The Falcons and Panthers are heading in different directions right now. While Atlanta has won three of its last four games, Carolina has lost four straight, including a demoralizing loss to the New York Giants.
Yet, this is a Carolina defense that can get after the QB with several talented players in their secondary. How might this play out? Let’s take a look.
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line is tied for third in terms of fewest sacks allowed (9), behind only the Rams and Bills. Using sack percentage drops them to fourth, with the Buccaneers taking the top spot. They’ve only allowed two sacks in the last three games, as well.
The unit as a whole is not dominant, but they’re doing a good enough job that Matt Ryan can consistently look downfield. In particular, the interior group has improved a good bit with Jaylen Mayfield still being the weak link, albeit a young one. They’re still struggling as a run blocking unit, but even that has improved in recent weeks.
Up front, Carolina has some players. Last year’s first round pick - Derrick Brown - is a solid guy in the middle who can help collapse the pocket. DaQuan Jones and Morgan Fox are decent players but they aren’t the anchor of the pass rush. Those honors go to Brian Burns (four sacks) and Haason Reddick (6.5 sacks). In total, Carolina has 18 sacks on the year, though 14 of those came in the first three games against the Jets, Saints and Texans. They only have four in the last four games. While their overall stats look good, when they’ve faced off against better QBs (Dak Prescott in week 4, Kirk Cousins in week 6) they were unable to take down either QB and allowed 8.5 and 7.8 yards per attempt, respectively.
Despite the recent dip, the Carolina defensive front can still pressure the QB. They could be even better if they can finally put Stephon Gilmore in the secondary. As it stands, Atlanta’s OL has improved but this will be a good test for them. If they can win this matchup, I will fully buy-in to their development. For now, it’s too close to call.
The skill positions
Right now, the offense is all about three guys: Matt Ryan, Cordarelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts. The emergence of the latter two guys has contributed to the resurgent play of Ryan.
Matt has looked incredibly comfortable running this offense and they’ve put up 27 or more points in three straight games. That said, the team could really benefit from Calvin Ridley finding his footing in this offense, as he and Russell Gage are both off to a relatively slow start. Hayden Hurst has been mostly invisible this year, though he’s been a little more active lately. Likewise, Mike Davis isn’t quite the lead back we thought he’d be, though I still think he has a lot to offer as this offense continues to evolve.
The Panthers have some really nice players in their secondary. Jaycee Horn was looking like a great rookie corner before injury ended his season. Carolina traded for Stephon Gilmore who could be active for this game, though it may be close. Donte Jackson and A.J. Bouye are good, but not necessarily shutdown guys. Safety Jeremy Chinn may matchup with Kyle Pitts and I’d probably take the unicorn in that matchup. Fellow safety Sean Chandler is an all around decent player as well. Linebacker Shaq Thompson should be back for the game, but could be limited as he recovers from a foot injury. Jermaine Carter is a downgrade from Thompson though LB Frankie Luvu has shown flashes of good play.
The Panthers secondary may be one of the better ones we’ll face this year, though they have gaps. If Calvin Ridley can finally get going—and he has played well against the Panthers in the past—this matchup is going to tilt strongly towards Atlanta. As it stands, Patterson and Pitts have enough favorable matchups to give them the nod here.
The Panthers defense has feasted on poor teams and struggled against good ones. The Cowboys scored 36 against them while the Vikings put up 34. Even the Giants - without Saquon Barkley - managed to put up 25 points. They have the players to be a quality defense but they’ve struggled to consistently put that on the field.
Meanwhile, Atlanta seems to be hitting their stride under Arthur Smith and the emergence of Kyle Pitts makes them incredibly dangerous going forward. The nod goes to Atlanta until the Panthers defense proves they can play consistently well against a good offense.