On this go-around, I’m going to name five different intriguing Atlanta Falcons players for this Week 10 matchup against the Carolina Panthers than I did in the Week 8 prelude, despite the matchup not having changed all that much.
Of course, to many, naming five Falcons is nearly an impossible task, to say nothing of 10. Nonetheless, I will persist.
What I dub the “Mariota coaster” is the tendency for Marcus Mariota’s play to rise and fall not only from series-to-series, but also game-to-game. He seemingly has alternated good and bad performances every week thus far this year. After a lackluster outing against the Los Angeles Chargers a week ago, the Falcons need Mariota to put together another solid rebound performance against the Panthers this week.
As one could guess, Mariota’s play has generally been better in the team’s wins than their losses. His passer rating in wins is 99.3 versus 87.2 in losses. Even more pronounced is his Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANYA) which goes from 7.17 in wins to 5.65 in losses. For the sake of comparison, that’s roughly the difference between Patrick Mahomes (7.07) and Jared Goff’s (5.64) ANYA from 2021.
After a monster performance (211 total yards and five touchdowns) from Bengals running back Joe Mixon in their Week 9 beatdown of the Panthers, every Falcons running back should be licking their chops to face this Panthers defense. Cordarrelle Patterson is the Falcons back best equipped to similarly feast on a Panthers defense that ranks 27th in defensive DVOA when defending running backs in the passing game according to Football Outsiders.
Now that Mariota has seemingly unlocked the checkdown as part of his passing repertoire, it’s time for Patterson to start impacting the game as a receiver in addition to his rushing skills. In the four games he’s played since Week 1, Patterson has been targeted a combined three times. Not featuring a player that was one of the best pass-catching running backs a year ago is an injustice with Thursday night’s game representing a good opportunity to shift that narrative.
Colby Gossett got his first start of the year as an injury replacement for Elijah Wilkinson back in Week 3 and will get his second against the Panthers on Thursday night after stepping in last week when Matt Hennessy went down with a knee injury. Gossett has been solid when he’s gotten the opportunity to be on the field, but this week he’ll be challenged by Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown.
Brown has been one of the top run-defenders in the NFL this year and had a lot of success in Week 8 going up against Wilkinson and center Drew Dalman. The Falcons will need Gossett to his game beyond solid to good if they hope to keep Brown in check.
Falcons replacement cornerback Cornell Armstrong was targeted a bunch in the team’s previous matchup against the Panthers. He was targeted seven times in man coverage, giving up just two receptions and breaking up three passes back then.
Armstrong will likely continue to be tested by opposing quarterbacks while he remains in the starting lineup, and he’ll need a repeat performance of clamping down on Panthers receivers this week.
I will take advantage of the rare opportunity to name the Falcons punter Bradley Pinion today due to how impactful field position was for the Panthers' success in their previous meeting. The Panthers had nine drives that started out at their 25-yard line or better when they faced the Falcons in Week 8, and scored on six of them. The exceptions were the two drives at the end of the half and regulation, and when Eddy Pineiro missed his field goal in overtime. The other four drives that started inside the Panthers’ 25 resulted in three punts and a turnover.
Thus, Pinion’s punting may prove critical to the Falcons' success. The more he can flip field position and force Carolina to start their drives deep within their own territory, seemingly the better it is for the Falcons’ defense.
Can you name any more Falcons that are intriguing to you in this week’s matchup?