As mentioned earlier, the Panthers do have some of the tools to potentially beat the Falcons. But I do not think they will.
If the Falcons just have a “normal” game based around what they have done these first three weeks they will beat the Panthers. They simply are a better team. But they cannot take the Panthers lightly, because as mentioned earlier, the Panthers can do a couple of things that can hurt the Falcons.
The main key for the Falcons is going to be able to throw to win. They can throw fairly easily on this Panther secondary. Rookie Josh Norman is likely to be matched up on Julio Jones on the outside for most of the game. Norman is not a bad player, and down the road he might turn into a pretty good starting corner. But he’s not there yet, and I think Julio should be poised to prey on that. The question becomes is Julio’s hand injury more serious than we expect, and will it impact the game?
What is interesting about Roddy White is that you look over the past few seasons, and there is always one game against Carolina where he’s very good, and another where he’s just mediocre. And there’s no real rhyme or reason to which performance he has. Sometimes it is at home, sometimes on the road. But you wonder if Jones is less than 100%, and this is the game that Roddy decides not to show up for, then the Falcons could potentially be in trouble.
I don’t think that will happen, and it’s going to be a cold day in hell when both Roddy and Julio are no shows on this offense. But this is also why the Falcons have Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, to help pick up that slack.
The Panthers run defense is weak, so I suspect Michael Turner and the ground attack could have another strong week. I would be shocked if Blalock and Reynolds have much problems with the Edwardses (Dwan and Ron) and opening lanes for Turner. The Falcons seem poised to give Rodgers a bit more reps on the ground going forward, and he could also have a good day.
Defensively, John Abraham tends to have a field day against the Panthers. I expect the Falcons to be able to get pressure against Newton. Newton has that ability to extend plays and make things happen with his legs, but the Falcons have been fairly competent at containing that. I think the Falcons will try and be aggressive with Newton, attack him with blitzes and challenge him to make accurate throws downfield.
Mike Nolan is probably going to throw a lot of things at Cam, frankly things that I can hardly imagine at this point. But if he can design schemes that can get Peyton Manning off balance, he can certainly do some things that can get Newton’s mind twisted.
Because the Panthers will likely rely on a steady ground attack, like last week, Akeem Dent should get more opportunities to emerge. That should also mean increased reps for Ray Edwards as well.
Cam Newton is currently second in the NFL in terms of highest interception rate. And the Falcons right now are the most opportunistic secondary in the league. This is why this should be a good matchup for the Falcons. With Abraham’s pressure and Nolan’s blitzing schemes, they should be able to create a number of turnovers this week. At some point this season, the Falcons defense is probably not going to be able to create multiple turnovers in a game. But I doubt that this week is the time when that occurs.
It’s becoming less and less about the Falcons opponents, at least during this early slate of 2012 games. It’s becoming more about competing with themselves for this Falcon team. Meaning their biggest obstacle is their own complacency. The day they decide to just show up some place, and think they can win with minimal effort, is the day they will get beat.
And what Mike Smith has done a pretty good job instilling in his time in Atlanta, is a hungry mentality week to week that keeps his team motivated and moving forward. And that is why I think they will win this game. It’s a division rival, and it’s an opportunity to really send out a signal to the other teams in the division and conference that this team is as formidable as advertised. It’s their first NFC game, and while they have eleven more that will also affect the season, they cannot really afford to dig themselves in a hole at the outset with an 0-1 record. Especially to a division rival and lesser team like Carolina.
Long gone are the days of Mora where as a fan you weren’t sure what Falcon team would show up in a given week. The Mike Smith Falcons are much more consistent, and rarely lay eggs. I expect that trend to continue and the Falcons extend their record to 4-0 this week.