Going into the season, it was heavily predicted that Carolina would finish last in the NFC South. While that still could be true, the Falcons currently sit two games behind the Panthers heading into their Week 5 matchup. If Atlanta wants to make a turnaround, Carolina kicks off a run of games that will allow the Falcons to correct their course, but a loss on Sunday, and all the talk will be about the NFL Draft going forward.
However, such a turnaround won’t be as easy as once thought. The injuries that have decimated this Falcons team came to light Monday night against Green Bay and only got worse as the game went on. Atlanta started without starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, as well as starting cornerbacks, Darqueze Dennard and AJ Terrell. Before halftime, the Falcons were then tasked to replace Damontae Kazee and Jaylin Hawkins. Kazee is lost for the rest of the season, while Hawkins sustained a concussion.
In all likelihood, Monday night could’ve been the final night Kazee ever suits up for the Falcons. His rookie contract expires at the end of the season, and Atlanta will need to shed some cap. However, his impressive 2018 campaign could be enough to buy him a one year deal in Atlanta.
As we move forward towards Carolina, the question of who will and won’t play is still unclear. The Falcons did see Younghoe Koo back in full participation after missing Week 4 due to a groin injury, and they activated AJ Terrell from the COVID-19 reserve list. He is expected to play alongside Kendall Sheffield as the top two corners.
While the Panthers will once again be without Christian McCaffrey, his replacements have been pretty formidable. Against Arizona, Mike Davis and Reggie Bonnafon gashed the Cardinals on the ground for over 130 yards combined. In addition, the pair added 45 yards through the air. As made evident on Monday night, the Falcons showed just how easy it is to torch their defense with a pass-catching running back.
While Matt Ryan has been good this season, Teddy Bridgewater has also been impressive. Four years removed from being a starting quarterback, Bridgewater is 6th in the NFL in passing, completing 73% of his passes. He’s not flashy, and he won’t throw for three touchdowns every week (he only has four passing touchdowns on the season), but he makes all the smart plays, whether it be with his legs or his arm, and rarely turns the ball over.
Offseason signee Robby Anderson is sixth in receiving yards with 377. Despite him only reaching the end zone once, his 190 yards after catch will be enough to keep the Falcons on their heels the entire game.
Atlanta will also be facing a Panthers defense that is tough to throw deep against. Carolina may allow a high completion rate (71%), but they force teams to throw underneath. This can explain why Kyler Murray had a quarterback rating of 116 with three scores and 133 yards. His 4.3 yards per attempt is on par with the average yards per attempt given up by this Panthers defense. Their 6.3 yards per attempt allowed is third-best in the league.
With the possibility that Julio Jones can’t play, the running game needs to make their mark. Carolina does surrender 5.1 yards per carry and over 125 yards per game. With Gurley having yet to rush for over 80 yards this season, a breakout game for him would greatly bolster Atlanta’s chances of winning.
Don’t see #Falcons WR Julio Jones out here at practice during open period.
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) October 8, 2020
A loss to Carolina would almost certainly lead to a cleanout of the coaching staff. On the one hand, Arthur Blank has never fired a coach midseason; Bobby Petrino walked out on his own. On the other hand, the Falcons have yet to start a season 0-5 under Blank’s ownership.