This past Sunday, the Falcons were absolutely dominated through the air by a very potent Cincinnati Bengals offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow. This is a game that saw more losses on the back end as cornerback AJ Terrell left the game early with a hamstring injury, which handicapped the secondary even more. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that was the reason the defense got so handily beaten by this Bengals offense.
Coach Pees dialed up his signature pressure packages and hit and sacked Burrow multiple times. However, Burrow was just very sharp throughout the game, taking advantage of his weapons in every facet of the game. If anyone had been paying attention to this defense throughout the season, they would realize that this was certainly possible and would eventually happen.
Now, the defense must regroup and prepare for a Panthers offense that’s in a rebuilding transition after the firing of former head coach Matt Rhule. How do the Falcons match up in this division rivalry against the Panthers?
In the trenches
This Panthers offensive is one that shouldn’t be overlooked. With steady and solid right tackle Taylor Moton and rookie Ikem Ekwonu, this line helped lead the Carolina offense to a very impressive performance in the running game against a formidable defensive front in Tampa Bay. While there are definitely some weaknesses in the middle of that OL with Bradley Bozeman at center in particular, they’ve proven that they can affect the game with physicality, especially on the ground.
The Falcons defensive line has some true tone setters up front with Grady Jarrett and emerging star Ta’Quon Graham. There aren’t many that can contain those two, nor actually get significant push against them when they’re on their game. Abdullah Anderson presents a solid piece of the line with his strength and technique also. However, after eventually cutting 2020 2nd round draft pick Marlon Davidson, one has to wonder if there will be any further additions up front. As it is currently, I like our chances up front, but we’re one really solid nose tackle or 5-tech away from having a dominant unit.
The skill positions
Oh, how the tides have turned in regards to the skilled positions for the Panthers. In a matter of about a week, they’ve traded away Christian McCaffery and Robbie Anderson, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see more transactions before the trade deadline. However, they still have dynamic wide receiver DJ Moore and have a running back committee with Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman. Surprisingly, this duo amassed 181 rushing yards against the Buccaneers, so they’ll have plenty of confidence going up against this Falcons defense.
This Falcons backend his truly hobbled at the moment. A.J. Terrell has a hamstring injury that’s considered a week-to-week ailment, but for the most part, injuries like that linger if not properly rested. Dee Alford is also nursing a hamstring injury, and his status is also unclear at this point. However, inside linebacker Mykal Walker looks to be back to full strength, so the Falcons will have all of their linebackers at their disposal. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see some big nickel sets by the defense in this game. Due to the injuries on the back end, there is no true advantage for either team here.
Given the Panthers quarterback situation with Interim HC Steve Wilks starting PJ Walker, I fully expect them to lean on the running game to take some pressure off of him. However, Walker is an elusive quarterback who has the arm to make all the throws in the pocket and on the move.
Given the status of the back end of the Falcons defense, I expect Coach Pees to be a bit more aggressive than normal in the hopes of rattling Walker early and often. However, it will be imperative that this Falcons defense take away the running game to give players like Jarrett, Carter and Ebiketie a chance to pin their ears back and go after Walker. Also, while rookie ILB Troy Andersen still has plenty to learn at the position, it will be a very good opportunity to use his speed and athleticism as a blitzer to keep Walker at bay.
While this Falcons defense is hurting on the back end, they have enough talent in the front seven to keep this Panthers offense in check.