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I’d like to label this game as an “NFC South battle”. Due to the struggles in Atlanta, it’s hard to truly put that label on Sunday’s game. Despite the score seeming to be somewhat close, Atlanta was manhandled by Arizona last week. It’s a stretch to give them much of a chance against Carolina.
Carolina has been red hot over the past few weeks led by Cam Newton, who is finally playing consistent football. For the past year or so, everyone has been waiting for Carolina’s offense to be more explosive and score more points. We know that their front seven is among the best in the league. It was time for the offense to pick up the slack, besides Steve Smith and Greg Olsen.
This could get ugly, especially if Carolina gets off to a fast start and Atlanta is forced to go one-dimensional. That will play right into Carolina’s hands by allowing their defensive line countless opportunities to hit Matt Ryan. This is a tough matchup for Atlanta, as the schedule will start to get more difficult. It will take improved line play from both sides of the ball to keep this game competitive.
The lines will most likely dictate win or loss
Everyone knows the old saying about how football games are won in the trenches. Atlanta managed to break that code last year thanks to the defense forcing timely turnovers and the dynamic trio making play after play. Now the defense isn’t forcing many turnovers and two of the dynamic trio is injured. Ryan doesn’t have Julio Jones or Roddy White to get the ball out to, if he’s dealing with a lot of pressure. Atlanta can’t get away with having below average play from both lines anymore.
The only exception in his theory has to be the defensive tackles. Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, and even Peria Jerry have been bright spots this year. It’ll be on the defensive ends, which haven’t made much of an impact this year. There are times that Osi Umenyiora is anonymous on the field. Even though his play declined last year, John Abraham would always have a moment where he made his presence felt on his worst day. That isn’t the case with Umenyiora, which has to be frustrating. From last week’s game, you would think Abraham was 31 years old and Umenyiora was 35 years old.
There are still many young defensive ends, which are still trying to develop into starters. Malliciah Goodman has shown promise, as a solid run defender at the defensive end spot. We’ll need to see more progression as the season wears on. I’ve been disappointed in Jonathan Massaquoi, who looks to be a backup at this point.
Obviously the offensive line has been the biggest flaw for the Falcons this season. They haven’t opened up many holes for the running game to prosper. Ryan took the worst beating of his career last Sunday. These players need to step it up, regardless if their still developing or are journeymen. Sam Baker could be a much-needed boost this week, especially after Lamar Holmes’ abysmal outing. I’m still a believer in Holmes for the future, but it’s hard to say he deserves to start on Sunday after his performance last week.
Beware of Carolina’s speed and unpredictability
Despite the hype around Cam Newton, I never was really impressed by Carolina’s offense. Even though Steve Smith has always been a star and Greg Olsen is underrated, there wasn’t really anything else that would make me worried if I was a defensive coordinator. Now you look at their offense and the playmakers that have been created.
Ted Ginn has rejuvenated his career in Carolina and has developed a nice rapport with Newton. Brandon LaFell continues to make strides as the second wide receiver. While Newton still struggles with his accuracy at times, he’s having more and more success at throwing the deep ball. It has made their offense more unpredictable and finally playing up to expectations. They still lean on the running game for the most part, but Newton is starting to throw the ball more efficiently. That was always the knock on him, throughout the first two years of his career besides his attitude.
A key element to this game is how much read option will Carolina use. The entire league knows how much Atlanta’s defense struggled against the read option last year. With the way their defense is allowing big plays on a weekly basis, I’d expect to see possibly double digit snaps involving the read option. Newton had his way with Atlanta last year and now he’s playing against a weaker defense.
This is where the pass rush comes in, not to mention better communication in the secondary. If they play in zone coverage, they need to be wary of each player’s position. Both passing touchdowns allowed last week resulted from a breakdown in zone coverage. If they aren’t in position, we could very well see Ginn break one for fifty yards. It’s been that year for Atlanta, where they are allowing at least one play a game over 40 yards. The secondary needs to be more aware of their positioning, along with the pass rush forcing Newton to get the ball out quickly. Everything coincides each other on defense to stop the opposition.
Thomas Davis vs. Tony Gonzalez- I’m expecting Carolina to shadow Gonzalez by using Davis. He may need help eventually, but Carolina seems to have a lot of trust in Davis. Of course, the wisest thing to do is to use two players at the line to jam Gonzalez. With Roddy White likely out this week, he’s the number one threat to stop. For Atlanta’s sake, Gonzalez’s presence should allow the wide receivers one on one opportunities on a consistent basis.
Steve Smith vs. Desmond Trufant/Robert Alford- After watching Smith repeatedly abuse Dunta Robinson over the past two years, it will be refreshing to see how the rookies do against Smith. I’ve repeatedly praised Alford, who is easily the fastest player in their secondary and has shown great balls in recent games. Trufant has had some struggles, but he’s looked to be a solid first round pick by Thomas Dimitroff. This should be another great test for the rookie corners. He usually lines up on the left side, so we won’t see much of Smith against Asante Samuel.
Charles Johnson vs. Jeremy Trueblood- I’m confident that Johnson will play this Sunday. I’m not sure who’s starting at left tackle for the Falcons, whether it’s Baker or Holmes. So I’ll go with the safe pick here and make this the third most important matchup. Trueblood has been abused for the most part in his tenure in Atlanta. While he’s shown glimpses of promise as a pass blocker, he struggles against speed rushers. Johnson isn’t really considered a speed rusher, but he has a wide array of moves that gives right tackles issues all game long. This will be Trueblood’s toughest test so far this season.
There aren’t many differences between Arizona and Carolina. The big difference is that Carolina can score and Newton hasn’t been careless with the ball in recent weeks. While Carolina’s secondary is still a weakness, Atlanta doesn’t have Julio Jones and most likely Roddy White at their disposal. Ryan doesn’t have the luxury of having two receivers, who can get extra yards after the catch on a consistent basis.
I’m expecting Atlanta’s running game to be non-existent once again, which will lead to Matt Ryan throwing the ball too much and taking too many hits. Unless Atlanta’s defense starts forcing turnovers and provides the offense with short field, they won’t be able to hang with Carolina. I’m expecting a better performance from Atlanta’s defense, but Carolina is too talented to lose this game. Smith should be productive and Olsen always has a big game against Atlanta. It will be another long day for Matt Ryan with Carolina winning 27-17, although it won’t be as competitive as the score indicates.
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