The Falcons snapped their five game losing streak this week. They were also eliminated from playoff contention. The team played exactly how they should have at home against an inferior opponent. A pick-six, seven total sacks, and they won the turnover battle. Their offense was back on track as well, putting up 40 points. Atlanta is currently 2-2 in division play. Both losses came at the hand of the Saints, while the wins came against their two remaining opponents, the Buccaneers and Panthers. Let’s dive in to what you need to know ahead of the game.
Where has that been all season? Atlanta allowed just sixty rushing yards on the day. Not only did they shut down the rushing attack, but Rosen was hit nine total times. Seven of those hits resulted in a sack. Deion Jones had a pick-six off of a Vic Beasley tipped pass at the line of scrimmage. Brian Poole also had an interception in the contest. Several Falcons players had season-high grades vs Arizona, Grady Jarrett, ranking the best with a 92.8 per PFF.
While the Cardinals offense is one of the worst in the league, it was nice to see Atlanta handle an opponent they should have this season. The Cardinals scored on their opening drive, but Atlanta went on to score forty unanswered points before Arizona found the end zone again with just three minutes left in the fourth. The Falcons final two games are on the road against divisional opponents. Fans are surely rooting for the Falcons to lose out to get a higher draft pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they end the season on a three game winning streak.
After starting the season off with a 6-2 record the Panthers have now lost six straight games. Cam Newton has been nursing a shoulder injury this season and it has shown. Carolina has been competitive in most of their losses this season. During their losing streak, only one of their six losses has been by more than a touchdown.
Everyone knows the dynamic player Luke Kuechly is on the defense. On the offensive side of the ball usually Cam Newton is the best player on the field, but Christian McCaffrey has been the glue this season. When McCaffrey was drafted many people didn’t think that he could be an every down back. He has played every snap on offense for five straight weeks. McCaffrey has played 97.7% of the offensive snaps this year, only missing 21 snaps all season. He is just twenty-one yards away from reaching 1,000 rushing yards, and six catches away from one-hundred receptions on the year. McCaffrey is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Atlanta has been one of the worst in the league against pass-catching running backs over the last several years. If they can keep CMC in check they have a good shot at winning this game.
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There was speculation this week that Atlanta may move on from Steve Sarkisian and Marquand Manuel, the offensive and defensive coordinators, after this season. The offense certainly lacked creativity last season. Even though there has been questionable play-calling at times, the offense from year one to year two has been much improved. Ryan is having one of his better seasons as a pro, but the record just isn’t reflecting so. Atlanta has also been banged up along the offensive line and without star running back Devonta Freeman. Keeping Sarkisian for another year is the right move. Consistency is key and I think a third year with a healthy offensive line could take the offense to a new level.
On the defensive side of the ball Marquand Manuel has been under Dan Quinn since their days back in Seattle. Manuel has been mentored by Quinn since 2013 and this is his first year as the defensive coordinator at any level. The defense has struggled in all aspects of the game this year. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to give Manuel another shot next season. Losing Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Deion Jones gutted the team of its main communicators. Domantae Kazee stepped in and has been huge this year, but when you lose the caliber of players that Atlanta did on that side of the ball you are going to struggle.
Owner, Arthur Blank, has been vocal that he trusts Dan Quinn and General Manager, Thomas Dimitroff. That doesn’t mean that everyone else on the staff is safe. Quinn did say earlier in the year that he would evaluate everything at the end of the season. When asked about the reports from Tuesday, Quinn reiterated that his plans to evaluate everything after the season has not changed in his press conference on Wednesday.
It was reported that Cam Newton is being shut down for the remainder of the season. The Panthers aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but would be a longshot to get in. Taylor Heinicke will get the starting nod in place of Newton. We will be seeing a lot of Tevin Coleman, Brian Hill, and Jeremy Langford, as Ito Smith was put on IR this week. Langford was elevated from the practice squad after Smith was placed on IR. Quinn reported that Freeman will not play again this season as well. While this season has been one to forget, we only have two games left to endure. Let’s pray for no more injuries over the final weeks of the season.