The Carolina Panthers are getting set for a huge divisional battle Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons, as they look to maintain their hold on the NFC’s final wild-card playoff spot.
Here are some keys to victory on offense and defense.
1. Interior Protection
Trai Turner practiced in full on Friday and would provide much-needed help along the interior offensive line. The Falcons can beat you in so many ways with their defensive front. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe are among the few that can cause problems for the offensive line.
Bookend tackles Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams are coming off good performances last week against the Buccaneers, but it’ll be up to the interior, particularly center Tyler Larsen, to keep Newton upright if Carolina is to win.
2. Will the No. 2 receiver please step up?
Kelvin Benjamin is now in Buffalo, so Devin Funchess assumes the role of top dog in the receiving pecking order. But what about No. 2?
If Carolina is to keep pace offensively, another receiver will need to step up to take some pressure off Funchess. It may be a rotation at first, but if one of Curtis Samuel, Russell Shepard or Kaelin Clay moves to the forefront, that would allow the offense to expand again. Samuel has the best opportunity.
3. Cam Newton can’t make mistakes
We can talk about everything else on offense, but in the end, it still comes down to the play of the quarterback. He needs to help mask the other issues and offense and limit the pressure if he is going to outlast Matt Ryan. His throws need to continue to be on target and he can’t make any mistakes, especially on deep balls.
1. Defensive ends must continue to produce
One other surefire way to keep up on the scoreboard is to keep the other team’s offense off the field. This means Carolina’s defensive line, particularly the ends, need to cause havoc on the Falcons offensive line and get to Ryan. They can’t let him get into a rhythm and hit his multiple weapons on offense.
2. Slowing down Julio Jones
The Panthers cornerbacks are going to be a focal point in this one, since they both will likely see time against Julio Jones, who racked up 300 receiving yards against Carolina last year. But don’t forget about Mohamed Sanu, a very underrated receiver who can do a whole lot of damage if a defense forgets about him.
3. Watch out for both running backs
Devonta Freeman was banged up during the week but should be good to go. But he’s not the only running back the Falcons employ.
Tevin Coleman may not get a whole lot of work, but when he does, he is very efficient. Expect him to see some carries Sunday to spell Freeman. Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson and company have to keep Coleman in front of them, because he’s a threat to score any time he gets into space, as he reminded us last week against the Jets.
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