1) What did the first meeting between these two teams teach the Falcons players and coaches about the Panthers?
I think the first matchup told us that the Panthers are tenacious. They were going to play extremely hard no matter the situation. The only thing that I see is that it seems the Panthers coaching staff doesn’t really know how to properly utilize Cam Newton’s skill set. I don’t know what I’d do differently, but I think he has potential to be a better pocket QB, and they are forcing themselves to run the read-option attack. Even though things aren’t going great, the Falcons know not to underestimate things, because Newton can do things beyond the called play that are phenomenal, and can get you beat in a hurry.
2) How does Julio Jones look for the Panthers game? Is he 100%?
Julio Jones is going to be 100% for this game. He wasn’t even listed on the official injury report. However, strong safety William Moore and corner Asante Samuel didn’t practice this week, and are going to be game time decisions to play. Moore not playing would be a huge factor in the Falcons ability to play the run. He is a big hitter from the secondary.
3) Now that 3/4ths of the season is done with, how do you see the Atlanta backfield and running game overall as you head into the playoffs?
I always thought that Jacquizz Rodgers was a great player for bouncing it to the outside, or catching the ball out of the backfield, but I’d never imagined he’d run between the tackles with the success he has. Don’t get me wrong, if he gets squared up by a linebacker, he’s going backward, but with Rodgers, the Falcons offensive line has some flexibility as he can cut and find a gap for a gain. He’s also really good running to the outside, and we all know he can really catch the ball. It’s particularly huge, because Turner isn’t hitting the holes like he used to, can’t really change direction very well, and doesn’t have the power he once had. The Falcons staff has said that Jacquizz is going to become the primary back in coming weeks, and I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Turner can help keep Rodgers’ carries down. Rodgers can also pass protect. The Falcons offense is simply more productive when Rodgers is in the lineup.
4) How is the Falcons’ rushing defense, a weak point this season, been coming along in the last few games?
The Falcons were missing Sean Weatherspoon for the Dallas, New Orelans, and Arizona games, and that certainly didn’t help. But since ‘Spoon has been back in the lineup, he’s playing like a new man. He has been great at containing running backs both in the run game and in the pass game. On top of that, the Falcons got DT Corey Peters back on the field and in football shape after missing much of the pre-season and training camp. There’s no doubt his presence has been huge.
5) What starter has emerged as the most pleasant surprise this season for the Falcons?
Safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore. They were decent safeties who at times made big plays, but it seemed like they also gave up more than their fair share of big plays. But this season, each is playing very well, they are both keeping the play in front of them, and then playing downhill on the ball. That’s also allowed them to create more turnovers. At this point, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if both of them make the Pro Bowl. Its been a pleasant surprise for sure.