ReFo: Panthers @ Falcons, Week 17
The NFC South capped off an embarrassing year with a one-sided affair with the division on the line as the Carolina Panthers dominated the Atlanta Falcons from start to finish. The Panthers got on top early with a field goal and touchdown on their first two drives, but after Atlanta’s defense made some adjustments, the Panthers’ defense made their presence felt with the first of two pick-6’s. It was a dominant performance by Carolina’s defense, a unit that they’ll need if they’re to make a splash in the playoffs. They move to 7-8-1 on the season and they’ll host the Arizona Cardinals next weekend.
As for the Falcons, it was a disappointing effort that capped a subpar season. Changes are ahead for the organization which has some work to do to add talent to some key places along the roster. Here’s a look at the key performances that shaped the de facto NFC South title game.
Carolina Panthers – Performances of Note
Cam Newton, QB: +3.6
Breakdown: It was an efficient outing for Newton who only attempted 16 passes, but he was rarely off target as he completed 10 and had two accurate passes dropped by rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. He did his part on the ground as well, picking up 51 yards and a touchdown on six carries, with 29 of those yards coming on designed runs.
Signature Plays: Q1 3:50: Benjamin gets a step on cornerback Desmond Trufant and Newton throws a catchable pass on the “go” route, but Benjamin is unable to haul it in for the first of his two drops. In addition to this pass, Newton was very accurate throwing outside the numbers, particularly his out-route that was also dropped by Benjamin at the 10:31 mark of the second quarter followed by a near-identical pass to Benjamin at the 12:37 mark of the third quarter, this time for the first down.
Star Lotulelei, DT: +4.1
Breakdown: Lotulelei was in the backfield the entire afternoon as he made an impact both as a pass rusher (+2.9) and in the running game (+1.1). He finished the day with two sacks, a QB hit, and three hurries on his 31 pass rushes while also adding four stops on only nine snaps against the run. He had success against a number of Atlanta’s offensive linemen, whether controlling right tackle Ryan Schraeder in the running game (Q1 7:46, Q1 6:43) or bull rushing RG Jon Asamoah for the pressure and holding penalty (Q3 14:32).
Signature Stats: The +4.1 grade is the highest of Lotulelei’s two-year career and the +2.9 pass rush grade is his second-highest, and best since Week 2 of his rookie season in 2013.
Roman Harper, SS: +2.9 and Tre Boston, FS: +1.6
Breakdown: The entire Panthers starting secondary deserves some love as they all graded positively, but the safeties were responsible for the big plays on Sunday. Harper picked off the overthrow by QB Matt Ryan with 4:32 to go in the first half and took it to the end zone for the score while Boston got in on the action at the 0:23 mark of the third quarter as he made a nice break on Ryan’s pass and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown that thwarted any hope of an Atlanta comeback.
Signature Stats: Boston is grading at +4.1 over the last four weeks since taking over as starter while Harper has posted a +6.8 mark over the same timeframe. Their emergence could be key as the Panthers head toward the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons – Performances of Note
Justin Blalock, LG: -6.3
Breakdown: It was a rough day in pass protection for Blalock who surrendered two sacks, a QB hit, and five hurries on 56 attempts while also tacking on holding and false start penalties. He was walked back into Ryan’s lap on both sacks, first by DT Kawann Short with 14:32 to go in the third quarter and later by Lotulelei at the 11:05 mark of the fourth quarter.
Signature Stats: Finished with a pass blocking efficiency of 88.0 this week, last among guards.
Matt Ryan, QB: -1.6
Breakdown: After strong performances the last few weeks, Ryan forced too many passes into coverage on his way to a -1.6 overall grade. The fact that two of his interceptions ended up in the end zone is not really his doing, but neither throw was good. He overthrew WR Roddy White on the first one and floated the pass up the sideline that allowed Boston to make a break on it. Beyond that, he was lucky to not have a couple more interceptions as he fired late to Julio Jones at the 5:09 mark of the first quarter and CB Josh Norman was unable to haul it in and it was a very similar situation at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter as Ryan threw late while scrambling and the pass once against went through Norman’s hands. Ryan sprinkled in his usual intermediate accuracy, particularly to the middle of the field, but he failed to take care of the ball in the biggest game of the season.
Signature Stats: Ryan was pressured on 20 of his 54 dropbacks, grading at -2.3 on those plays.
Paul Worrilow, MLB: -3.8
Breakdown: It was not a good day for Worrilow who made a few mistakes that led to big plays. He lost the edge on an end around at the 2:56 mark of the first quarter and then got lost in coverage on the Panthers’ first touchdown later in the quarter. He also finished with three missed tackles on only seven attempts.
Signature Stats: Worrilow finished with the third-most solo tackles among inside linebackers for PFF with 108, but his -23.0 overall grade ranked 59th of 60 qualifiers at the position.
PFF Game Ball
The pass rush set the tone for the Panthers and Star Lotulelei was the best of the bunch with his six pressures on 31 rushes.
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