The last 10 days have felt like an eternity. It almost feels like the Atlanta Falcons lost eight months ago all over again. Only the Falcons would find a way to lose a game the same way twice. Nonetheless, it’s time to move on and look ahead to the Carolina Panthers. Here’s what we need to watch for:
The Adjustment Without Keanu Neal or Deion Jones
The 2018 season couldn’t have started any worse for the Falcons, losing their two defensive stars in less than a week. It appeared that the Falcons defense was going to be soaring into the top 5 and potentially lift the Falcons to their first Super Bowl. Keanu Neal was placed on IR with a torn ACL and will be out for the remainder of the season. Deion Jones was also placed on IR (foot) but should be able to return by week 10.
Rising star Damontae Kazee will be replacing Keanu Neal for the remainder of the season, while Duke Riley will fill in for Jones. Both of these players have experience in the system and should be able to come in and make an impact immediately. Kazee, who is known for his ball-hawking will play the majority of his snaps at free safety.
Duke Riley, like Kazee, has big shoes to fill. Jones is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL and can singlehandedly neutralize an opponent. Riley has been heavily criticized while in Atlanta and has the opportunity to erase any doubt anyone has had.
Both of these young players have a tough challenge in their first career start. They want the only ones on that young defense adjusting to the absence of Keanu Neal and Deion Jones this season.
Falcons Red Zone Struggles
The one area that the Falcons need to be better at is the red zone. It’s not only a Steve Sarkisian problem, it’s a full team execution problem. We can completely blame Sarkisian when Matt Ryan had five opportunities to win the game and threw five uncatchable balls. The playcalling, at times, was definitely a reason for concern but the players need to be better.
Matt Ryan played one of the worst games of his career and he needs to be better against Carolina. When the team drives down the field and is in position to score, he needs to be at his best. All offseason, we heard about the new wrinkles but when it came to the red area, we saw the same old stagnant offense. This is an area we need to watch again today against the Panthers.
Last week I noted that this position group could be on this list every week. Here I am, expressing, how important it is for the defensive line to win their battles. Against the Eagles, it became evident that the Falcons have more than enough reason to be concerned as the season progresses.
Carolina will face their own dilemma today on the right side of the offensive line. Losing Daryl Williams for the season and Trai Turner remains in the concussion protocol. The stars are aligned for the defensive line, and they should be able to wreck havoc upfront.
This is going to be critical because we all know how dangerous Cam Newton is. When you add Christian McCaffery into the mix as well, the Falcons have their hands full. The matchups up front at the line of scrimmage will ultimately be the difference maker in today’s matchup.