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How to watch
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Location: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, NC)
TV: FOX, NFL Network | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App
When the Falcons have the ball
It’s hard to believe that it’s already Week 8.
The NFL regular season rolls on, and we’ve got quite an interesting matchup on this week’s edition of Thursday Night Football. The Falcons are a team in transition, having fired their coach and general manager after a disastrous start to the year. The Panthers were in that position last season, and now look like they’re moving in the right direction under new coach Matt Rhule.
It may be a year or two before either of these teams truly enters the playoff picture, but the process of getting from here to there necessarily includes division rivalry games like this. With that in mind, let’s break down the matchup.
It feels appropriate to begin this section by talking about Carolina’s defense. Last year, the Panthers finished 23rd in yards allowed, 31st in points allowed, and 26th in efficiency, per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. They had the league’s single worst unit against the run, allowing 5.2 yards per carry and 31 scores while ranking dead last in rush defense DVOA.
This year’s team ranks 13th in both yards and points allowed per game, which seems like the sign of a unit that has taken a massive leap. However, efficiency measurements show that it has actually taken a slight step forward against the run (28th in DVOA), which has helped offset a slight step backward against the pass (from 12th to 17th), and slightly improved the team’s overall performance (23rd in DVOA). Still, after finishing last season so poorly, then seeing Luke Kuechly retire and James Bradberry, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, and more leave in free agency, it’s pretty impressive. The Panthers are one of the youngest defenses in the league, yet also among the most improved. That’s a good sign for the future of the team.
All that said, they face a stiff test on Thursday night. The Falcons may be just 1-6, but in every game where Julio Jones has been healthy, their offense has been explosive, and extremely tough to stop. Jones has played at least 79 percent of the snaps in four of Atlanta’s games, during which the Falcons have averaged and 434 total yards and 31.5 points per contest. In the three games he has either been limited or sat out (including the first matchup between these two rivals), those numbers dipped to 357 yards and 19.3 points.
Jones being on the field presents a distinct challenge for the young Carolina secondary, which will now have to deal with both him and Calvin Ridley on the perimeter, as well as supplementary targets like Hayden Hurst, Russell Gage (injury permitting), and the running backs out fo the backfield. The Panthers are not particularly well equipped to deal with multiple high-level targets on the outside, what with Donte Jackson and rookie Troy Pride Jr. largely struggling in coverage. Corn Elder has been a bit more solid in the slot, but he’s also barely even been targeted.
To slow down Jones, Ridley, and Matt Ryan, the Panthers will likely have to lean on their pass rush. But that’s not a good situation to be in. While Brian Burns has been excellent (21 pressures so far), the Panthers as a whole have