ATLANTA, GA- Although Christmas, like the Atlanta Falcons season, has come and passed quickly, there are still some things left to play for at the Georgia Dome on Sunday, December 29 against the Carolina Panthers.
In their last matchup with the much improved defense of the Panthers, the Falcons only scored ten points, which was the fewest they had scored at that point in the season. The only other team to hold them to ten points, thus tying this record, is the Seattle Seahawks.
With this stinging butt-whooping I believe that Cam Newton has officially revived this forgotten rivalry. Of course, fans always want to win against the Panthers, but the reaction in Atlanta when you say the words Carolina Panthers compared to the vehement convulsions that are induced when the New Orleans Saints are casually mentioned in conversation seem to be night and day.
This is likely because Atlanta fans have been firmly at the top of the division for about five years with the only roadblock year in and year out being the redefined Saints led by Sean Peyton and Drew Brees. But now Carolina is one win away from seizing the division and making a potentially deep run into the playoffs. Atlanta is the odd man out this year, even Tampa Bay looked better this year with a rookie third round quarterback and a handful of running backs on IR.
Well, now is the chance knock the Panthers down a peg and dampen their optimism with a loss on their minds to a team with only four wins. Let them stew over a disappointing performance to their geographically closest division rivals.
Key players to stop
The 2012 season NFL Defensive rookie of the year, Luke Kuechly, has been heating up the in the month of December. He earned the moniker “tackling machine” when he made 24 tackles in a victory over the Saints. This season so far he has a combined total of 146 tackles. He also picked off Brees in the game so that pushes his interceptions to a total of four on the year. That isn’t bad for a cornerback or safety, let alone a linebacker. This year he is almost on the same pace as his rookie year in terms of tackles and has already doubled his interception output in 2013.
Tedd Ginn Jr. is transitioning from his limited role as a punt and kick returner to a more solidified role in the offense as a wide receiver. After years of struggling with his catching problems he has earned a bit of trust in Carolina, and with Steve Smith doubtful to play this Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons may have to deal with someone just as fast as the injured Smith.
Ginn, with his limited role, has ten receptions over 20 yards and three over 40 yards. Considering the Falcons have trouble stopping the big plays, an issue Coach Mike Smith has harped upon, it would be nice to not let him or Brandon LaFell blow past the safeties.
Atlanta should play from their nickel or dime defenses, but they must put a spy on Cam Newton most of the game. Dropping back as many defensive backs as possible will help Atlanta deal with Newton. He will be forced to throw the ball and this may draw out his ambition to try and make big plays. He has the ability to do this and do it very well but just like many in the league he will eventually make a mistake and maybe Atlanta can take advantage of this when he does.
If he doesn’t throw then he’ll have to run, and with someone like Paul Worrilow or Joplo Bartu as the spy watching Cam he shouldn’t get too far. Running this kind of defense will leave the Falcons open to the run game, which is actually better without Jonathan Stewart sapping the momentum from DeAngelo Williams. However, that’s a chance I’d be willing to take in order to slow down the brand of offense the entire NFC South seems to run nowadays.
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