I want more than my two front teeth (I already have them) for Christmas. When the Carolina Panthers face the Atlanta Falcons on Christmas Eve, these are the things I want from Carolina’s football franchise.
A Run Game
The Falcons are an average team when it comes to stopping the run. After a 100+ yard performance against the Washington Redskins, I want Jonathan Stewart to run wild against the Falcons. The Carolina offense is roughly 100% better when Stewart is able to gain 4-5 yards on first down. It sets him up to break a big run and it sets up all of the play action that Carolina loves to do.
It also keeps the Falcons defense on the field, which means it keeps Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense off the field.
Cam Newton didn’t have much success on the ground against the Redskins, but he always seems to break off a big run against the Falcons. As long as he doesn’t pull up or remembers how to slide, Cam running is typically a good thing. If he’s scrambling for his life behind missed block after missed block, that’s not good. But if he’s able to read off of Stewart and fool the defense or get behind his blockers on a designed power run, that’s when he’s at his most dangerous.
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I don’t want Julio Jones to go for 300 yard again. I’d say it’s impossible that he has another 300 yard game, but this is Julio Jones, arguably the best receiver in the league.
That said, he’ll have a much tougher time in Carolina. Simply put, the Panthers are a better team today than they were earlier in the season. They’re still not very good, and their record reflects that, but they are better. One aspect that is much better is the defense. The front seven are creating pressure and getting to the quarterback while the duo of James Bradberry and Daryl Worley are playing well in coverage. Add in the fact that Kurt Coleman is back to his thieving ways, and you have a strong defense, even without Luke Kuechly.
Let’s not forget that Bradberry essentially missed the first Falcons game. He played one snap, where he was beaten by Julio for a 22-yard gain, and that was it. After that, Worley and Bene Benwikere drew the assignment, and neither fared well. Worley has improved a ton since week four and Benwikere is no longer with the team, thanks in large part to that game. But Bradberry will draw the assignment. And while it’s foolish to think that he’ll completely shutout the Falcons receiver, I think holding him under 150 yards would be a major win.
I don’t like Atlanta. I’m not sure there is a Panthers fan alive who likes Atlanta. There is just something about them. Maybe it’s their sense of entitlement and accomplishment even though they have yet to win anything. Falcons fans believe they are the best team in the league and that they have the greatest offense of all-time even though Matt Ryan has one playoff win in eight seasons.
Atlanta fans rubbed it in last year when they handed the Panthers their only loss of the season. The tables have turned this year. The Panthers are the one’s playing for nothing while the Falcons, while not undefeated, are likely heading to the playoffs. Unless the Panthers win on Saturday. A Panthers victory and a Buccaneers win puts the Falcons and Bucs tied at 9-6 heading into the final week. A Falcons victory more or less gives them the division title.
So how about the Panthers deny them of that title for at least a week? Please? For Christmas?