Believe me - I know the foregone conclusion. Any NFL defense that has given up 30 or more points in every game is not going to get the benefit of the doubt. However, I also think it is fair to point out that the Falcons defense has been missing some key players and if they return, the matchup is not as cut and dry as you’d think. Let’s take a look at how it breaks down.
In the trenches
The Falcons trenches may be the only non-terrible part of the defense right now. All of it revolves around Grady Jarrett, who is probably not having his best season either, but is still incredibly reliable. Dante Fowler Jr. has been a bit of a disappointment so far, but one has to wonder if his ankle injury has slowed him. Steven Means and Allen Bailey are a big downgrade from Takk McKinley, who may be back for this game. If he is, the pass rush should improve a good bit. John Cominsky has been showing flashes, but he’s still a bit hit and miss. In total, this is not a terrible unit, but it’s not a good one either.
The Panthers have a bit of a mixed bag on their offensive line. Greg Little at LT is a big liability right now, ranking a terrible 29.0 in pass blocking this year. The interior guys - Chris Reed, Matt Paradis and John Miller - are a mostly mediocre group, but aren’t the big liability that Little currently is. Right tackle Taylor Moton is their best player, and he’s solid in the passing game and in the running game.
In total, this is two similar units. A lot of mediocrity with one or two good players and some potential liabilities.
The skill positions
Right now, Foye Oluokun is the better of the linebackers, with Deion Jones having a rough season compared to his normal standard. Mykal Walker has looked good in spots. Isaiah Oliver gets a lot of flack from fans, but is not as bad as many make him out to be. He’s actually a “league average” corner on whole, but gets almost no help over the top. Losing three starting safeties - Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee - means the team will be starting Sharrod Neasman and rookie Jaylinn Hawkins, assuming he gets out of the concussion protocol. Finally, Kendall Sheffield rounds out as the corner on the other side. He’s loaded with potential, but has yet to fully deliver on it. This, my friends, is not a good unit. At all. The injuries aren’t helping, but many of these guys are just playing poorly this year.
Obviously, the Panthers are missing Christian McCaffrey. Mike Davis has played decently out of the backfield but is clearly not the same kind of weapon. Teddy Bridgewater is an upgrade over the hot mess of 2019, but he’s only ranked 27th out of 35 QBs according to PFF - so he’s not that much of an upgrade, though his OL does him no favors. Wide receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are a good pairing, but not necessarily the same one-two punch the Falcons have. Tight End Ian Thomas was a player with a ton of potential who is not yet delivering on it in year 3. This is not a unit that is scaring defenses. Not in the least.
The Panthers offensive might not be intimidating, but the Falcons defense is a wet paper bag.
So yes. The conclusion was already know. While Atlanta could take advantage of this offensive line, it will depend on whether Dante Fowler is healthy and whether Takk McKinley returns to the lineup. If so, this becomes a slightly closer match up but don’t hold your breath for competency.