Predator vs. Prey: Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons


Predator vs. Prey is a weekly column that will feature a preview of the Panthers’ opponent for that given week.  We will breakdown the X’s and O’s, match-ups on both sides of the ball, and predict the outcome for the game.  Whether it’s Sunday, Monday or Thursday night, has you covered for everything you need to know leading up to the big game. 

Predator:  Carolina Panthers
Prey: Atlanta Falcons
Environment: Bank of America Stadium - Charlotte, NC

Time of Kill: 1PM

Well, after the showing that the Carolina Panthers put on six days ago, who knows what will go down in Charlotte on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Carolina was humiliated in front of a national audience and will need to find their pride, and bounce back against a divisional foe.

The Atlanta Falcons come to town to renew the I-85 rivalry, after getting swept last season by the Panthers.  2014 has been a much different season for both teams, so expect the unexpected this afternoon.

The Falcons enter week 11 with a 3-6 record and an opportunity to jump into first place in the NFC South, with a New Orleans loss.

Matt Ryan has enjoyed an average season under center.  He has looked good, but not great for Atlanta this year.  The offense has put up 24 points-per-game and had a few shootouts under its’ belt.

Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones have put up 1,344-yards and seven touchdowns combined thus far.  Despite the fact that they have not been world beaters this year, they are capable of going off at any point.  Against a beligured secondary, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if they step up today and have big games.

The Falcons running game has been as awful as the Panthers’ rushing attack this year.

Steven Jackson and a supporting cast of three others have barely made a dent on the ground.  The Falcons’ offensive line is almost as horrible as the Panthers’ offensive line as well.

These two teams mirror each other almost identically, outside of the 3-4 defensive scheme that Atlanta runs.

Defensively, the Falcons get no push, nor are they able to pressure opposing quarterbacks.  The overhaul of their front-seven has not yielded anything fruitful for Falcons’ fans this season.

Their secondary is young and full of promise.  Kelvin Benjamin will have to run precise routes and hold onto the balls that are thrown to him, because the Atlanta defensive backs are getting better, with each passing week.

Predator on Offense:

The Panthers are facing a defense that can be exposed on the ground and in the intermediate passing game.

Only issue, Carolina has no rushing attach to exploit the Atlanta defense.  The Panthers are starting DeAngelo Williams at running back, but expect to see more of Jonathan Stewart as the game unfolds.  Stewart provides the most potential for production, so I can see him having a solid day.

The offensive line will be as close to full strength as we have seen in awhile.  Andrew Norwell gets the nod over Amini Silatolu, and for good reason.  Norwell appears to be a gem that could be a long-term solution at left guard.  Trai Turner is welcomed back at right guard, and should provide the interior of the offenisve line with some solid play.

I think Cam Newton will have more time in the pocket and should be able to dictate the flow of the offense more this game, than he has since the Bengals game.

Playing in front of a home crowd will help Newton be calm and relaxed, after a rough outing in Philadelphia last Monday.

Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin are poised to have big predatory days in Carolina.

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Both receivers should take advantage of the poor linebacker play and open up the short passing game.  Benjamin will probably see a lot of coverage from a rookie cornerback, so he is also in line to have a dominating day.  He did a lot of damage in garbage time last week, but maybe that will spark some confidence in the young receiver.

Predator on Defense:

Carolina’s defense is chomping at the bit to get after Matt Ryan.  They will have to face him without Greg Hardy, for the first time in two years.  Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy and Wes Horton will have to figure out a way to frustrate Ryan.

Star Lotulelei will miss his first game of his young career.

Kawann Short will have to step up and pair with Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole in Lotulelei’s absence.  Star’s impact isn’t felt in the box score, but seen on tape.  His ability to draw double-teams has helped the Panthers overall defense, and his presence will be severely missed today.

Josh Norman needs to continue his impressive play against the two lethal Falcon receivers.

Roddy White and Julio Jones are a menace that Norman will have to squash early.  Norman’s physical play and attitude is strong enough to keep them contained.  One of the other Panthers’ defensive backs will have to raise his game today as well.  Norman can’t do it on his own, and will need either Antoine Cason or Melvin White to play tight defense.

Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons’ running game isn’t going to scare anyone, but at the same time, Steven Jackson needs to be respected.  He is a very strong veteran back that could be Atlanta’s ‘x-factor’ if he is ignored.

The best bet for the predator today, is to put pressure on Ryan and force him into mistakes.  Carolina has done it well in the past, and if they want to walk into the bye week on a winning note, will have to do it again today.

One last item to note that must be observed all day long:

Don’t. Kick. To. Devin. Hester.

Whatever it takes, keep the ball out of his hands.  Much like Darren Sproles last week, Devin Hester will burn the Panthers if he gets his hands on the ball.  Special teams could be the difference maker in the game, so Carolina must be smart and stay away from Hester.