I mentioned last week that the Falcons simply aren’t built to match a quick strike team like the Bengals blow for blow. That held true as Marcus Mariota and the offense couldn’t keep up with the Bengals, who wrecked shop relentlessly against the Falcons defense.
That was one of those games that if the Falcons weren’t effective in controlling the tempo, keeping the chains moving and finishing drives with touchdowns, it could get out of hand in a hurry. There were just too many opportunities missed for the Falcons to even compete.
While it was certainly encouraging to see the team continuously fight throughout the game, this simply wasn’t a good match up for the Falcons as a whole. Now, they get to reset and prepare for a Carolina defense that’s absolutely loaded with young talent at each level. How will they stack up?
In the trenches
This Carolina front is yet another one that is extremely talented and will be a challenge for the Falcons. This Panthers defense deploys an even front in base and nickel formations, and they have great talent up front. The starting group consists of defensive ends Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos, and they’re anchored in the middle by Derrick Brown and Matt Ioannidis. They’re big, physical, highly athletic and a terror for any offensive line.
This Falcons offensive line has had its ups and downs throughout the season up to this point. There’s no denying that they play hard and for each other. However, they’ve had some issues in pass protection. The good news is that they’ve progressed as a unit compared to last season (that’s not really saying much, but we take the wins where we can) and they’ve been very good in the running game. This will be another game where they’ll have to put their best foot forward against a front that’s been built to be just as physical.
The skill positions
While the Panthers have a talented front, their back end possesses some talent, as well. Jeremy Chinn was one of my draft crushes back in 2020. Big, physical and a plus athlete, Chinn is simply built to make plays all over the field, and he makes his presence known early and often. They also have a highly athletic linebacker in Shaq Thompson and a promising young cornerback in Jaycee Horn. This group is young and can make plays at any point in the game, especially if their opponent makes a mistake.
I remain confident in the running back duo of Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley, as both are physical runners that always finish their runs falling forward. Until Cordarrelle Patterson is back in the mix, I feel good about those two carrying the load. The Falcons also have great receiving options in Kyle Pitts and Drake London, although they’re simply not seeing enough touches due to Mariota’s limitations in the passing game. While the Falcons passing game has been unproductive, Mariota is still a big threat running the football, and he’s still an extra weapon in that aspect of the game. I still favor the Falcons weapons against any defense in the league.
All teams that are in the NFC South are built very specifically. They’re mostly built on trench play and physicality. Because of that, this will be a competitive division game in Mercedes-Benz stadium.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room that’s the Falcons passing game. While there are fans out there that were absolutely clamoring for Coach Arthur Smith to call more passing plays to get chunk yards against that high octane Bengals offense to keep pace, he knew that he simply didn’t have the quarterback to employ that type of game plan. There were quite a few instances where there were multiple open wide receivers (by NFL standards), but Mariota simply didn’t pull the trigger. He’s never been a true pocket passer that confidently made anticipatory throws, and his career has been a direct reflection of that.
Coach Smith will call plays that accentuate what his quarterback does best. If Smith decides that Mariota is still that guy, there won’t be much of a change in his approach. For this game, there will be a clear focus to get the running game on track, and Arthur Smith will be selective and pick his spots in the passing game. With the exception of last Sunday, it’s worked well for him with Mariota at the helm, and the hope and expectation is that it will get back on track against the Panthers.