Week 14: Atlanta Falcons At Carolina Panthers
- QuarterbackQuarterback Matt Ryan continues his sensational season. The sting of criticism that he received in the offseason continues to motivate Ryan to play his best every week. Ryan is an accurate passer with a quick release. He has the quick feet to avoid pressure and he usually makes the proper decision before releasing the ball.This will be a tough assignment for second-year quarterback Cam Newton. He had a solid game in the Week 13 loss to the Chiefs, throwing three TD passes without an interception. Still, Newton’s decision-making has been quite questionable this year and when he makes mistakes, he has a hard time shaking them off and moving on to the next play.
- OffenseThe Falcons have a decent running game with Michael Turner, but wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are special. Turner is not explosive at this point in his career, but he runs with effort and knows how to get the last few inches out of every attempt. White will catch anything he can get his hands on and Jones is a sensational deep threat.The Panthers have talented players but they rarely play up to that level on the offensive side of the ball. DeAngelo Williams is a good but not great back at this point. Steve Smith is coming off one of his best games of the season, catching five passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. Greg Olsen is a big-play threat at the tight end position.
- DefenseThe Falcons are smart and well-positioned on defense and they are also very fast. They are not the biggest and strongest defensive team, but they make plays when it matters. Safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore have combined for nine interceptions. Defensive end John Abraham does not have young legs anymore and may need to be spotted but he has 10.0 sacks.The Panthers are not functioning efficiently on the defensive end despite the presence of some decent talent. When you make Brady Quinn look like a decent quarterback, there are problems. Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly is one of the best tacklers on the team while defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have combined for 16.5 sacks.
- Special TeamsThe Falcons are confident in placekicker Matt Bryant, who has made 29-of-34 field goal attempts this season. Bryant is 4-of-4 on attempts of 50 yards or longer. Matt Bosher is averaging 47.9 yards per punt. Jacquizz Rodgers can be an explosive kickoff returner.The Panthers have been lax on special teams and their coverage weaknesses have hurt them this season. Much of that is due to the inadequate punting of Brad Nortman, who is averaging 42.6 yards per punt and he has a net average of 36.2 yards per punt
The Falcons are now in the home stretch of the regular season and they want homefield advantage throughout the postseason. While they are in a great position with just four weeks to go, head coach Mike Smith is not going to let up in a game against an underachieving Panthers team.