NFL Week 9 Preview: Falcons at Panthers
The Atlanta Falcons visit the Carolina Panther in Week 9 of the 2017 NFL season. PFF previews the top player matchups of the game.
Coverage by: Bill O’Brien
Matchup: Atlanta Falcons offense vs. Carolina Panthers defense
- WR Julio Jones vs. CB James Bradberry – Panthers’ cornerback James Bradberry comes into his second straight marquee cornerback-wide receiver matchup after helping hold Buccaneers’ wide receiver Mike Evans to his lowest graded game of the season last week. Bradberry currently ranks 67th among 114 qualified cornerbacks in overall grade with a grade of 71.9. The second-year cornerback will hope to find the same success this week as he will square off against Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. Much has been made about Jones’ lack of yardage output, as he has cracked the 100-yard plateau in just one game so far this season. Despite his seemingly lower-than-expected yardage total, Jones has earned the second-highest overall grade among wide receivers with a grade of 87.8.
- RB Devonta Freeman vs. LB Thomas Davis & Luke Kuechly – Falcons’ half back Devonta Freeman continues to be one of the most elusive runners in the NFL after forcing two more missed tackles last week on just 12 carries. Freeman has earned the fifth-highest elusive rating among half backs this season with a rating of 65.8. The Panthers will counter with one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL in Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. When healthy, both linebackers rarely come off the field and they both excel in any situation. Kuechly ranks fourth among linebackers in overall grade with a grade of 89.4 while Davis ranks 16th at 80.0.
- C Alex Mack vs. DI Kawann Short – The trenches this week will feature an important matchup between Falcons center Alex Mack and Panthers interior defender Kawann Short. Mack is as dependable as they come, as he is yet to miss a snap offensively for the Falcons while grading out as the best center in the NFL at a grade of 86.9. Short also has been a dependable player, as he has played the most snaps among Panthers’ defensive linemen while earning the ninth-highest grade among interior defenders with a grade of 87.7.
Coverage by: Mike Manning
Matchup: Carolina Panthers offense vs. Atlanta Falcons defense
- WR Devin Funchess vs. CB Desmond Trufant – With the departure of Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo before the trade deadline, Funchess is now the lead receiver in Carolina. After being targeted only twice in Week 1, the young Michigan product has been targeted no less than six times each week. His 56 total targets this season already surpass his 2016 total, all while cutting down his drops from six last season to one this year. But with the loss of Benjamin, the Panthers have lost all five of the team’s deep receptions (20+ yards downfield) by wide receivers. But Trufant has done well against receivers 6’2” or taller this season, allowing a passer rating of 72.5. His production against height will be tested with Funchess’ 6’4” frame. The Falcons cornerback has given up a receiving touchdown every 4.25 receptions though, the worst in the league among cornerbacks that have allowed at least five reception this season.
- RB Jonathan Stewart vs. DI Grady Jarrett – Stewart is on pace to have his lowest graded season of his career, currently at 59.1 overall, which ranks 43rd out of 54 halfbacks. But he has been able to force 29 missed tackles on only 116 touches this season. Most of those forced missed tackles have come in the run game, as Stewart has been on the field for 47.8 percent of the team’s run plays, his highest percentage since 2010. He’ll have a tough test with Jarrett, who possesses 84.0 run-defense grade, lined up across the line of scrimmage. Jarrett’s 15 defensive stops in the run game are the sixth-most by a defensive tackle in 2017.
- WR Curtis Samuel vs. CB Robert Alford – Samuel has only played 30 percent of snaps in a game once this season and that was in Week 3 when Benjamin left the game early with a knee injury. But he finished that game with a grade of 44.6 and only 0.19 yards per route run. Samuel was known for his elusiveness coming out of college but has only forced three missed tackles this season through eight games, compared to 19 in eight games last year. He may be able to force a missed tackle against Alford, who has already missed the eighth-most tackles by a cornerback this season, already tying his career-high with six.