Matt Ryan has had some really good games against Carolina. His 500-yard game came against the Panthers back in 2016. And right now, this Panthers defense is a mixed bag if we’re being generous. However, Dirk Koetter is still the offensive coordinator, so god knows how this will turn out. Let’s examine the match ups.
In the trenches
Let’s get this out of the way first: the Falcons offensive line sucks at run blocking. They just aren’t good. As for pass blocking, this is actually a relatively good unit, even if they did give up 4 sacks to the Packers. On whole, the combination of Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary are quite good. Sadly, it looks like Alex Mack is having one of his worst years while the left guard spot is back to struggling with James Carpenter and Matt Hennessy. So, the unit as a whole is ok, but there are troubling gaps in the middle as we saw against Green Bay.
The Panthers defensive line isn’t the dominant unit it used to be, but they have the very promising Brian Burns on the edge. Kawann Short is off to a slow start, but has played well against the Falcons in the past. Derrick Brown and Stephen Weatherly aren’t guys to write home about and don’t look like they’ll be pressuring Ryan much. This is a unit that needs more draft investment as Carolina looks to continue their rebuild this year.
The Atlanta offensive line may not be great, but they have improved over 2019 and their pass blocking as at least good in 3 of the 5 guys. Brian Burns could be a problem, but he figures to match up with the guys who thrive in pass blocking. This will give Atlanta the slight edge here.
The skill positions
Matt Ryan has had an up and down season so far. His arm looked terrible against Green Bay but he’s played well overall this year. The scheme and injuries around him have done him no favors. Calvin Ridley disappeared against the Packers, but is still a premiere weapon. With Julio Jones likely out, Russell Gage will be the second most likely target and he’s been a nice surprise this year. Hayden Hurst is beginning to get more looks and his athleticism makes him a real weapon. The problem is with the running backs. Todd Gurley is being used poorly while Brian Hill and Ito Smith get some actual looks in the passing game. Dirk Koetter is just not using these weapons very effectively and it shows.
The Panthers linebacking corps is not what it used to be. Shaq Thompson is ok, but benefited early on in his career playing next to guys like Luke Kuechly. Rookie Jeremy Chinn is struggling so far. Safety Tre Boston is a good player off to a rough start while Juston Burris is struggling with him. The cornerbacks are decent, with Donte Jackson and Rasul Douglas anchoring the outside. Corn Elder is having a good year in the slot.
The Panthers do have some young talent with a lot of potential, but the Falcons have a bevy of weapons even with Julio likely to miss the game.
As before, if the Falcons are going to win this game, the offense needs to do it’s thing. At this point, the biggest questions are more about the play calling and execution. On paper, though, this is a unit that should win this match up.