The first extremely trying test of the season for the Atlanta Falcons takes the form of the division opponent Carolina Panthers. This game is absolutely crucial for the Falcons because The first six weeks of the 2012 season is the time for the Falcons to make hay against solid to less than solid opponents. Obviously the Panthers are a team that is much more threatening a team than ever before, and the Falcons really need to at least split the season series with Carolina to be successful in 2012. Starting at home early is a great way to accomplish this goal.
Carolina’s offense is absolutely great with the addition of Cam Newton through the draft last season. Newton brings a lot of different ways for the Panthers to score: he stands tall in the pocket and isn’t afraid to take big hits. When he leaves the pocket, he keeps his vision down the field and is talented enough to throw the ball down the field and hit receivers. He also is as big as a solidly built running back, and is very fast. He also rarely fumbles the ball when carrying the rock, which he does a lot.
Their offense isn’t perfect, however. While they do have Steve Smith as a receiver, they don’t have much in the receiving department aside from Smith. They have an excellent rushing attack, which they use extensively to set up the passing game. When defenses focus on Newton with the ball, they can get beat easily by one solid receiver working down the field. The key for the Falcons is to play extremely disciplined football to keep Newton in the pocket, not allow him to escape and extend the play, and lock down the receivers. This is extremely doable given the talent at the cornerback position that the Falcons currently have (Grimes, Dunta Robinson, and Asante Samuel), and if they can play good contain on Newton when he drops back. If they are stout against the run, they can make Carolina’s offense predictable, and that is when Newton will turn the ball over in the form of interceptions. And believe me, Newton throws a bundle of interceptions, even in key situations.
Defensively, the Panthers will be a lot stronger than they were in 2011, even though they didn’t really add any new players on that side of the ball. Their Middle Linebacker Thomas Davis is returning from a severe knee injury. He missed all of 2011 with the injury, and he was projected to be a big part of their defense last season. Without Davis the Panthers were extremely weak up the middle of their defense. They still don’t have great players at defensive tackle. that will allow the Falcons to run the ball, and we all know what that means: setting up the pass. That isn’t necessarily something that the Falcons have to do to move the ball, but being able to use both the running game and the passing game against a weaker defense will be to the Falcons benefit. Outside of Davis, Charles Johnson, and rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, who are the Panthers defensive playmakers? Captain Munnerlyn? Certainly not another cornerback or a safety.
A lot of talk has been going around the league that the Panthers will not only challenge for the NFC South division title, but that they will win it. I think that with an better No. 2 receiver, the Panthers would be ready to win offensively. However, the defensive side of the ball is extremely lacking, and the implementation of one rookie linebacker (no matter how good he is) is not enough to win the division for the Panthers. It won’t even be enough to win this game. Cam Newton chucks the ball all over the place and runs amok, but Matt Ryan & Co. do just as much, plus they don’t turn the ball over. Final Score: Falcons 31- Panthers 28