After traveling to play the Chargers, the Falcons will return home to the dome to face the upstart Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were a surprise last year with QB Cam Newton leading them to a 6-10 record including a strong run to end the season. The last time they met in the dome the Falcons came out as the victors beating the Panthers 31-17. During the offseason Carolina added LB Luke Kuechly to a already strong core of LBs that will have Jon Beason returning off an achillies tear.
As is the theme with this season the Panthers are familiar with Atlanta, but not as familiar as they would like to be. This is due to the Falcons change of coordinators, bringing in OC Dirk Koetter and DC Mike Nolan. When the Panthers last played the Dolphins and Nolan it was in 2009, since then some major changes have occurred. The Panthers have brought in a new HC, OC, DC, and QB. Deangelo Williams was held to only 40 yards rushing and the Nolan's defense held the Panthers' offense to ten points. When the Jags played the Panthers last year the Jags lost 16-10 with Blaine Gabbert only throwing for 139 yards, but MJD rushing for 120+. This time around Koetter won't be dealing with Gabbert, Mike Thomas, and Kassim Osgood as his cards. Instead he'll have Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. Head to head, Mike Smith's Falcons have come out victorious twice against Ron Rivera's Panthers.
When you look at Carolina's defense their main strength is their LB Corp. They have three very good and talented players in Kuechly, Beason, and James Anderson. This is going to make it hard for Atlanta to get their ground game going, but Atlanta should have a bit of an advantage in that it is early in the season and Carolina has no interior DL. In terms of pass rush Charles Johnson is one of the best LEs in the game and Greg Hardy had a great season last year recording 7.0 sacks. Atlanta's offensive line must protect Ryan and give him time to pick apart a weak Carolina secondary. Chris Gamble had a great season last year, but overall has been inconsistent throughout his career. Other than that the Panthers have no one of note in their secondary and they struggled to contain Roddy and Julio when the played Atlanta last year. If Atlanta can protect the QB, the offense should be able to pick apart the Carolina secondary and keep them from stacking the box with the LBs.
On the defensive side Atlanta has their work cut out for them. Cam Newton was fantastic last year and not only can he throw and run the ball, but he is hard to bring down for a sack. Atlanta has to generate a pass rush and shut down the running game of Carolina. If Atlanta can limit Stewart and Williams and take away Steve Smith then the Carolina offense should fizzle. Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil are two premier players at their position, at RT Otah is great when he is healthy, but that's rarely ever. Carolina has some ok players on the interior of their OL, but they aren't road graders. If Atlanta can stop the run and get a pass rush then they can walk into the locker-room with a victory.
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