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Inside the Numbers: Panthers at Falcons Game Preview

Breaking down this week's matchup between Carolina and Atlanta.

A lot of bad things transpired on the field last Sunday at MetLife Stadium, including a poor performance from QB Sam Darnold that resulted in him getting benched for P.J. Walker. Darnold has taken all of the reps with the ones this week and will continue to be the Panthers' starting quarterback after reports surfaced earlier in the week that the team will not pursue Deshaun Watson ahead of the November 2nd trade deadline.

Carolina has now dropped four straight after starting the season 3-0. This week's game in Atlanta will be big for many reasons but most importantly, to put an end to the four-game skid. 

Here's what we can expect this Sunday when the Panthers and Falcons get together. 

When the Panthers have the ball

Panthers offenseStatsFalcons defense

328.0 (25th)

Total Yards Per Game/Allowed

362.7 (18th)

101.9 (20th)

Rushing Yards Per Game/Allowed

112.2 (16th)

3.81 (25th)

Rushing Yards Per Attempt/Allowed

4.37 (20th)

226.1 (26th)

Passing Yards Per Game/Allowed

250.5 (19th)

24 (31st)

Sacks Allowed/Sacks

10 (30th)

31.6 (28th)

Third Down Effficiency

45.9 (6th)

20.9 (T-22nd)

Points Per Game/Allowed

29.3 (30th)

Last week, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule talked extensively about committing to running the football. That was the plan going into New York but it didn't come to fruition. Chuba Hubbard rushed the ball 12 times for 28 yards, most of which came on the opening possession of the game. Carolina found themselves consistently playing behind the chains, therefore making it difficult to keep the offense on the field. 

QB Sam Darnold has to get back on track first and foremost. It's not a question of whether or not he can get the job done. We've all seen it. It's just a matter of getting back to what he was doing in the first three weeks of the season that made him successful. 

"I think when you go back and watch him throw a route against New Orleans and then you fast forward to Philly and then you fast forward to this past week, just his tempo is way faster," Matt Rhule stated on Wednesday. "He's way quicker. His drops are getting shorter. His back foot was hitting at nine, now it's up to like eight. I think Sam is just playing a little too quick, not having the right tempo, not having the right depth, climbing up in the pocket too much - those are all correctable. He came in this morning and he and I watched the Saints game and you have to see yourself doing it. There's no doubt he can do it. There's no doubt. I just think you're trying so hard to win that you start trying to do too much and play a little faster. Then all of a sudden, one day you look up in you're a little bit hairy and you're not quite in rhythm."

Some of what Darnold is rushing through could be a factor of the offensive line allowing too much leakage in the pocket. The Panthers have allowed 24 sacks on the season, meaning that Darnold is getting brought to the ground, on average, 3.4 times per game. You could also argue that Darnold's struggles could be a result of Christian McCaffrey not being in the lineup. Darnold began to struggle the moment McCaffrey left the Thursday night game against Houston and has yet to play a full game without him in which they won. Having a security blanket like McCaffrey in the passing game can go a long way. 

Although the Panthers need to get the run game established, this will be the perfect week to get someone like Robby Anderson going. The Falcons rarely get to the quarterback (10 sacks) and they have given up the most explosive plays on the season (75) - 66 plays of 20 yards+ and nine plays of 40 yards+. If Hubbard can have some success early in the game on the ground, it will open up opportunities to take shots down the field off of play-action. 

The two main keys for Carolina's offense: convert 3rd downs, eliminate turnovers. Fortunately for Sam Darnold, the Falcons have only created six turnovers on the season. A clean game from Darnold will put the Panthers in a great position to win. 


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When the Falcons have the ball

Falcons offenseStatsPanthers defense

354.2 (17th)

Total Yards Per Game/Allowed

307.4 (3rd)

87.8 (27th)

Rushing Yards Per Game/Allowed

110.3 (13th)

3.63 (29th)

Rushing Yards Per Attempt/Allowed

4.44 (23rd)

266.3 (10th)

Passing Yards Per Game/Allowed

197.1 (2nd)

9 (T-3rd)

Sacks Allowed/Sacks

18 (T-7th)

45.9 (6th)

Third Down Efficiency

32.2 (3rd)

22.5 (T-19th)

Points Per Game/Allowed

20.9 (T-7th)

Matt Ryan is playing some really good football right now for the Falcons. At times this season, he's looked like the 25-year-old version of himself, according to Panthers defensive coordinator, Phil Snow. He's completing passes at a 68% clip and has thrown for 1,668 yards and 12 touchdowns to just four interceptions. What has been most impressive about Ryan so far this season is his movement in the pocket. He's done a very good job of eluding pressure and getting away from the crowded areas of the pocket. He's only been sacked nine times on the season which ranks third-best in the league. On the other hand, Brian Burns and Haason Reddick have combined for 10.5 sacks on the season, so something has to give. 

One reason why Ryan has been so good this year has been the receiving duo of Calvin Ridley and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. Early in the season, Pitts was basically a non-factor in the Atlanta offense but has really emerged as a go-to target over the past couple of weeks. Look for the Panthers to have Jeremy Chinn shadow Pitts throughout much of the game.

Statistically, the Falcons don't appear to run the ball very well but defensive coordinator Phil Snow does seem concerned with how Atlanta will attack them with guys like Cordarrelle Patterson and former Panther Mike Davis.

"The wide zone is really not a wide play. What they do is they start it wide and they really overreach everybody and these backs find a crease between each end man on the line of scrimmage and that ball can go anywhere. You'll see it start wide and come all the way back, so everybody's got to be good in their gaps. That's why the wide zone leads the National Football League in rushing every year. We've played most of the runs real well but the wide zone we have not. They know that they have a stat, so they'll try to attack us with that."


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