The Carolina Panthers are a team who have run the ball very well in the past, and have an enormous amount of talent lining up in the backfield. While they haven’t been extremely successful to this point in 2012 when running the ball, the extreme threat still remains, especially with a quarterback who can run as powerfully as Cam Newton.
While that offense presents speed and size matchup for many teams, the Falcons are not one of them. The defensive line does a good job of playing the run first, and then playing the pass, and the secondary does well in run support as well. However, the real key to stopping the run is the type of player that you have playing linebacker, and the Falcons have two outstanding starting linebackers the Panthers will have to deal with.
Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas are those linebackers. What they bring to the table isn’t just tremendous size, speed, and athleticism, but also a high degree of versatility.
Many linebackers need to be removed on passing downs, don’t provide much in the way of pass coverage, and are little more than gap fillers. Not this duo. Both are very good at running down the ball carrier. They can make the tackle in the open field. The can fill the gaps and thump the ball carrier for a loss. They can get after the quarterback in the pocket. They also are extremely good dropping into coverage, and can even cover tight ends very well.
What can’t these guys do?
The answer would be that there isn’t a whole lot they can’t do. Aside from covering wide-receivers deep down the field, I don’t think there is anything. And that’s exactly what makes them so valuable, especially against a team like the Panthers. Carolina will try to run the ball, and they will also try to get short-to-intermediate completions. And that is exactly the territory that Nicholas and ‘Spoon will try to control the field.
I’ve already listed everything that they are absolutely capable of doing and have proven they can do in the past. Now, against the Panthers in the Georgia Dome, they need only to execute exactly what they are capable of, and make things happen, and even create a couple turnovers for the Falcons. If they play up to their talent level, they will control the field, and the Falcons will be able to go 4-0.