For the first time all year, the Falcons moved out of the basement of the NFC South. They leaped in front of the Carolina Panthers, who dropped their fourth straight game to an injured and terrible New York Giants team. That said, the Falcons defense is not exactly the model of consistency right now and you can bet that Sam Darnold is looking for an opportunity to get back on track.
Can he do it? Let’s look at the matchup.
In the trenches
The Panthers offensive line is a problem, and don’t just take my word for it. This one statistic says it all: 24 sacks. In 7 games, this offensive line has given up 24 sacks. Now, some of that may very well be on Sam Darnold, but it is clear that this line is an issue.
Right tackle Taylor Moton is their best player and he’s a quality starter on the outside. Matt Paradis at center has also had a solid overall career, though he is struggling this year in pass blocking. Beyond them, though, the story gets bleak. Right guard Dennis Daley has given up 2 sacks, 2 hits, 4 hurries and 8 pressures. Left guard Michael Jordan (in 2 games) has given up 3 sacks, 3 hurries and 6 pressures. Rookie left tackle Brady Christensen (in 2+ games) has given up 2 sacks, 2 hits, 8 hurries and 12 pressures. If Cam Erving starts at LT, he’s not a significant upgrade, having given up 1 sack, 4 hits, 12 hurries and 17 pressures in 5 games.
Panthers offensive line, meet Falcons defensive line, which is basically Grady Jarrett and a bunch of guys. Ade Ogundeji is getting the starts in place of the injured Dante Fowler, but he’s not consistently getting home as a pass rusher right now. Players like Steven Means, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Brandon Copeland have not been doing so, either. The occasional Deion Jones blitz has shown promise, but overall this pass rush is looking pretty punchless. For as bad as this Panthers offensive line is, the Atlanta pass rush is unlikely to take advantage of it.
The skill positions
It’s pretty stunning that Panthers fans are already talking about life after Sam Darnold when the team just gave up multiple picks to acquire him. The quarterback started the year well but has melted down since. He had a passer rating of 95 or higher in his first 3 games but has registered an 85.5, 44.5, 55.6 and 57.2 since then. He’s been sacked 15 times in the last 4 games alone!
This offense clearly misses Christian McCaffrey, who will not be back for at least another week. D.J. Moore is a very talented receiver with 46 catches on the year for 586 yards and 3 touchdowns. Robby Anderson has talent, but also a brutal catch rate and only 204 yards in 7 games. Running back Chuba Hubbard has looked good at times but is still only averaging about 3.7 yards per carry. The rest of their receiving and running options just aren’t getting it done consistently.
For the Falcons, a lot will depend on their health coming into the game. A.J. Terrell has turned into a great corner with incredible man coverage skills. Fabian Moreau has not been good this year, but did have his best game this past Sunday against Miami. Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun are beginning to play much better lately and Erik Harris and Jaylinn Hawkins have been assets in coverage.
Duron Harmon has been a bit of a liability and Richie Grant/Darren Hall in the slot are inconsistent, which is to be expected out of rookies. There’s a lot of promise in the Falcons secondary, but tight ends and occasional coverage lapses are giving them fits.
This is the matchup of the immovable object and the unstoppable force. That is, if the immovable object was a paper bag with bubble gum in it and the unstoppable force was a breezy wind during the fall. Either way, both of these units are not ones to bank on.
Did I chicken out on this assessment? Maybe, but it’s only because this matchup makes my head hurt. The thought of the Falcons making Sam Darnold look like an All-Pro makes me want to hit things, but that Panthers offensive line is bad enough that our defensive line might look good for once. This is such a terrible matchup to evaluate that I regret even starting this article series years ago. This one matchup makes me want to quit.
As it stands, toss a coin because either unit is bound to do something to make one of our fanbases roll their eyes audibly.