Here are the three matchups that the Atlanta Falcons must win to be able to stop the Carolina Panthers:
Falcons LB Sean Weatherspoon vs. Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams: The last time these two teams met, DeAngelo Williams was allowed to do whatever he wanted in the run game. There was even an occasion where he scored from 30 yards out, essentially untouched. I think Sunday, the Falcons will line up their best linebacker, Sean Weatherspoon, and try to counteract run game with Williams. If he can get in the backfield and disrupt the exchange between Cam Newton and Williams, it will force Carolina to be more one-dimensional, allowing the Atlanta secondary opportunities to make plays on the ball, whether it be defending the pass, or coming up to play the run.
Falcons LB Stephen Nicholas vs. Panthers TE Greg Olsen: Olsen didn’t exactly have a massive game against the Falcons, but I remember one play in particular where he caught a short pass in the flat, made a move that forced Stephen Nicholas to miss the tackle, and trotted right into the end-zone for six points. I’ll admit my confidence in Nicholas was shaken. However, I just watched first-hand as Nicholas covered Saints TE Jimmy Graham most of the game, and gave up very little to him. I think Nicholas is a tremendously underrated cover linebacker, and if he can keep up with Graham, he can do a very good job against Olsen. Much of the Falcons defensive game-planning hinges on someone successfully covering the tight end.
Falcons OTs Sam Baker & Tyson Clabo vs. Panthers DE Charles Johnson: In Week 4, Charles Johnson might as well have had a Falcons jersey on for how often he was in the backfield. He was a part of each of the 7 times Ryan was sacked on the day, and Johnson finished with 3.5 sacks. He also was a beast against the run. That was by far Johnson’s best game of the season, as he has only had 8.5 total sacks on the season. In many games, he is completely quiet and held without a sack or even so much as a tackle (see his performance against the Bucs). If the Falcons tackles can stop Johnson, Ryan will be able to have an excellent day against the Carolina secondary.