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Panthers vs Falcons offensive preview: Can Sam Darnold turn it around?

Panthers again afforded opportunity against mediocre Falcons defense

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers (3-4) head to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. on Sunday to take on the Atlanta Falcons (3-3). Both teams possess similarly mediocre records, but the Panthers have lost four straight games while the Falcons have won their last two (granted, against the lowly Jets and Dolphins).

Let’s jump into how the Panthers offense could fair against the Falcons defense.

Panthers offense

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Yards per game: 328 (25th)
Pass yards per game: 226 (24th)
Rush yards per game: 101.9 (20th)
Points per game: 20.9 (23rd)

The Panthers offense has been going down the tanks over the past four weeks since the team started at 3-0, a familiar refrain in this column.

It’s pretty hard to watch and it seems to get worse every week. This week we learned that right guard John Miller is headed to injured reserve, which will keep him out for at least the next three games. Meanwhile, quarterback Sam Darnold is coming off his worst performance of the season, getting benched for P.J. Walker during the final quarter. Of all the starting quarterbacks who have played seven games, only Justin Fields (816) and Taylor Heinicke (1,658) have passed for fewer yards than Darnold (1,684). Darnold is also tied with Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence for the second-most interceptions in the NFL (8). He is also tied with Lamar Jackson and Ryan Tannehill as the second-most sacked quarterback (21).

Sunday’s game will show Panthers fans a lot about who Darnold is. Can he bounce back and put together a decent game against the Falcons? If he does, some fans may breathe a sigh of relief, while others have long since made up their mind. If Darnold shows us more of the same from the last few weeks, then I’m gearing up for a rough rest of the season.

Falcons defense

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Yards per game: 362.7 (18th)
Pass yards per game: 250.5 (19th)
Rush yards per game: 112.2 (16th)
Points per game: 29.3 (30th)
Turnovers: 5 (27th)

The Falcons defense has typically been quite poor over the past several years and this year is shaping up to be much of the same. Their 29.3 points allowed per game is third-worst in the NFL, while their 362.7 yards per game is good for 18th in the league. Certainly not the worst defensive unit out there, but middling in the lower-middle class of defenses.

Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (pictured above) is having a decent season this year with 61 tackles (eighth most in the NFL). The Falcons aren’t getting many sacks but linebacker Deion Jones is tied for third in the NFL with seven tackles for loss.

Overall match-up

My gut feeling after the last few weeks is it might be more of the same from Darnold and the offense. Christian McCaffrey isn’t expected back for another few weeks and the offense won’t move as well as it can without him. It just seems like everyone is having a bad stretch, including the normally collected Robby Anderson.

While I’m rooting for Darnold and his guys to regain their confidence from the first three games of the season, it’s hard to see it happening. I think the Falcons take this one on their home turf, extending their win streak to three games.