Throw out everything you know about these teams history as it is pretty irrelevant. Atlanta did major house cleaning last year after a dismal season that ended with their "beloved" coach Bobby "I quit" Petrino leaving before the season was even over. So two new head coaches in as many years, new faces on offense and defense and what do you have? An inexperienced Atlanta team facing a revitalized Panthers team. But this could prove to be the Panthers downfall. As we saw last week against the Vikings we have our bad weeks.
Atlanta now has a few weeks under it's belt which means they should be a better team than day one. Micheal Turner appears to be for real, however, he two big game performances have both come from 0-3 teams, Kansas City and Detroit. Atlanta currently leads the NFL in total rushing yards.
In my opinion, the next few games will define the Carolina Panthers as either the Superbowl contender or season dud. Okay, okay, so maybe that's going a little to far, but look at it this way. We face Atlanta, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and finally Arizona before our bye week. We face every team in our division, with Atlanta and Kansas City expected to be "easy" wins. Good teams are suppose to take care of business on the 'should' win games. But as we all know Carolina doesn't always do what is expected and that is why I believe the next few games will show us what type of team we actually have this year.
What will it take to win this against Atlanta this week? Let's take a look at some of the key match ups.
Panthers MLB Jon Beason vs Falcons RB Michael Turner
So far this season the pregame analysis has been very similar at least on the offensive side of the ball and some similarities on our defensive side. The follow could have described any of the games, "Carolina this week will face a strong defense line and establishing the running game is key to them winning. They will also face a strong running game and must stop it if they are to win." We faced LT, Matt Forte, and Adrian Peterson, and this week we face Michael Turner.
Matt Ryan so far appears that he will have a successful career in the NFL, but as was shown against Tampa Bay he still has plenty of learning to do. This means they are relying on their running game to open their passing game.
Atlanta prefers to run up the middle or to the left side (including through the tackle, guard, or around the end). Turner has 23 attempts up the middle and 21 to the left side compared to only 13 on the right. However, he has had the most success on the left side with 206 yards compared to 103 in the middle.
So I suppose this could be Beason / Diggs match up against Turner as well.
Panthers LT Jordan Gross vs Atlanta DE John Abraham
This is another match up that seems to be common every week, but this time Gross will match up against the current 2008 NFL sack leader. Atlanta has been moving Abraham around to take advantage of better match ups so it won't be just Gross that will be facing him. Abraham has proven extremely difficult for us keep him at bay and expect no different this week. Fox better have a plan ready that will get the ball out of Delhomme's hand quicker than he did last week. Stopping Abraham will be key to our passing game or it could very well be a long day.
Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart vs Atlanta's Run Defense
Atlanta's run defense is currently 24th on the list NFL stat list. However, our rushing offensive isn't much better at only 22. But our dynamic duo has shown they are very capable of putting up decent yards. The main reason they are not higher on the list is because of our last game against Minnesota and the poor performance of only 47 yards. I would expect the Panthers to have a fairly successful day with the running game this week.
Unknown Atlanta's QB Matt Ryan
I probably won't so much label this a key match up but it will definitely have an impact. Against both Detroit and Kansas City he definitely looked solid, but in those games he was only asked to throw 31 times. In relationship he had to throw 33 times against Tampa Bay as they were playing from behind. We already know Atlanta can run the ball so if Ryan has trouble passing Carolina should be able to take advantage of it.
Unknown Panthers RE Julius Peppers
This is another one I wouldn't call a key match up. I'm tired of listing him as 'this could be his game'. Until the preseason Pepper shows up it doesn't matter if he is going against a starter or backup, he just hasn't produced as we are expecting. However, this is not to say he hasn't been effective. He leads the team with 5 QB pressures but that not the stat we as fans are looking for. I realize sacks are not everything but when the player lining up against you realized you lead the NFL in sacks there is the mental aspect of the game.
Panthers versus Penalties
Yeah, may seem odd to have this one in here, but as Jaxon point out this week leading the NFL in penalties is not a good thing. The offensive line must get their act together and not false start. 1 and 15 is not a way to increase the 3rd down percentage. There have been other sloppy penalties, such as Jeff King's hold on the kick-off return, and those need to be minimized as well. Committing less offensive penalties should allow both Jake, Stewart, and Williams the ability to move the ball down field.
Should we win this week, absolutely. Do I expect us to win this week, absolutely. Will we win this? Unfortunately against Atlanta don't feel confident saying yes, as with any NFL game, it's can be any give Sunday.
However, my prediction: Carolina 27 vs Atlanta 9 (Okay I waffled, so sue me).