ATL-CAR grades: Falcons' secondary shuts down Panthers' passing attack
Atlanta Falcons 33, Carolina Panthers 16
Here are the biggest takeaways and highest-graded players from the Atlanta Falcons’ 33-16 NFC South divisional victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Quarterback grade: Matt Ryan, 87.4
Ryan’s intermediate passing moves Falcons
Matt Ryan’s performance gift-wrapped the divisional win for the Falcons. Ryan was effective and accurate to all parts of the field and consistently took what the Panthers’ defense gave him. His intermediate passing (10-19 yards downfield) is where he really excelled against the Panthers, as he completed six of seven passes targeted to the intermediate area. Ryan played well against the Panthers’ pressure, as his QB rating increased from 119.0 with no pressure to an impressive 131.9 when pressured.
Top offensive grades:
T Ryan Schraeder, 79.8
G Chris Chester, 78.4
TE Levine Toilolo, 74.4
WR Mohamed Sanu, 72.4
WR Julio Jones, 71.8
Falcons’ passing attack carves up Panthers
The Falcons’ offensive line has been dominant of late, but struggled a bit against a stout Panthers’ front. Alex Mack and Jake Matthews both had lapses in pass protection, surrendering multiple QB hurries. Ryan Schraeder and Chris Chester graded better as pass protectors, and only allowed one hurry each. WR Mohamed Sanu caught all three of his targets, and provided 30 yards after the catch. Julio Jones caught four of his seven targets against four different coverage defenders.
Top defensive grades:
CB Brian Poole, 86.5
CB Robert Alford, 83.8
CB Jalen Collins, 79.6
LB Paul Worrilow, 79.1
S Keanu Neal, 78.0
Falcons’ secondary soars in statement win
With three new starters in the secondary, Atlanta might have expected an adjustment period on the back end in 2016. There were no signs of inexperience against Carolina, as the quintet of defensive backs shut down the Panthers’ passing game. Robert Alford, in his fourth year, is the veteran of the group. He battled Ted Ginn for much of the game, eliminating Carolina’s speedster. In total, he allowed only two catches on five targets for 24 yards with two pass deflections. Opposite him, Jalen Collins saw the vast majority of targets. He held his own, allowing only six catches on 15 targets for 80 yards, one touchdown, one pick, and one pass deflection. Slot corner Brian Poole, an undrafted free agent from Florida, also made a decisive contribution, intercepting Newton early on. Together, the safeties (Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen) allowed only three catches on nine targets for 30 yards. Sunday was a complete performance by the entirety of Atlanta’s secondary.
Quarterback grade: Cam Newton, 37.5
Newton looks lost in divisional defeat
What a difference a year makes. A season ago, Newton was cantering to an MVP title, and the Panthers to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Fast-forward to Christmas Eve 2016, and Newton now seems unable to complete even the simplest throws, and his side has been officially eliminated from playoff contention. Beyond 10 yards downfield, Newton completed only three passes against the Falcons for 54 yards. He was also picked off twice when forcing throws over the middle. The Super Bowl hangover has been long and arduous. Newton is struggling to contend with the rush, completing only two passes from 11 attempts for 11 yards, a pick, and a QB rating of 1.7. All is not well with Carolina’s quarterback.
Top offensive grades:
G Andrew Norwell, 85.1
G Trai Turner, 81.2
T Mike Remmers, 80.3
WR Kelvin Benjamin, 74.5
HB Fozzy Whitaker, 71.9
Drops drive offensive failure
Collectively, the Panthers’ playmakers are underperforming. Greg Olsen’s injury has deprived them of their most dynamic threat, and the inconsistency up front has forced the coaching staff to abandon the deep double-moves that were so effective in 2015. Ted Ginn is perhaps the least efficient receiver in the game, and he added to his long list of drops with another against the Falcons. Kelvin Benjamin kicked off the game with a mishandle on a deep sideline pass, ending with only six catches on 12 targets for 60 yards. Funchess and Stewart rounded out the group with drops of their own, highlighting the issues of the unit as a whole.
Top defensive grades:
DI Kawann Short, 85.5
LB Shaq Thompson, 85.0
CB James Bradberry, 78.7
ED Mario Addison, 78.5
CB Leonard Johnson, 68.0
Panthers’ defense fails to stop Falcons’ passing attack
While the Panthers did get some pressure on Matt Ryan, it often came as a result of scheme, and not necessarily the Panthers’ defender beating the man across from him. However, Kawann Short had yet another performance filled with disruptive plays on the interior of the defense. Short recorded one sack, three hits, and two hurries on his 30 pass-rushing snaps. Mario Addison had one sack to go along with three run stops. Shaq Thompson flew all over the field, making eight defensive stops, but as a whole, the Panthers’ linebackers really appear to be missing the presence and play-making ability of the injured Luke Kuechly. Without Kuechly in the lineup the Panthers’ linebackers often aren’t making plays unless they commit to attacking pre-snap. Rookie cornerback James Bradberry was thrown at three times when covering Julio Jones, and Jones only caught one of the passes for 5 yards.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Falcons QB Matt Ryan
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