One key element to getting takeaways on defense is being physical. This season the Falcons' 11 takeaways lead the NFL and one constant in that number is how physical they've played on defense. In addition to their league-leading seven interceptions is their four forced fumbles, tied for second in the league. Interceptions are often created by getting pressure on the quarterback, but forced fumbles are directly related to how physical you play with opponents.
Atlanta's Week 4 opponent, the Carolina Panthers, play a little different style of game than the first three opponents they've faced. With Cam Newton at quarterback, the Falcons must not just watch for the second-year QB's strong arm, but also his ability to run on a dime. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Newton is a big guy and a tough one to bring down. While wholesale changes aren't expected on defense, some things will change since they're facing a QB with Newton's dynamics.
"It's a different type of quarterback that we're facing this week," head coach Mike Smith said. "We have to account for him as a runner in the offense. He's not the guy that's going to distribute the ball. He's going to be a guy that you have to account for. In the zone read scheme, the quarterback can be a ball carrier so we're having to account for him. It's a different type of offense than we've faced in the first three weeks. There is no doubt about that."
Last season, Atlanta's physical play against Newton was a factor in both wins over Carolina. In the first game, they hit Newton seven times in the backfield with one sack. On the sack, they were able to force a fumble that Atlanta recovered. In the second game they didn't force any fumbles, but hit Newton four times and got two sacks of the QB.
Against Philadelphia and Michael Vick, another highly mobile QB, they employed a similar plan. Although they didn't get a sack on Vick in the Week 2 win, they hit Vick six times and forced three fumbles, two on back-to-back plays. The first fumble went out of bounds and wasn't recovered, but the next two the Falcons forced from Vick were both recovered on defense.
"I'm sure every defense that goes against guys like Vick and Cam Newton has to take account that they can run," safety William Moore said. "You've got to game plan against stuff like that. You can't just send people at him because he's one of those athletes that can get out of the box and beat you down the field."
In addition to Newton, the Panther feature two strong running backs and enough weapons on the outside at receiver to put up points with anyone. The Falcons may give up their yards and some scores, but, as is often the case, if they can remain physical and force a turnover or two from Newton, they'll have a shot to win their fourth straight.