CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons in week two of the NFL season.
The “I-85 Rivalry” sits in Atlanta’s favor. 28-18 in 46 all-time meetings, 17-6 Falcons in games played in Georgia.
Sunday’s meeting has seen it’s share of storylines unfold over the course of the week, so here’s a guide to the game.
WHEN CAROLINA HAS THE BALL
The Panthers offensive line has been riddled with injuries, so much so that the team signed free agent Chris Clark this week. The lone pre-season projected starter that will take the field on Sunday is veteran center Ryan Kalil.
Clark is an 11-year NFL veteran, who Head Coach Ron Rivera feels is better suited to play the left tackle position. That move would shift Taylor Moton to the right tackle spot this week. It should be pointed out, Moton played left tackle against Dallas, and held his own. He was moved into the starter’s role after Matt Kalil went on short-term injured reserve with a knee injury.
How this projected starting group (projected only because Rivera isn’t tipping his hand), of LT Clark, LG Greg VanRoten, C Kalil, RG Amini Silatolu, RT Taylor Moton protects quarterback Cam Newton will go a long way in determining how effective the offense is.
Wide receivers Damiere Byrd and Curtis Samuel won’t play this weekend, and add in tight end Greg Olsen’s absence, and suddenly, the Panthers offensive cupboard of weapons is missing some key parts.
Offensive linemen would prefer to run block, than pass protect, and because of that, look for the Panthers to establish the run game, and commit to it, while sprinkling in the occasional pass play to take advantage of the Falcons defending the run.
Atlanta is also missing safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones, both suffering season ending injuries in week one.
WHEN ATLANTA HAS THE BALL
Quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones are a lethal combination through the air. That duo may need to have a solid afternoon, as on Friday, running back Devonta Freeman was ruled out for the game. That leaves Tevin Coleman likely to shoulder the load of the rush attempts. Coleman is a nice back, but Freeman presents more problems.
Carolina could benefit from Freeman’s absence, as it makes the Falcons a little more pass-heavy, on the surface. This however, could also put some pressure on the Carolina secondary. James Bradberry isn’t a rookie anymore, and is rising to the challenge of defending the opponent’s best pass catcher. Donte Jackson is a rookie, and has yet to face a full-blown offensive attack with a legitimate passing quarterback. He’ll get that baptism by fire on Sunday (read, expect Ryan to throw to his side of the field early and often).
Ryan could have a hard time finding his targets if the Panthers defensive front puts in the work they did against Dallas. Carolina had Dak Prescott running out of danger several times on opening day, but where Prescott succeeded in escaping, Ryan won’t have the foot speed to do that. As Defensive Coordinator Eric Washington preaches, “G2-X,” or Get 2 the spot (marked by X). If they can get to the spot, they can get to Ryan.
Weather won’t be a factor, as this one will be played in a dome. What could be a factor is how Carolina actually gets to Atlanta. Tropical storm Florence has impacted the Carolinas with high winds and heavy rains, and the conditions continued to move inland Friday into Saturday, with its remnants eventually reaching Atlanta at some point on Sunday. It won’t impact the actual game play, but the Panthers could use a smooth trip into town.
- OUT - WR Damiere Byrd (knee), WR Curtis Samuel (medical issue), TE Greg Olsen (foot), G Trai Turner
- OUT - RB Devonta Freeman (knee), WR Russell Gage (knee), G Ben Garland (calf)
- QUESTIONABLE - CB Isaiah Oliver (ankle)
PICK: Carolina 20-17