Initially I was very optimistic about this game. I mentioned early in the season that the Panthers could split this match up in the division well before we knew Cam Newton was an incredible rookie QB. Both on paper and on the field, many can say that Carolina is the aggressor as opposed to being the underdog. That said, Atlanta went 13-3 last season and are certainly no team to be trifled with. Despite their obvious struggles so far, they have the tools to give the Panthers a hard time and exploit some of their weaknesses on defense. I’m still optimistic that this will be a great game for a frustrated Carolina team and could possibly be their second victory this season and first one on the road in the division.
Things to Stop
With Julio Jones out for the game the Panthers will have an easier time managing the passing game, but Tony Gonzalez will still be there ready to dominate the middle. Omar Gaither will miss this week with a sprained MCL which makes the middle of the field a weak area for the Carolina defense. They’ll need to limit Gonzalez’s touches on the ball if they want to prevent Atlanta from getting into scoring territory. Michael Turner is also a big threat as he is going up against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league. The Panthers will have a difficult time stopping him from picking up big yardage. As long he is getting his big yards on Atlanta’s side of the field and not on Carolina’s, his effectiveness will not be as great. Roddy White will be the biggest threat as a WR, but Gamble should be able to keep him quiet for most of the game. Matt Ryan will not be an issue as long as his outlets are guarded long enough for Charles Johnson or the Krakken to force quick passes.
Things to Do
The Panthers have a lot more advantages than disadvantages in this game, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do. For one, they have to put Atlanta’s #8 ranked rush defense to the test. DWill and Stewart have to make a mark, not just on Atlanta, but for the league that Carolina is more than just a pass offense. This is the game that will make the Panthers harder to plan for once teams know they can run against good rush defenses. The Falcon’s have no doubt been preparing all week for Cam. Teams are almost better off preparing for everything but Cam. You can’t plan to tackle a guy that, up to this point, has been almost untouchable. They are probably aware that Cam will be called upon for goal line rushes and will be able to keep him out, but the only hope they have in stopping the pass is by stopping the players running the routes. If the play is to pass, they need to be down field and often. Make their defense make a play and don’t give Atlanta many chances to force a 3rd down situation. Defensively it’s simple. Watch their key go-to receivers and go after them. This should be a day where Carolina gets several chances to force turnovers and press the pass. Although Carolina has a tendency to allow the big play on a blitz, they should have more success by sending some more guys at the QB.
The game plan for Carolina should be fairly aggressive until Atlanta proves they can stop it. Offensively Carolina has the edge and should take a few more chances on some big plays. Clock management will still be a key aspect, but if it comes down to a gunslinger-type game, the Panthers have more to work with than Atlanta. A few key stops in Atlanta territory and limited rushing yards by Turner will see the Panthers to a win on the road.