ReFo: Falcons @ Panthers, Week 14
The Atlanta Falcons had been living dangerously the past few weeks, and it finally caught up to them against the Carolina Panthers. They quickly fell behind and were unable to get the offense going until it was too late. Perhaps this will prove to be the wake-up call the Falcons needed, because if not, Atlanta appears headed for another early playoff exit.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers had been on the losing end of close games all year but were finally able to get over the hump. Though they’ve been out of the playoff picture for weeks, the team has to be encouraged by the play of quarterback Cam Newton, who put on a show against his hometown team.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Not Much Up Front
Much of the success of the Carolina offense can be attributed to how well they handled the Falcon rush, which was generally quiet on the day, pressuring Newton on just 25% of drop-backs. The few times they did get to him they were largely unable to bring the Panther QB down, as evidenced by his spectacular scramble early in the second quarter. Corey Peters had the best game of the group, finishing with four pressures, but was poor in run defense and failed to take advantage on that sack opportunity.
John Abraham had a good performance in the earlier matchup between these two teams, but was held to just three pressures in this game, as he struggled to get past Jordan Gross. His teammate Kroy Biermann was even worse as a rusher, producing just one pressure in 31 snaps rushing the passer, though he fared pretty well defending the option in the run game. He was usually the end the Panthers attacked on the read-option, and for the most part made the correct reads. Unfortunately, however, his few mistakes proved costly. On Newton’s third-quarter touchdown run, he crashed inside, opening up the edge. It’s safe to say the Falcons need more production from their front-seven going forward if they’re going to make a deep playoff run.
With Asante Samuel and William Moore sidelined with injuries, the Falcons needed someone to step up in the secondary. Reserve cornerback Chris Owens (+1.8) did just that, playing over 50% of Atlanta’s defensive snaps for the second straight week. The Panthers threw at him often, but with little success, as Owens allowed only four of the nine balls thrown his way to be completed, while breaking up a pair of passes. Also stepping up was Robert McClain, who played all but two of the team’s defensive snaps, mostly lining up in his usual spots in the slot. He allowed six of seven passes into his coverage to be completed, but was able to limit the completions to 44 yards, with just 7 coming after the catch.
On the other hand, safety Chris Hope (-1.6) did not have the game the Falcons were hoping for. Playing every snap, after being on the field for a total of four defensive snaps coming into the game, Hope did allow just one catch for 8 yards in his coverage. However, his two missed tackles — one against the run and one on a Mike Tolbert catch — were brutal.
The Falcons had an uncharacteristically poor day on offense, especially in the first half, but it wasn’t due to lack of effort on the part of Roddy White. White (+3.5) was the team’s highest graded offensive player, catching 9 of 11 targets for an average of 13 yards. He didn’t do much to stretch the field with only 16 YAC and a long gain of just 18 yards. However, he consistently got open and would have had an even better day had his QB not missed him a few times. And speaking of that QB, Matt Ryan finished with an impressive stat line as he completed 69% of his passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan was particularly excellent throwing to the middle of the field with 217 yards and just four incompletions in 25 attempts between the numbers. That shouldn’t overshadow the big picture, though, which is that he largely failed to move the offense early and just couldn’t get enough conversions to keep the unit on the field long enough to keep the game close.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
This was one of the better performances we’ve seen from Cam Newton (+4.4) this season. Not necessarily in terms of his overall grade — this marked the third time in three weeks he’s graded above +4.0 — but more so regarding his presence in leading a struggling Panther team to a much needed victory against the one-loss Falcons. Newton was in command from the start, leading Carolina to points on each of their first half possessions and finishing the game with two touchdowns and a 67.6% adjusted accuracy percentage — his highest since Week 2. As good as his passing was, he was electric running the ball, as he gained 116 yards on just nine carries, including a 72-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. His best play of the day came not on that touchdown run, but at 14:11 of the second quarter when he made a spectacular run to pick up the first down on 3rd-and-11, eluding a sack attempt by Corey Peters in the process.
He was not perfect, though, as he displayed shaky deep and intermediate accuracy at times, completing just 6 of 16 passes over 10 yards in the air. However, he excelled on short throws, going 17 of 18 on throws under 10 yards and behind the line of scrimmage.
As large a part of Newton’s success as anything was the dominance of the Panther offensive line versus the Atlanta front seven. The left side was especially strong, led by standout performances from LT Jordan Gross (+3.9) and LG Amini Silatolu (+5.0). The two were equally impressive run blocking and in pass protection, as they combined to allow just a single pressure and paved the way for several huge runs, including Newton’s 72-yarder. On the play, Silatolu powered off the ball and pushed Peters right out of the play, while Gross worked to the second-level of the defense to seal Witherspoon to the inside, opening up a huge lane to the outside. Credit the play-fake, which completely fooled Biermann, but the run doesn’t go for a touchdown without the blocks by this tandem.
Hardy Backs Up Talk
There was a lot of talk from Greg Hardy (+1.7) coming into the game, and for the most part, he backed it up. On 45 snaps rushing the passer, Hardy totaled six pressures, including a sack and three hits, while no other Panther got into the face of Ryan more than twice. And the pressure came from all over, as he lined up at multiple spots on the line and even with his hand off the ground throughout the game. In fact, two of the end’s most impressive QB disruptions came from the inside of the line. On consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, Hardy lined up at DLT and DRT and each time attacked the B-gap, beating the guard — first Peter Konz and then Justin Blalock and Sam Baker — in the process.
Hardy was hardly a one-trick pony in this game, however, as he actually graded higher for his efforts defending the run than he did rushing the passer.
– Luke Kuechly extended his league lead in tackles with 15, including four stops. He is now fourth among all qualifying inside linebackers with a Run Stop Percentage of 12.1.
– Michael Turner was held to 14 yards on seven carries, the fifth time this season he’s been held under 3.0 yards per rush.
– The Panthers used three wide receivers on 78.8% of their offensive snaps.
PFF Game Ball
Cam Newton earned the right to do his superman pose with this performance.