The Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons will face off in an early-season divisional rematch game on Thursday night. This will be the first time that the Matt Rhule led Panthers will battle it out in primetime. Carolina won the first matchup by a score of 23-16 a few weeks ago. This figures to be another close game between the two division rivals. Both teams are coming in fresh off of close losses. Both teams need a win to stay within striking distance of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers' offense played well in their first meeting but there is definitely room for improvement.
Here are our three keys to the game for the Panthers' offense:
Score touchdowns in the red zone
The Panthers had to settle for three field goals in the first meeting against the Falcons. They also scored two touchdowns but only one came inside the 20-yard line. Carolina has struggled inside the red zone all season long. They routinely put together long drives but fail to punch it into the endzone. All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey has a chance to return for the Thursday night game which would help the team tremendously. McCaffrey ran for four touchdowns in the two games he played in this year. Regardless if CMC gives it a go or not, the Panthers need to score touchdowns when they get into the red zone in order to sweep the Falcons.
Protect Teddy Bridgewater
Panthers' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not sacked once in the Week 5 matchup against Atlanta which is a huge reason why they were able to come out with the victory. Since that game, Bridgewater has not been so lucky. He was sacked a total of five times against the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers lost both games. Atlanta was able to get after Detroit Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford last week sacking him twice. Hopefully the Panthers can put their recent pass protection struggles behind them this week.
Stick with the run
Carolina averaged 4.6 yards per carry against the Falcons in Week 5. They also won the time of possession battle. This is a major key to beat Atlanta. Regardless of the poor 1-6 start, the Falcons boast one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. The best way to beat a great offense is to keep them off the field as much as possible. The Panthers should be able to do this if they can run the ball as effectively as they did in the first game.
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