Week one is right around the corner, as the Panthers prepare to face off against their division rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Panthers will debut their 3-4 defense manned by Ejiro Evero for the very first time, and we’ll get a chance to see what exactly he has planned now that they are no longer in the preseason running vanilla defenses in order to not give anything away. There’s a lot to unpack, let’s dive in.
The Falcons surrounded 2022 3rd round pick Desmond Ridder with a ton of offensive firepower over the last two seasons, including using a high pick on RB Bijan Robinson, who will get to run behind an offensive line that features 3 former 1st round picks in Chris Lindstrom, Jake Matthews, and Kaleb McGary along with a former 2nd round pick in Matthew Bergeron. They also feature WR Drake London and TE Kyle Pitts in the passing game to round out a relatively solid attack. Let’s take a look at some keys to Sunday.
- Figure out the pass rush situation. As of the time of this writing, the Panthers are currently dealing with the hold in of OLB Brian Burns, the team’s best pure pass rusher. While it is entirely possible the team will figure out his contract situation, there’s certainly some doubt as to his availability Sunday. If the Panthers cannot figure this out, they’ll be trotting the combination of Justin Houston, Yetur Gross-Matos, Amare Barno, and DJ Johnson to hold the fort down to get after QB Desmond Ritter in his first game as the conclusive starter for 2023 on the edges. The Panthers will need to rattle him in order to keep the Falcons a bit more one dimensional, and if Burns is unavailable they’ll need to dial up some creative blitz packages to generate the additional pressure. They did a lot of this last season (albeit a different coaching staff), so getting Frankie Luvu and Shaq Thompson involved may be the short term fix until the Burns situation is figured out. I expect that all to blow over prior to gameday, but until they do figure it out, pass rush looks to be their biggest problem going into week 1.
- Mitigate the rushing attack as much as possible. The Panthers front will also need to rely on Shy Tuttle and Derrick Brown to do some dirty work in the trenches, as its all but a certainty that the Falcons will rush the ball a lot and hit them in the mouth early. It is paramount that the rushing gameplan allows the linebackers and Jeremy Chinn the space to go make a play on the ball carrier, as Bijan Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Tyler Allgeier gives them a stable that can keep the rushing attack going all day. The down and distance is going to be key, and negative plays will help keep this attack at bay.
- The key pieces in the secondary will need to be ready. Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn will likely have their hands full this weekend with Kyle Pitts and Drake London. While Horn did a nice job in the past of keeping Pitts down, he’ll likely not shadow him the whole game now that Chinn has moved closer to the line as a nickel corner/linebacker/box safety. It’ll be very interesting to see how exactly the Panthers deploy Chinn this week, as his defined role hasn’t exactly been clear all preseason. If those two can do a good job against the Falcons top weapons, that should allow the rushing defense and pass rush some relief in what aren’t exactly plus matchups for them.
This game is hard to predict as I am not sure how the defense will look in their first real action within the confines of the new scheme. It could be tough sledding if the game script allows Atlanta to run the ball as much as they are built to, and a struggling pass rush could allow the secondary to get ripped wide open. However, it is a divisional matchup with the Falcons, and history has taught us they almost never go according to all predictions, logic, and reason.
What are you looking at on Sunday? Sound off below in the comments!