Panthers vs Falcons: Key Matchups

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The time has come again for the brutal Panthers/Falcons rivalry to renew. The Panthers have dominated their past three opponents and are on top of .500 for the first time since 2008. The Falcons, meanwhile, are in a situation very familiar to Panthers fans. The injury bug is in full force and the Falcons good fortunes seem to have run out. Matt Ryan has been exceptional this season considering the loss of Roddy White for the beginning of the season, Julio Jones for the rest of it, and a poor offensive line to boot. The run game hasn't been there for him like past years as we see Ryan becoming the total focal point of the offense. And this is exactly what we want in Carolina.

Harry Douglas vs. Captain Munnerlyn/Melvin White

In the receivers vs secondary category, the matchup across the board appears favorable for Atlanta. Roddy White appears to be on pace for some snaps Sunday, while Harry Douglas is on pace for his first 1,000 yard season. Drew Davis has been a decent third receiver as well, but Douglas has been getting the majority of targets behind Tony Gonzales, and its showed in two straight 100 yard performances. The Panthers secondary has been playing great considering the personnel, Melvin White playing well above his UDFA status with Captain Munnerlyn and Drayton Florence doing a good job. But it all could be exploited if Carolina fails to pressure Ryan enough. We've seen this defense picked apart by dink dunk offenses in the past and that's exactly what the Falcons will run to try and nullify our pass rush.

It is unclear who specifically will match up vs Harry Douglas. But Douglas has been the Falcons slot receiver, so we will likely see Captain Munnerlyn working against Douglas a bit this game. Roddy White may start but definitely isn't 100% yet. Still, we could see him playing the decoy role, so look for a lot of Douglas vs. Munnerlyn in the slot. Munnerlyn has been playing well this season (or at least better than the past), so it'll be fun to watch. The Falcons like this matchup as well.

Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Luke Kuechly

Steven Jackson has returned from an injury that kept him out for the majority of the first half of the year. But he's been a non-factor. He has 25 carries for 83 yards, averaging 3.3 on the ground along with 9 receptions for 60 yards. However, you take away one 50 yard run against the Saints and you see the bigger picture. Jackson has started to show his age and can't run behind this offensive line. Jacquizz Rodgers on the other hand has played fairly well filling in for Jackson and appears to be more of a receiving threat.

The Panthers rush defense has been exceptional this year, but we've had some issues against the faster, shiftier backs. In week 2 CJ Spiller rushed for over 100 yards and made a lot of plays against us, while Zac Stacy and Andre Ellington were more successful at getting the yards down by down. Luke Kuechly can tackle just about any running back in the NFL, so he or Thomas Davis will likely be locked in on Rodgers when he takes the field. Rodgers really stepped up for Ryan after the Julio Jones injury (and with White still nursing his). He may see more touches than people realize here.

Osi Umenyiora vs. Byron Bell/Jordan Gross

Osi Umenyiora has started to show a little age as well. He's got four sacks on the year, but Atlanta's defense has suffered from sub-par pass rush (3 way tie for 22nd in sacks). Sound familiar?

We all remember and cringe at the thought of Mario Williams after he broke the Bills record for most sacks in a single game. Umenyiora will likely see a heavy work load. Cam Newton has been exceptional for the recent part of the year, but he can't win if he's on his back the whole time. The Falcons will try to rattle him and force mistakes and turnovers. They don't want Carolina to jump out fast as it will force their offense to be one dimensional in order to win.

Steve Smith vs. Asante Samuel

The Falcons have seen some promising play from their rookies, but to be blunt you don't want them trying to cover Steve Smith. Smitty will add them to his family of children that include Janorris Jenkins, DeAngelo Hall, Patrick Peterson (rookie year), and others. You don't want a young rookie trying to cover him, he knows every veteran move in the book to get open and he will make them pay.

Samuel on the other hand is an upper echelon corner in the NFL. He's had his ups and downs this year but he's still Asante Samuel. Samuel primarily operates out of zone coverage so he can see where the quarterback wants to throw the ball. He's made his mark making big plays on the ball by jumping routes. Steve Smith is very good at finding the weakness in zone coverages, but make no mistake, this matchup is important to the passing game.

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