The Atlanta Falcons (0-4) return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for an NFC South clash with the Carolina Panthers (2-2). As the Falcons look to get their first win on the year, former NFL quarterback and FOX Sports color analyst Brock Huard joined AtlantaFalcons.com to provide his insight and analysis heading into Sunday's game.
What are your first thoughts on the Falcons after watching the tape?
Brock Huard: There are a number of plays, a number of series where I look at and I'm confused. I'm confused at what I'm looking at and it shouldn't be that way because if I'm confused, they're confused. The miscommunication, the breakdowns in coverage with players running wide open because you just have not communicated the basics. When you can't function and you can't defend and you blow assignment after assignment, it's difficult to watch. It's compounded when Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen and the plethora of players are out because they can't fix it. Usually guys can fix it. You've got to be a fixer and not part of the problem and when you have so many people out, there's no one to erase those communication issues.
What should Atlanta's defense expect from the Panthers' offense?
Huard: When the formations get difficult, once you have that on your tape, guess what Joe Brady and Teddy Bridgewater are going to do and already do in their scheme? They're going to bunch, shift and motion and make sure you're on it. When you leave guys wide open, you leave the coordinator and the quarterback on the other side feasting for opportunities to do it again.
Who needs to step up?
Huard: Deion Jones, obviously it starts with your middle linebacker. He's got to be right; he's playing hard, he's got to set the tone. Grady Jarrett is just an amazing disruptor. Getting Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley back is the essence of this team. They obviously have some very young, inexperienced players in the secondary and counted on McKinley, Fowler, Jarrett and Jones in that front-seven ease some of that burden. I think getting McKinley and Fowler back and if they can be anywhere near 100 percent, that will go a long way in fixing it. Unfortunately for this group, they haven't been able to figure it out when it matters most.
What are your thoughts on Atlanta's offense?
Huard: I love their speed on the perimeter, they just threaten you and that's even without Julio. Calvin has kicked it up another gear. Russell Gage coming into this season I wouldn't have known he would be the most productive third down receiver in the league. He just gets on your toes and challenges you. Hayden Hurst is as fast of a tight end as you're going to find in this game. I think unfortunately you don't have that at running back, Todd is big, powerful and productive down in the red zone, but you don't see that same field out of the backfield. The offensive line at times as been incredibly solid. Jake Matthews is an excellent left tackle. Alex Mack is an awesome center and communicator. Kaleb McGary has been super solid in his second year. You just need a little bit more explosion in your run game and then you need to be good for four quarters on that side of the ball, too.
What impresses you about Carolina's defense?
Huard: Derrick Brown in the middle is a monster. Five tackles for loss on the season, he's just a game wrecker inside. It won't look like much, but he is just stuffing the run. I bet they put him on Lindstrom who struggled a little bit to hold the point of the tack. Brian Burns off the edge is a really twitchy fast guy. They have excellent team speed.
Who is the Falcons' X-factor?
Huard: The obvious is Todd Gurley. If Gurley can run, if he can convert third downs. He's the obvious one given what they do. But then I point to Hayden Hurst. I referenced the speed Carolina has, but they don't have a lot of bulk. Shaq Thompson, Jeremy Chinn and Trey Boston are not the biggest of guys, can Hayden Hurst win against Boston, Thompson and Chinn and some guys that he has 30 pounds on and is just as fast as them?
Safety Ricardo Allen was limited by the team's official injury report, but back on the field on Wednesday. Take a look at the best images of practice in this gallery, presented by Quikrete.