Falcons head coach Mike Smith likes to break seasons into quarters. The fourth game of the year against the Panthers marks the end of the season's first quarter and so far the Falcons are 3-0. A 4-0 start would look good for Atlanta's national exposure, but more importantly would continue to separate them from the rest of the pack in the NFC. The Falcons have won four straight against Carolina, but division games make up the best rivalries and Atlanta knows Carolina will come to town hungry and looking for a win after a 36-7 loss last week on national television.
Falcons Run Defense vs. Three Runners
Like some teams, the Panthers feature two very talented running backs. They also feature a quarterback that can run unlike few have ever seen a QB run. The Falcons are still improving their run defense this year, so far allowing 128.7 yards per game, 24th in the league. Between RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and QB Cam Newton, Atlanta must contain the run game or they'll give not just one, but three players, lanes to run all over them all day.
Contain the Emotion
The Falcons love playing in front of their Georgia Dome home and host the Panthers for their first NFC game of the season. The Panthers are also a division opponent and games like that have a tendency to get a little heated. The Panthers are coming in after a tough loss where they admitted they didn't compete as hard as they should have. Expect a fired-up Panthers team ready to take down one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. The Falcons will need to keep their emotions in check and continue to play the disciplined style of football they've displayed so far this season.
The Falcons have come out swinging in each game this season, scoring a touchdown on their first possession in each game this year. A fast start could be critical against the Panthers, a team that can score with the best of them. Keeping the momentum in their favor, the Falcons will be able to continue to work within the rhythm they've established this season and let the defense go to work with a lead.
Continue to Spread the Ball Around
The Panthers have some players on defense, but injuries and a slow start have helped cause them to perform worse than anticipated this season. Catching the Panthers a little short-handed means Carolina will have to lean on depth to defend all the playmakers on Atlanta's offense. So far this season QB Matt Ryan has been particularly kind, sharing the ball with as many as eight different receivers in games. Spreading the ball around to everyone on offense means the Panthers will constantly have to account for everyone and attention like that could tax a stressed and depleted defense.