ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 09: Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons pulls in this reception against Desmond Bishop #55 and Charlie Peprah #26 of the Green Bay Packers at Georgia Dome on October 9, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
This morning I looked at the Panthers offensive chances against the Falcons on Sunday, and now we're turning it around to see how the Falcons will move the football on Sunday.
X-Factor: Tony Gonzalez
I can safely say without hyperbole that this could be one of the most important games in Gonzalez's tenure with the Falcons. With Julio Jones out due to injury Gonzo becomes the bonafide #2 receiver for Atlanta, and the stakes are incredibly high for him. The catalyst for his move to Atlanta was to be on a contender and get the ring he so definitely deserves, but thus far that plan has gone sideways a little.
Last week the Panthers were completely unable to cover Jimmy Graham, and the same situation could occur with Gonzalez. We have no reliable linebacker in coverage, and he'll be able to eat up the middle of the field.
Carolina run defense vs. Atlanta run offense
Honestly, how do we think this is going to go? Last week the Carolina Panthers did a fairly good job containing Mark Ingram, but Michael Turner is infinitely more talented than the Saints' RB. This year the Falcons offensive line has struggled to get a good push, but we hardly have the most talented group of defensive tackles to match them. This means the run game will be less about the lines and more about the back.
Carolina struggled against Beanie Wells, and struggled against Maurice Jones-Drew, so there's little reason to think we wont see the same situation with Turner. It will be of the utmost importance to limit Turner's ability wherever possible.
Carolina pass defense vs. Atlanta pass offense
This is the area where the loss of Julio Jones really hurts the Falcons. With Jones I'd give Atlanta the edge, but without him they're a semblance of this former selves. Roddy white vs. Chris Gamble will be an interesting match-up, but I think Gamble can nullify White.
The next element to consider is the pass rush, and it's here where I think the Panthers can make a big impact. This season Matt Ryan has been on his heels when hit early and often, and its then when he starts to make some bad mistakes with the football. Against a banged up Falcons OL I think Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can get to Ryan with regularity and upset his progression.
This game is almost dead even, but I think the Panthers have an unquenchable fire this week to get a win. With the injuries Atlanta are suffering from I think it's too much for them to overcome and Cam Newton gets his first divisional win of his career.
Panthers 31 - Falcons 27