Divisional games within the NFC South are different. Sure, the casual NFL fan outside of the southern region of the United States will tend to think otherwise. However, when you have been rooted in the south for quite some time, you tend to see these matchups in a different light. They’re always heated games.
The matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers has its fair share of history. The Falcons have won seven of the last 10 meetings between the two organizations and lead the overall series, 33-19. This Sunday will be the latest edition to the chapter between the two foes, and this edition certainly has a respectable amount of intrigue.
Game: Falcons vs. Panthers
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Time and television: Oct 31st, 1:00 PM EST, Fox Network
Key in-game matchup: Falcons OTs Jake Matthews/Kaleb McGary vs. Panthers edge rushers Brian Burns/Haason Reddick
Fast and physic....you know what, we’re not going to use those two adjectives to describe the dynamic pass rushers for the Panthers. Burns and Reddick have combined for 10 of the team’s 18 total sacks. As a unit, the Panthers are tied for eighth in the entire league in total sacks. Reddick was a nice free agent pickup during the offseason for the Panthers on just a one-year deal. Now the veteran leads the Panthers in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits.
The Falcons as a team have improved gradually over the last few weeks. Over the last three games, the offensive line as a whole has allowed only two sacks, and they’ve done so while going up against the likes of Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Quinnen Williams, and Christian Wilkins during that time span. The combination of Burns and Reddick can be a lethal duo.
One key player to watch: OLB Ade Ogundeji
Normally, fifth-round rookies are not asked to do much in year one. Their mission is to get acclimated and gain whatever experience they can, unless their name happens to be Grady Jarrett, of course. For rookie Ade Ogundeji, he has gained needed experience so far in six games, but has also found a way to make his imprint in just about every game.
He notched his first sack as a professional a couple of weeks ago against the New York Jets and last week against the Miami Dolphins, his blocked field goal attempt in the first half proved to be massive as the Falcons eventually nabbed a two-point win. The rookie out of Notre Dame may not be a household name at the point, butt keep an eye on him as he’ll continue to surface a time or two in upcoming matchups. Against Sam Darnold and a shaky offensive line and with Dante Fowler out, he could have a couple of big moments in this one.
How can the Falcons win: Long, methodical touchdown drives on offense
This current Panthers defense will not be mistaken for their record-setting unit back in 2015, but it is a pretty good one. Carolina possesses plenty of young talent at all three levels, enough that they can very well give the Falcons a few issues on offense. Currently, they rank third overall in yardage, third in yards per play allowed, seventh in points allowed, and fourth in sack rate, marking them as a truly top ten defense.
Big plays on the offensive end for the Falcons may be pretty minimal. All is not lost, but it does mean this is a game in which head coach Arthur Smith will have to be decisive with his play calling. The 40-yard gains may not be there, but the 8-yard gains on third downs to move the chains just may be, especially with this group of pass catchers.
Pressing the issue against a talented defense may not necessarily be the wisest decision, but executing in the most efficient fashion may prove to equate to enough points to grab a key divisional win and run Atlanta’s record in this long-running rivalry to 34-19.