It was bound to happen eventually. For the first time this season, Atlanta will NOT be playing a team from the AFC West division. Atlanta opens up division play this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. As the 1-2 Panthers head into the Georgia Dome to face the 3-0 Falcons, Atlanta needs to make sure this doesn’t end up being a trap game.
Statistically speaking, both teams appear to be evenly matched, with Carolina having a slight advantage. Cam Newton has thrown for 798 yards while Matt Ryan has thrown for 793. DeAngelo Williams has a 3.8 yards per carry average while Michael Turner’s carries average 3.7 yards. Carolina’s top two receivers have 478 receiving yards while Atlanta’s two best receivers have a combined 458 yards.
What’s the reason for such disparity in the records? Points scored (specifically touchdowns). Ryan has thrown for eight touchdowns compared to Newton’s two. Atlanta has scored 94 points in the first three games, currently tied with the New York Giants for the third best in the league. Carolina’s 52 points is good enough for a tie with Jacksonville for 29th place. Only the Eagles and Cowboys have scored fewer points than Carolina.
Defensively, Atlanta has also done a better job at preventing scoring. Allowing just 16 points per game, the Falcons are currently the fourth best team at minimizing scoring. Carolina is ranked 21st in the league allowing 26.3 points per game.
The key for the Falcons victory is simple: contain Cam Newton and prevent wide receiver Steve Smith from burning the Atlanta secondary. Unlike the three previous quarterbacks Atlanta has faced, Newton can use his legs when the passing game isn’t working.
Atlanta head coach Mike Smith isn’t taking Newton lightly. “It’s a different type of quarterback that we’re facing this week,” Smith said. “We have to account for him as a runner in the offense. He’s not the guy that’s going to distribute the ball. He’s going to be a guy that you have to account for…It’s a different type of offense than we’ve faced in the first three weeks.”
This means Asante Samuel and the rest of the Falcons secondary need to know where Steve Smith is at all times during the game. With Atlanta’s defense limiting Peyton Manning’s passing in their first home game, the challenge of Newton and Smith is not impossible.
For the Panthers, the biggest story this week was the confrontation between Steve and Cam during last week’s blowout loss to the Giants. Steve Smith and other Panthers questioned Cam’s behavior when he was pulled from the game and spent the final minutes on the sideline sulking, rather than watching his replacement on the field. Even the Charlotte Observer, took jabs at Newton, saying he is more “Hello Kitty” than “Superman”.
Over the last two years, Atlanta has owned the series, winning all four contests. Most importantly were the last two games since those were the only ones with Cam Newton as the signal caller for Carolina. In both contests, Atlanta put up 31 points while limiting Carolina to 17 and 23 points respectively.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.