The Carolina Panthers defense did their job in their first meeting against the Atlanta Falcons. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means, but they bowed up in the red zone and limited the Falcons to just 16 points, tied for their lowest mark of the season. Todd Gurley ran well, but the Panthers limited a depleted Falcons passing attack to just 5.3 yards per pass, including a horrific red zone interception.
That game ended the Dan Quinn era as head coach. Raheem Morris is in charge of the team now, but Dirk Koetter is still calling the plays. As far as the defense is concerned, nothing has really changed in that regard. There is one key difference though—Julio Jones is back. Jones missed the first meeting of these teams with a hamstring problem. He’s been in peak form since his return, and that leads us to our keys to the game.
- Shade Julio Jones. Calvin Ridley is good, but I think it’s more important to try to limit the damage Julio causes. He’s more explosive and poses a bigger threat to score on any given play. In his two games back, Jones has caught 16 of 19 targets for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Ridley, for comparison, has caught 11 of 14 targets for 130 yards and two touchdowns in that span. We’ve seen the damage Jones can cause many times over, and that’s especially worrisome given the current state of the Panthers’ secondary. He’s been lining up in the slot a lot as well, which will put a lot of pressure on Jeremy Chinn and the Panthers linebackers.
- Sack Matt Ryan. The Panthers sacked Matt Ryan twice for 19 lost yards back in Week 5. Those are the most yards lost to sacks and tied for the most sacks the Panthers have generated in a game so far this season (yikes). Ryan has been sacked at least twice in all but one game this season. The Panthers need more sacks because they’re useful, but more importantly, they’re fun.
- Be prepared for weather. The Charlotte area had some brief bouts of intense weather this morning, and there’s a good chance the rain will continue to stop and start all night. The field will be wet. The ball will be wet. The air will be wet. I don’t think that matters as much as we fans like to think it does, but it’s not nothing.