Written by Brian Pohl
Atlanta, GA- The Atlanta Falcons return home to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for their first home game of the season to face off against NFC South division rival Carolina Panthers.
Looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in the season-opener, the Falcons will need their offense to get on track if they are going to get their season going in the right direction.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn talked about the NFC South divisional matchup saying, “Both teams know each other well and both teams really have styles that one another knows as well.” He continued, “being our first home opener with our fans, having it be a division game, it’s a lot of fun for the team and for the city. I’m definitely ready to get started.”
Leading the Atlanta offense is veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, who struggled in the season opener completing 21 of his 43 passes for 253 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Ryan didn’t appear to have his normal arm strength and will be something to keep an eye on in the home-opener.
A big reason for the Falcons offensive struggles last week was due to their inefficiency inside the red zone. Only scoring in one of their five red-zone opportunities, Atlanta struggled to finish off their drives and will need to quickly correct what has been an issue for them dating back to last season under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Coach Quinn on the red-zone inefficiency, “we’ve put in a good bit of work there, and we’re not going to assess where we’re at after one performance. That part of our game needs to improve, and it certainly will.”
The bright spot on offense was easily star wide receiver Julio Jones who, after sitting out the entirety of the preseason, showed no rust catching ten passes for 169-yards. Jones is a major part of the Falcons offense and will look to continue his hot start against a Panthers team that famously allowed Jones to go for over 300-yards in a game just two seasons ago.
The big story this week for Atlanta is how they will replace two pro-bowlers on defense in safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones. Obviously a major loss for this young Falcons defense, Atlanta will now look to two second-year players in safety Damontae Kazee and linebacker Duke Riley to replace the loss of production.
The Falcons have confidence in Kazee, who impressed throughout the preseason but will now take the reins in the secondary in what will be a massive test for the young pro.
Coach Quinn on how Kazze and Riley have performed in preparation for this week, “Duke especially had real command. The communication is what we’re looking for so often at his position because he’s the one that can lead the calls, he’s the one that starts the communication for everybody. From Kazee and we’ve used Ricardo (Allen) some down in the spots, we’re just trying to find the right space and ways to feature them.”
Despite the injuries, this is still a talented Atlanta defense. In last week’s matchup with the Eagles, the Falcons allowed just 232-yards and 18 points. Overcoming two major injuries will be a tough task, but the Falcons have confidence and should still be able to field a stout squad that will look to slow down a Panthers offense led by veteran quarterback Cam Newton.
This should be a fun early season matchup between two rivals who are facing off for the 47th overall time. Atlanta has won four of the last five meetings, including a week 17 matchup last season that clinched a playoff berth for the Falcons.
The Falcons and Panthers will kick off from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta at 1:00 p.m.