By Matthew Asher
The true beauty of professional sports is the parity involved. Just because one team has a better record does not mean they’re going to win. With their Week 4 30-28 victory over the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons know how worthless win-loss records are when it comes to just one game.
While statistics don’t always predict the outcome, they are helpful to see where a team’s strengths and weaknesses are. The Panthers may be just 3-9, but their league rankings don’t agree with their record.
As far as offenses go, Carolina is about a middle of the road as a team can be. Carolina’s 231 passing yards and 113 rushing yards each game both rank 16th in the league while the combined 344 total yards of offense ranks them at 18th. The only part of their offense that isn’t about average is the one that matters in the eyes of records: points scored. Averaging fewer than 20 points per contests, the Panther scoring offense is in the bottom 10 teams in the league.
The 113 rushing yards is especially interesting when you remember that Carolina has two primary rushers: running back DeAngelo Williams and quarterback Cam Newton. Newton is the Panthers leading rusher with about 175 more yards than Williams and six rushing TD’s compared to DeAngelo’s three. All this for Cam despite fewer rushing attempts.
Coach Mike Smith knows how crucial stopping Carolina’s run game will be for the Falcons to sweep the season series. “This is a good rushing football team,” Smitty said. “We’ve certainly got to play better than we did the first time that we played them…Obviously, we’re taking a good hard look at what we did last time and what we need to do this week.”
Smitty is referring to Newton piling up more than 300 yards on offense by himself. If it wasn’t for a costly fumble on third down late in the fourth quarter, there is a good chance Cam Newton would have led the Panthers to a victory. For Atlanta to have a good chance at defeating Carolina, they need to make the Panthers offense one-dimensional. “They are a team that can run the football and create explosive plays in both the run game and the pass game because of the play action with having to commit the extra defender to stop the run.”
Defensively, the Falcons appear to match up fairly well against the Panthers. Atlanta has the fifth best scoring defense, allowing fewer than 20 points per game, just like Carolina’s offense. The Falcons give up about 121 yards on the ground and 231 yards through the air, which ranks them 20th and 15th in the league, respectively. The 352 yards of total offense is the 18th most in the league.
Looking at Carolina’s defensive stats, this appears to be an unusual game for the Falcons. The Panthers have the eighth best pass defense, allowing fewer than 220 passing yards, but their run defense gives up almost 130 yards, coincidentally the eighth worst in the league.
Anyone who has followed the Falcons throughout the year knows that Atlanta’s strength is their passing attack while the Falcons running game is average at best. Atlanta’s 286 yards through the air is the fourth most in the league while their 91 yards on the ground is the fifth worst. Overall, Atlanta averages almost 380 yards of offense and 26.4 points a game, the ninth and seventh most in the league, respectively.
However, the Week 4 game against Carolina was something of an anomaly for the Atlanta running game. Michael Turner had more than 160 yards of total offense including 103 yards on the ground, the first of just two times he eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. Matt Ryan threw for nearly 370 yards in the air, second only to his 411 he threw in a losing effort against the Saints in Week 10.
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.