October 2nd, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Carolina Panthers 48-33 in the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan threw for 502 yards and Julio Jones had 12 catches for 300 yards. That was the moment the Dirty Birds fan base began to have considerable faith in this team. Since then, the Falcons maintained their lead in the NFC South, the Panthers floundered and all the while Ryan and Jones’s performances have remained outstanding.
The previous visit to Charlotte wasn’t a pretty one for the Falcons. A 38-0 loss December 13, 2015 against the Panthers was a bitter pill to swallow for the players and fans alike. However, there’s a silver lining:
With a win tomorrow plus a Tampa Bay loss, the Atlanta Falcons would clinch the NFC South Title.
With that, let’s dive into our Four Keys.
First, the Falcons must remain committed to balance. In the last matchup, the Falcons ran the ball 25 times for 90 yards. Even though the Panthers secondary struggled to defend Julio one-on-one, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan remained committed to running the ball.
Secondly, the defense has to account for Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. In the previous matchup, Olsen caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. That responsibility may fall upon rookie Safety Keanu Neal. On the year, Neal leads the Falcons with tackles (97), has six pass breakups and four forced fumbles.
Next, the Panthers secondary has to account for Julio Jones. Yes, that goes without saying. However, the Falcons offense has scored 42 and 41 points without number 11 in the lineup. The offense has become more diverse with the return of running back Tevin Coleman. The last thing this secondary wants to see is Julio Jones on the field. Any production from him will be appreciated.
Lastly, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell is still in the concussion protocol. It is unlikely that he’ll play tomorrow. Austin Hooper has a knee injury and did not practice Thursday. Jalen Collins, Dwight Freeney, Taylor Gabriel, Nick Williams, Julio Jones and Adrian Clayborn participated in practice at varied levels Thursday.
The Atlanta Falcons will face off against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Kickoff is at 1pm EDT. Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis and Chris Spielman will provide the play-by-play and commentary for FOX. Bill Vinovich will officiate the game.