Be sure to click over to The Falcoholic to see my answers to his five questions.
Dave: The injuries have hurt the Falcons badly, there's no question. Having Roddy White at 25% and then no Julio Jones has been crippling. The bigger issues is that with these injuries and the passing game taking a bit of a hit, the Falcons need to rely more on the run, and they just can't do it. Nobody's running well behind one of the worst run-blocking lines in the NFL.
With no balance and a dearth of elite receiving options-Tony Gonzalez is double-teamed every week now-the offense relies entirely on Matt Ryan playing at an elite level. Thankfully, he's capable of doing so.
I'm pretty sure the Panthers can stop the Falcons run game which should allow them to put pressure on Ryan. Hopefully they can get some hits on him early.
Question 2: The secondary was supposed to be a strength with the addition of Asante Samuel but instead they are giving up 250 yards per game. What's going on with the defense?
Dave: The pass rush doesn't get home very often, which puts additional pressure on the secondary. Rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have played well but have fallen prey to some rookie mistakes, Samuel has given up a couple of big plays and Thomas DeCoud has been horrendous at safety. It doesn't help that the injuries to linebacker have put a bunch of untested players on the field against tight ends, either.
Panther TE Greg Olsen should have a big game. I'd like to see a couple shots deep to Ted Ginn too.
Question 3: It can't all be bad. What's the good news in the A-T-L?
Dave: The young guys are getting playing time. If the Falcons are going to swiftly return to contention in 2014, they're going to need a few of their untested players to step up in a big way so they can mortar over the remaining holes. We're pretty high on defensive end Malliciah Goodman, linebacker Joplo Bartu and the rookie cornerbacks, so there's a ray of sunshine here.
At 2-5 they have dug a big hole. We know how that feels.
Question 4: Turning to our match-up, what should the Panthers defense focus on to stop the Falcons from scoring?
Dave: First, stop the run. This shouldn't be a huge challenge, given your line, but it's still important.
Once you've done that, take away Tony Gonzalez, rush the passer and force Ryan to pick other targets. It didn't work worth a damn against the Buccaneers, but the Cardinals were able to force Ryan to throw 60+ times and capitalize on some mistakes. It's your best bet for stopping them. Ryan's good enough to pick apart a defense if the secondary can't get it done and the pass rush can't get home.
Uncle Luke gets to match up with the future Hall of Fame TE in what should be a key match-up.
Question 5: When on offense, who should the Panthers pick on? How is the rookie Trufant playing?
Dave: If you can, pick on Thomas DeCoud. He's not taking good angles to the ball. Joplo Bartu has also struggled mightily covering tight ends, and quarterbacks who can run give this team fits. Newton scrambling and targeting those guys could pay off for him. Trufant should fare reasonably well against Smith.
I find this surprisingas I thought Decoud was pretty good. I'm betting they wish they had kept Brent Grimes.
Dave: I'm gonna go 28-20 Panthers
A big thanks to Dave for his answers.