The Atlanta Falcons offense put the NFL on notice while their defense pressured the Panthers just enough to defeat the defending NFC champions, 48-33.
In a game that would serve as a barometer for the rest of the season, the Atlanta Falcons delivered another marquee divisional win on Sunday versus the Carolina Panthers. Most skeptics, and rightfully so, questioned whether the Falcons offense could fire on all cylinders against the Panthers the way that they have the previous two weeks.
Well, the Falcons put that issue to bed. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the Falcons offense exploited the Panthers secondary to the tune of 503 yards passing (a Falcons franchise record), with Julio on the receiving end of 300 of those yards, also another franchise record.
The Panthers defense entered the day third in the league in total defense, allowing a meager 273.3 total yards per game. The Falcons offense proved on Sunday that they are legitimate, and fans should no longer doubt their ability to score on the stingiest of defenses.
We also learned Sunday that Julio Jones is pretty good. Questions regarding Julio’s early season struggles were met with deaf ears after the star receiver became the sixth receiver in NFL history to surpass 300 yards in a single game.
Most of the Jones damage was dealt to Panthers cornerback Bene Benwikere, who surrendered 6 catches on 7 targets for 184 yards and a touchdown. Benwikere is no slouch either. Coming into the game, the Panthers cornerback allowed the third worst QB rating on throws into his coverage, according to PFF.
Lost in the offensive outburst was the play of the Falcons defense. While the final scoreboard might not indicate it, the defense was fairly stout, at least through the first three quarters. In fact, the Falcons defense performed its best when Cam Newton was in the game.
The reigning NFL MVP was forced to exit in the fourth quarter with a concussion after receiving a stiff shot at the goal line by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. Newton was under duress for much of the day, thanks in part to a Falcons defense that was credited with eight hits on the quarterback. So while the defense still fails to get home for the sack, the front four has shown steady improvement in the pressure department.
Dwight Freeney still proves to be a revelation at the tender age of 36 as the future Hall of Famer has now recorded a sack in two straight games. It should still concern fans that Freeney makes up the majority of the Falcons pass rush, as far as sacks go, but at least he wasn’t alone in applying the pressure today.
Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, Vic Beasley, and Derrick Shelby all notched hits on the quarterback in the game. It’s safe to say this was the best performance of the season by the front four.
One can only hope that trend continues going forward as the slate doesn’t get any easier from here. The Falcons travel to face the Broncos and Seahawks in their next two contests and given that the defense is still a work in progress, they’ll need every bit the effort from Ryan and Jones that they got today in order to leave those hostile environments victorious.