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Panthers vs Falcons offensive preview: Can Kyle Allen take control?

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The Panthers need a win over the Falcons this Sunday to stay in the playoff hunt. Can Kyle Allen lead them to victory?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers suffered a heartbreaking 24-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 11. The Panthers gave a valiant comeback effort in a snow-covered Lambeau Field, but on the final play of the game, Carolina fell short. With only four seconds left in regulation, the pressure was on quarterback Kyle Allen to hand the ball off to Christian McCaffrey or throw a pass two yards from the goal line. Ultimately, a missed block would allow Packers’ linebacker Kyler Fackrell to slow McCaffrey down, preventing him from making it into the end zone by only a few inches. A lot can be said about a team that ended their final 88-yard drive without a game-tying score, but the Panthers are still in the hunt for the playoffs. Sitting at 5-4, Carolina will have to finish out near perfect to make the playoffs. However, a matchup against NFC South foe Atlanta Falcons is a realistic shot at a rebound for such a tumultuous season.

On Sunday, a struggling Falcons squad managed to pull off a massive upset against the New Orleans Saints. In their 26-9 defeat over New Orleans, Atlanta became the first team since 2005 to stop the Saints from scoring a touchdown in the Superdome. Despite having only seven sacks heading into the game, Falcons sacked Drew Brees a whopping six times. Atlanta’s defense was also able to hold New Orleans to just 52 rushing yards. It’s possible the Falcons sudden turnaround is contributed to defensive play-calling duties being recently delegated to assistant coach Raheem Morris and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich. The 2-7 Falcons looked like a different team on the road against the NFC South-leading Saints, which leaves Atlanta extremely unpredictable.

The Panthers can’t play safe against the Falcons, even at home. Here are the biggest keys for Carolina to keep their playoff hopes alive on Sunday:

Keep the pocket clean

Putting pressure on Allen can be problematic. Throughout the season, Panthers have struggled on third downs, converting only 33 percent of their opportunities. It’s important for Carolina to move the chains and not put Allen in third-and-long situations. The Panthers struggled against the San Francisco 49ers relentless pass rush in Week 8. Rookie left tackle Greg Little cleared concussion protocol on Thursday making him available to start on Sunday. Little’s presence could bring a sigh of relief to the Panthers’ offensive line against an emerging Falcons pass rush. Atlanta has a three-headed monster in Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, and Adrian Clayborn and they’ll need to be contained otherwise Allen could be overwhelmed through his progressions.

Allen must be better than ‘OK’

It’s possible Cam Newton won’t return again in a Panthers’ jersey. If Allen wants to progress his campaign on why he’s the guy to trust to keep the team intact, he still needs to prove it. While Allen hasn’t been bad, he hasn’t been exceptionally good either. He needs to improve his accuracy on downfield throws and stop forcing passes susceptible to being intercepted. Against the Packers, he was riddled with recognizing pressure and gave the ball away twice. A lack of confidence can cause a slow spiral for the team, and if he’s to find that confidence, he can do so against a weak defense like the Falcons.

More DJ

DJ Moore continues to be more and more productive and has seemed to have found his rhythm with Allen. Following a breakout game against the Tennessee Titans, Moore caught nine passes for 120 yards against Green Bay and even broke up a pass that could’ve been intercepted. Considering Atlanta’s secondary is surrendering the eighth-most receiving yards to opponents, Moore should be trusted to beat man coverage after compiling back-to-back 100-yard games.

Clear the way for McCaffrey

In his worst game since Week 6, McCaffrey still managed to rack up 108 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay. The Falcons have improved their run defense and against pass-catching running backs. Carolina’s offensive line needs to be cohesive and keep McCaffrey clean on power rushes in the interior. Panthers’ identity falls on McCaffrey’s ability to run between the tackles. His success against Atlanta’s defense could dictate Carolina’s play action and how they throw the ball down the field.