Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers – 3 keys to the game

After a hectic week, the Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons at home in Charlotte this Sunday. For those who are in the dark, the Falcons are most famous for blowing a 25 point lead in the Superbowl. Basically, they are the epitome of failure.

So it comes as no surprise that the Falcons are suffering from a Superbowl hangover this year. After losing Shanahan to the 49ers, their offense went from historic to moldy trash. To add on, their defense is undisciplined and mistake-prone, often being the root-cause for their losses.

The Falcons just don’t look as good this year.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers boast what some could call a Superbowl-caliber defense. With Steve Wilks’ aggressive style, the Panthers have shut down opponents to three points or less in four out of eight games. Couple that with the Panthers’ talented front seven and secondary, and this Carolina defense is a monster.

Meanwhile, the Panthers offense has been very hot and cold this year. Some weeks, the Panthers offense is a juggernaut, with the offensive line, wide receivers, and Cam Newton on point. Other weeks, they look dead in the water. Without Kelvin Benjamin, who knows what this offense will look like this Sunday.

So, without further ado, here’s what the Panthers need to do to win against Atlanta.

Wide Receivers Need To Step Up

Yes, this is pretty much a no-brainer. After losing Kelvin Benjamin via trade with the Bills, there’s no doubt the Panthers receivers need to step up this Sunday. While some argue losing Kelvin Benjamin only hurts the offense, there’s also a very valid case that it could make it better.

Former Panther great Steve Smith Sr. sums it up nicely:

“There are routes that those two guys [Benjamin & Funchess] can’t run. So if you have the same two guys running the same routes it limits your offense and route tree. That means you become predictable and … defenses can pin their ears back.”

The biggest issue was having two receivers who just aren’t complimentary of each other. Both provide a similar skill-set with very little diversity. As a result, defenses don’t respect the Panthers offense whatsoever, often playing cover zero or man coverage.

In fact, this also gave defenses the ability to cheat. By playing press coverage on most snaps, they limit the effectiveness of Kelvin Benjamin, making him a non-threat. With Benjamin’s lack of vertical separation, they know they can lock him up and even sit on underneath routes without worry.

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So, with Benjamin gone, this allows Funchess to move over to WR1 while letting Russell Shepard and Curtis Samuel have a more involved role with the offense. Both Shepard and Samuel’s potential are comparable to Cotchery and Ginn of 2015. Shepard is a stout route runner who can move the chains in the 10-15 yard area, while Samuel’s a fantastic route-runner who has the speed to be a deep threat.

However, this Sunday, the Panthers need to prove their potential can be a reality. For instance, Funchess needs to prove he can be consistent against defense’s #1 cornerbacks. To add on, Russell Shepard needs to prove he can do well with more snaps, while Curtis Samuel has to show he can be a deep threat.

If this happens, the Panthers will have a really good offense in the near future with tons of potential.

Defense Needs Takeaways

One of the most annoying things about the Panthers this year is how unlucky they’ve been with turnover differential. It seemed the Panthers defense was physically unable to haul picks in, while the offense kept getting unlucky with non-QB turnovers. The Panthers just can’t catch a break this season.

Against the Falcons, the Panthers have ensure they remain disciplined on offense while creating opportunities on the defense. The Panthers front seven has been disruptive plenty to create those opportunities, but the defense just can’t seem to haul anything in. This Sunday, the Panthers have to reverse that trend and cause picks of their own.

There’s no doubt the Panthers front seven will get pressure on Matt Ryan. After all, Julius Peppers is having a fantastic season, with the right side of the Falcons offensive line being a major weakness. The Panthers defense will create sacks and allow opportunities to pop up.

If the Panthers cash in on some picks this Sunday, they’ll be in good shape to win the game.

Cornerbacks Need To Continue Dominance

One surprising development of the Panthers defense has been the fantastic play of the secondary. Against the Buccaneers, the Panthers held what was previously a team averaging around 20+ points a game to three points total. With DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans forming a fearsome WR duo, Worley and Bradberry did an amazing job to keep them out of play.

One of Bradberry’s biggest assets is his fantastic play in press coverage. Going against arguably one of the most physical receivers in the NFL, Bradberry countered with his own physicality. He displays perfect press technique and shuts down Mike Evans on the day.

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With James Bradberry locking up offense’s best wide receivers alongside Daryl Worley’s improving play, this allows the Panthers defense to call up even more creative blitz’ to harass the opposing team.

This Sunday, the secondary will have a decent test against weapons like Jones, Sanu, and Gabriel. While their offensive coordinator is terrible, these players aren’t. No matter the playcall, all three of these receivers are significant threats on any snap.

To succeed, the Panthers secondary needs to keep up what it has been doing the past few weeks. Keeping their assignment in check while letting the pass rush do its work will help shut down the Falcons.

If they can keep the Falcons receivers in check, they will have a very good chance of winning the game.

Agree? Disagree? You can sound off right here with thousands of Carolina Panthers fans.

Writer for the CarolinaHuddle. In-depth analysis, breakdowns, and articles all related to the Carolina Panthers.