By Ted Fleming
It is quite clear that the Carolina Panthers will have to play a near flawless game against the Falcons on Sunday if they want to even their record at 2-2 and pull to within one game of Atlanta in the NFC South. It is also clear that it is easier said than done.
Atlanta by the Numbers
- 2012 Record: 3-0
- All-Time Record vs. Carolina: 22-12
- Last Meeting: Falcons 31, Panthers 23 (December 11, 2011)
- Current Streak vs. Carolina: W4
- Head Coach vs. Panthers: Mike Smith is 6-2
“It’s a group effort. We’ve started to put pressure on the quarterback even though we only had one sack yesterday…The quarterback was able to get out, he was under duress and he threw the ball away. It’s a combination of what happens up front and in the secondary. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. The two corners CB Dunta Robinson and CB Asante Samuel are playing with a lot of confidence…Our safety play has been much improved…They have a really good feel of what we’re asking them to do through these first three games.” –Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith on the play of Atlanta’s defense in the first three games of the 2012 season.
The Falcons do not rate in the top-five in any of the three key defensive categories (total, passing and rushing) and, on paper, the Panthers could rack up some yardage and points. However, Atlanta has had an amazing 27-6 record at the Georgia Dome since 2008, which just happens to be the third best home record in the NFL during that span (the Ravens and Patriots are one and two).
Ranked 13th overall, the Falcons are led by defensive end John Abraham, who has 114 career sacks ranking him 15th all-time, defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, plus corners Robinson and Samuel, and they are coming off an outstanding performance against then unbeaten San Diego limiting Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense to just 15 first downs, 280 total yards and a single field goal.
But Atlanta does not live on defense alone. Expected to take the field in their throwback uniforms, Matt Ryan, better known as “Matty Ice,” has the Falcons third in the league averaging 31.3 points per game. The sixth year pro out of Boston College currently has his best QB Rating of his career and his completion rate (72 percent) is also ahead of any of his previous seasons.
Running back Michael Turner is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry and has but 154 yards in the first three games but he still has to be respected. Ryan is also a threat to take off because he has 48 plus a touchdown.
Keys to the Game
Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton is coming off arguably his worst game as a pro as well as getting hammered by local and national media for his conduct late in the loss to the Giants and his sleepwalking act in the post game press conference. The 23-year old needs to have his mind clear of any outside influences and be focused on the game at hand.
As Carolina showed in the Saints game, they need to establish a ground game if Newton has any chance to be successful throwing the ball. DeAngelo Williams will have to step up and have a big game because no one knows how effective injured Jonathan Stewart will be.
The Panthers’ defense also has to play a game like they did against the Saints in Week 2 and forget about the debacles versus the Buccaneers and Giants. They can be good, but they have shown thus far it is more like Jekyll and Hyde.
This is a game the Falcons should win going away, but if the stars align just right, the Panthers could be competitive.
Carolina: Cam Newton – 53/83, 798 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT, 6 Sacks, 78.3 Passer Rating
Atlanta: Matt Ryan – 77/107, 793 yards, 8 TD, 1 INT, 4 Sacks, 114.0 Passer Rating
Falcons: Secondary coach Tim Lewis was the secondary coach for the Panthers from 2007-08.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.