Tale Of The Tape: Carolina Panthers At Atlanta Falcons
- QuarterbackThe Panthers were pushed to the wall by the Saints and were in danger of losing at home and giving the Saints the NFC South title, but Cam Newton came up with a huge drive at the most critical moment to lead the Panthers to a 17-13 victory. If Newton can get the job done against the Falcons on the road, the Panthers will be the division champions and still have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC.The Falcons have been out of the playoff race for weeks and this has been an awful season for last year’s NFC finalists. While there would surely be some joy in getting the best of the Panthers and spoiling their grip on the division title, it’s unlikely to motivate the Falcons for 60 minutes. Matt Ryan has the accuracy to cause problems for the Panthers, but it’s unlikely he will lead his team to an upset.
- OffenseThe Panthers were not able to mount a consistent attack against the Saints, but running back DeAngelo Williams scored on a 43-yard run near the end of the first half that gave the Panthers the lead. Wide receiver Steve Smith suffered hamstring and knee injuries vs. the Saints and he may not be able to play. Domenik Hixon replaced Smith and caught the game-winning TD pass.The Falcons have not been able to mount anything resembling a consistent rushing attack this season as Steven Jackson was injured much of the year. They will not be able to mount any kind of ground game against the Panthers. Harry Douglas and tight end Tony Gonzalez have been the Falcons’ two leading receivers this year. Roddy White must be an impact player for the Falcons to have a chance.
- DefenseThe Panthers have played dominant defense this season and that’s why they will win the division if they can come up with a victory in this game. They have the second-ranked defense behind the Seattle Seahawks, and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has been a stud. He had 24 tackles and an interception vs. the Saints and he leads the Panthers with 146 tackles this season.The Falcons have struggled on defense this year, ranking 29th in yards allowed. Their biggest issue is a lack of size and strength at the point of attack. They tend to get pushed around by bigger and stronger teams and don’t have much gas left in the tank in the second half. Linebacker Paul Worrilow is a solid tackler who has been quite a find for head coach Mike Smith.
- Special TeamsThe Panthers are a disciplined team that do an outstanding job of covering on punt and kickoff returns. While he has not broken a big play this season, speedy Ted Ginn has the ability to break open a game with a long return. Placekicker Graham Gano is 6-of-6 on FG attempts of 50 yards or longer.The Falcons have gotten the job done on special teams. They have not allowed a punt or kickoff return longer than 36 yards. Matt Bryant rarely misses a FG attempt that is less than 50 yards, while Matt Bosher regularly gets good height and distance on his punts.
The Panthers have had a remarkable season and they have done everything necessary to put themselves in a position to win the division and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. They can’t allow that chance to slip through their fingers here. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor