Sam Darnold is a generous soul. Only two other quarterbacks have as many or more combined interceptions and fumbles than Carolina’s signal caller, and both of those players (Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray) are among the NFL’s best passers regardless. Darnold, who is tied for 2nd in the NFL in interceptions and tied for 5th in fumbles, is not.
The Falcons are not greedy, though. Only three teams have fewer takeaways than they do in 2021, and that’s with Jaylinn Hawkins and Foye Oluokun each snagging an interception a week ago. The past two weeks indicate Atlanta might be turning the corner a bit in this regard after managing just two turnovers through the first four games, but aside from Hawkins nobody’s exactly punishing teams for their mistakes.
Something’s gotta give here, right? This matchup’s outcome may not hinge on turnovers—I genuinely think the Falcons can beat the Panthers without them—but it would certainly make things more comfortable if Atlanta was able to take advantage of Darnold coughing up the ball on average almost twice per game.
So that’s this week’s big question: Will the Falcons take advantage of Darnold’s shakiness under pressure and holiday spirit to put the Panthers in an early grave just in time for Halloween? Forgive me for mixing my holiday seasons.
My gut feeling is yes, they will. In another cantankerous press conference where he mixed some really thoughtful observations about young defenders with yellin’ at D. Orlando Ledbetter, Dean Pees singled out Grady Jarrett as the man who helped force Tua Tagovailoa’s bad throw that Oluokun took full advantage of against Miami. Jarrett has another plus matchup against the Panthers, and Marlon Davidson has a healthy week under his belt after helping set up Ade Ogundeji’s blocked field goal. That interior pressure is an absolute killer for Darnold, who is easily spooked and is the second-most sacked quarterback in the NFL this year. Atlanta doesn’t have the league’s best pass rush—it’s one of the worst, frankly—but they’re colliding with a bad line and a quarterback who hears footsteps in his sleep right now. They’ll be able to get enough to force some panicked throws and bad decisions, and hell, we know Hawkins is capable of taking advantage of that at the very least.
It’s always a bad idea to invest too many hopes and dreams in this Falcons defense, particularly when we’re talking about something that has been a noticeable weakness even among their many noticeable weaknesses. Given the matchup with Darnold and the way the Falcons have begun to punish quarterbacks for mistakes, though, I’m bullish on their chances of walking away with a game-changing turnover or two. Hopefully that’s all part and parcel of their third straight win.