Week 4: Carolina Panthers At Atlanta Falcons
- QuarterbackThe Panthers may have the most spectacular second-year quarterback in the league in Cam Newton, but he is anything but consistent. He not only had a poor game against the Giants – 0 TDs and 3 interceptions – but he lost his cool and has a lot of growing up to do.Unfortunately for Matt Ryan, his hot start this season is not going to prove anything to his critics. Not only does he have to sustain it during the season, he must play at an elite level when the Falcons get to the postseason. He is an accurate passer with excellent field vision.
- OffenseThe Panthers want to establish that they can run the ball in order to take some of the pressure off of Newton. DeAngelo Williams is capable of doing just that. Wide receiver Steve Smith is still a first-rate threat who can go deep and make the tough catch over the middle. Tight end Greg Olsen has glue-like hands.The Falcons have an array of weapons to help Ryan get the job done. Wide receiver Roddy White is strong, tough and consistent. Julio Jones has explosive speed and is improving. Tight end Tony Gonzalez turned back the clock in a nine-catch effort against the Chargers.
- DefenseThe Panthers barely showed up defensively in the loss to the Giants. Eli Manning torched them and the Giants ground game got well against them. Head coach Ron Rivera won’t put up with this much longer. Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly is a big-time tackler, but he needs help from his teammates.The Falcons defense was on top of its game against the Chargers, shutting down quarterback Philip Rivers on his home turf. The Falcons depend on their speed, quickness and positioning on defense. Cornerback Asante Samuel is giving the Atlanta secondary a major lift while linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is a big hitter.
- Special TeamsThe Panthers made a huge move to improve their punt- and kickoff-return coverage teams during the offseason and they held the Giants down in both areas. This could be a key advantage for Carolina throughout the season.Placekicker Matt Bryant has a solid leg and head coach Mike Smith has confidence in him. The Falcons don’t figure to get many big plays from their special teams.
The Falcons are off to an eye-opening 3-0 start, and they look determined to take the NFC South and secure one of the top two spot in the NFC postseason rankings. There’s one problem to that kind of thinking. There’s still 13 games left in the regular season and the Falcons have the look of a team that may be peaking early. Still, they should be able to handle the enigmatic Panthers.