Falcons versus Panthers: Five key players


Duke Riley

The Falcons signed inside linebacker Corey Nelson on Monday, as starting middle linebacker, Deion Jones, was held out of practice. Nelson is most known for the four years he spent in Denver as a reserve linebacker. If Deion Jones cannot go, or even if he is not 100%, that means extended reps for second-year linebacker Duke Riley.

To put it bluntly, Riley was a major disappointment in his rookie season. He struggled mightily making open field tackles and his coverage skills never lived up to the hype. More of the same problems showed in the preseason, however, he did look better in week one versus the Eagles.

Deion Jones is arguably the best player on the Atlanta defense. Against Carolina, he is normally asked to cover talented pass catchers like Christian McCaffery and Greg Olsen while also keeping an eye on the Panthers run game. It is quite a task that will be placed on Riley if Jones misses Sunday.

Update: The Falcons have placed Deion Jones on IR. 

Mohamed Sanu

It is incredibly puzzling how everyone else on the offense seemed non-existent in week one except for Julio Jones. Mohamed Sanu is a legit number two receiver and needs to be utilized like one. Sure, it is fun watching Julio Jones play a grown-man version of backyard football, but that is not how the Falcons are going to be successful. They need to be spreading the ball around to their multitude of elusive weapons. That starts on Sunday with Mohamed Sanu taking advantage of all the attention on Julio Jones and enjoying a nice day receiving.

Ryan Schraeder

For the most part, the entire offensive line was walloped in Philadelphia. Although, none more than Ryan Schraeder, who was absolutely abused at the right tackle position. Schraeder, somewhat surprisingly, became one of Atlanta’s best offensive lineman two years ago. He followed it up with a solid season in 2017, but last week was a rough start to his 2018 campaign.

It will not get any easier on Sunday either. This Panthers defensive line mauled Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, recording six sacks. Mario Addison and Julius Peppers are pass rushing specialists on the outside. If the Panthers do their due diligence, they are going to be constantly looking for ways to attack Schraeder and get after the quarterback. If the Falcons want to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start, Schraeder needs to be at his best.

Christian McCaffrey

Norv Turner is going to love finding ways to utilize Christian McCaffery. Last week, the Stanford product led the Panthers in both rushing attempts and receptions. That is something you can expect to see on a weekly basis. The Falcons should be able to manhandle the Carolina wide receivers, even without Keanu Neal. Cam Newton and Christian McCaffery are going to have to shoulder the load in this one if the Panthers want to move to 2-0.

James Bradberry

There is no corner in the league that can match up with Julio Jones one-on-one. The Panthers know that as well as anyone after he put up a gaudy 300 yards receiving on them two seasons ago. Now, the Carolina secondary might be in an even worse place than they were back then. Second-year player, James Bradberry, will likely the one assigned to cover Jones. The other option would be rookie cornerback out of LSU Donte Jackson.

Either way, Jones is not going to be seeing a lot of single coverage on Sunday, but that does not mean Bradberry can take any plays off. Jones can beat one, two, three defenders at any given time. There is really no way to stop him. Bradberry just has to find a way to slow him down.

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