It's hard to swallow the idea of two rookie DTs hitting IR just as it seems the defensive line was starting to put it together. Less than a week removed from holding LeGarrette Blount to his worst game of the season, Sean McDermott's already beleaguered defense is having to shuffle more pieces around. We all understand what led to this time, but it goes without saying that either McClain or Fua (take your pick) were slated to be starting next to Ron Edwards this season, meaning McDermott just lost his 4th starter due to injury this season, and when that happens it's near impossible to patchwork together a group in one's first season. Nevertheless, this team still has to play out the rest of the year, one way or another. So let's look at how they stack up this week against the Falcons.
X-Factor: Julio Jones
Before battling injury Jones was on pace for a 1,000 yard receiving season despite being Matt Ryan's #2 target. He's an incredibly hard receiver to deal with because of his combination of speed, size, and strength. In many ways Jones plays like a faster, bigger, more athletic version of Hines Ward- and that's a scary proposition for the Panthers' defense moving forward. This Sunday he'll be working almost exclusively against Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler, while Chris Gamble locks down Roddy White. In this match-up there's a high potential it could get ugly quickly.
I say this because Jones is a big play receiver who can stretch the field with ease. Look no further than his week 6 game against Indianapolis when he averaged over 40 yards a reception and finished with over 130 yards on the day.
Carolina Run Defense Vs. Atlanta Run Offense
While Michael Turner has been up and down this season, the Panthers run defense has been consistently mediocre with the exception of last week. Now relying on Andre Neblett and Frank Kearse to hold the point of attack, with no real depth behind them it causes huge problems. I say this because Neblett and Kearse simply wont be able to play every down, both have been rotational players this season, and as such their conditioning wont likely be able to keep them in the game at all times. Let's face it, they're already mediocre DTs and when we sub them out for UDFAs and PS players it gets even worse. If Turner is on point at all on Sunday then we're going to get run all over.
Carolina Pass Defense Vs. Atlanta Pass Offense
There are three key things the Panthers need to do to win this match-up
1. Get a consistent pass rush on Matt Ryan Possible, but not likely
2. Lock down Roddy White Likely
3. Stop Tony Gonzalez from picking up big plays on 2nd and 3rd down Unlikely
Jordan Senn has the unenviable task of #3 on this list, along with the cadre of players we use at the nickel. Last week against a stout Texans' defense Gonzalez managed to get 100 yards receiving. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson will get pressure, but I fear without any true threat of a penetrating DT they'll be doubled and nullified a lot.
Matt Ryan is a streaky passer; if you rattle him early he tends to stay rattled, if not he'll get into a rhythm and carve you up all day. Unfortunately I think the latter could apply here.
When it's all said and done I think the 'any given Sunday' phrase applies, but other than that there's little intelligible reason to think the Panthers can/will win this match-up. Facing a very good Falcons' team will likely be a sobering experience after dealing with Indianapolis, and a banged-up Buccaneers team in each of the last two weeks. That being said, with Cam Newton anything is possible and there's a chance he could transcend the game and take it over- with #1 under center there's always that chance. For for a moment I'll forget intelligible and unintelligible and just go with my gut, and my gut is a homer.
Panthers 24 - Falcons 21