistics, while Carolina’s defense continues to hold the edge on that side of the ball. While the Falcons blew nearly all of the good will generated by the dismantling of the Vikings with a disastrous finish against the Lions, the Panthers remain one of the most beat-able opponents on the schedule.

For the Falcons, they’ll simply have to do better on offense than the last time. Dirk Koetter’s passing attack has a habit of looking dreadful any time it’s faced with a competent opponent, and Carolina fits that description. To offset that, Atlanta will need a big day from Todd Gurley and the rushing attack to take advantage of the Panthers’ biggest defensive weakness.

On defense, I don’t think we can expect much to change for Atlanta. The coverage is a total disaster and the pass rush is mediocre. Add to that the fact that the Falcons’ usually competent run defense was destroyed by Mike Davis in the previous game and you don’t get a particularly favorable matchup. The saving grace could be the turnover-prone nature of Carolina’s offense—a few well-timed mistakes could easily tilt the game script in Atlanta’s favor. The game is evenly matched, from a statistical perspective at least, but I’d still be surprised to see the Falcons come away with the road win.

Overall Projection: Evenly matched

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ Thursday Night Football matchup with the Panthers? What matchups would you target on offense and defense if you were in charge in Atlanta?