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The Atlanta Falcons rallied to beat the Carolina Panthers 31-17 in the homecoming game of former Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. The homecoming celebration was derailed by a Falcons defense that forced three interceptions and two sacks on Newton, while Michael Turner handled the scoring load with two touchdowns on 139 yards rushing.
During Monday's Atlanta Falcons' press conference, head coach Mike Smith was effusive with his praise of Turner and the results from the running game on Sunday:
We felt like the way they were going to defend us was going to give us an opportunity. I don't know that we basically came out and said how many carries Michael was going to have but Michael got the ball rolling early and we kept feeding him because we felt that he was in a groove.
Smith on getting Turner outside on the edge versus the Panthers:
When people try to defend us, they're going to basically tell us where we're going to be able to run the football and that's the premise of, again, I say it over and over, of our offense and we felt that we were going to be able to get him to the second level and get him to the second level there on the perimeter. Of course, when you've got Michael coming around the corner at 245 pounds, there's some guys that might not necessarily want to take a clean shot at him.
You might remember that here on SB Nation Atlanta we noted that the Falcons success is deeply rooted to how many carries Turner gets a game. Turner hit the magical number of 20 again on Sunday, giving Atlanta three wins in three games when Turner gets 20+ carries.
Hurry-up offense? Explosive passing game? Julio Jones? What's all that fuss worth when Atlanta can grind out a two-touchdown win over a division opponent? Sunday's 31-17 win over the Panthers was vintage 2010 Atlanta Falcons, when Ryan took to the air with reserve and hit just enough key third down passes to keep defenses honest against workhorse Michael Turner. It might be regression in terms of this team's offensive evolution, but it was undoubtedly a win.
Fullback Ovie Mughelli, who caught a touchdown pass:
"This is what we do. This is what we enjoy doing. We practice running the ball hard. We practice moving guys off the line, and scoring.
Turner was impressed with the play of the offensive line, and obviously has no problems "reverting" back to a run-heavy offense:
"I saw a lot of green as a running back today. The offensive line provided huge running lanes to make big runs. We wanted to give the team a big spark by producing a good amount of yards on the ground, and controlling the clock. We wanted to play hard for the team and I am very pleased with the performance.
"I believe [running more than 20 times a game] wears defenses out. It also plays to one of our biggest strengths as an offense. There is no question the rushing attack is a big part of our team identity. That said, we do understand the importance of having a strong passing game and being multi-dimensional.
Head coach Mike Smith admitted that run-first was the game plan all along:
"We wanted to run the football and control the line of scrimmage, and that was what we wanted to do in the ballgame. It was our game plan, and that allowed us to control the clock."
What a final quarter! At the beginning of the quarter, the Falcons actually couldn't come through where they usually do: the red zone. On third and goal at the Carolina two, Ryan couldn't commit to a receiver and the Falcons were forced to settle for a 24-yard Matt Bryant field goal. That would, however, tie things up at 17 points apiece with 14:15 left in this ball game.
On the other side, a holding penalty gave the defense an opportunity to force another punt. On third and fifteen, the Falcons forced Cam Newton to throw underneath- well short of the first down- and in turn a Carolina punt. A decent eight-yard return by Eric Weems had the Falcons in business at their own 40-yard line.
And then the Ryan-led no huddle offense was executed to perfection. While the Panthers finally started stuffing Michael Turner, Ryan made two excellent plays on third down- including a beautiful 34-yard completion to Harry Douglas with pressure coming from all directions- to keep the drive alive. Finally, on second and goal from one yard out, Ryan took it in himself on a QB sneak to put the Falcons up 24-17.
And then the defense came through. After giving up a big first down run to DeAngelo Williams, Corey Peters read a screen pass perfectly and intercepted the short pass by Newton. In a game where turnovers have been the difference, the Falcons have had two huge ones. Peters just made a big-time play that could very well seal this one for the Falcons, as they now are threatening to score inside the Carolina 30.
Once again, it would be Turner to break the Panthers defense. On the ensuing drive, he would carry the ball six times for 29 yards, including his second TD of the game that would seal the Falcons win. On the day, Turner the Burner had 27 carries for 139 yards. His success opened up the passing lanes, and the offense looked much better than last week.
The defense, while not fantastic, made enough plays to limit a red-hot Cam Newton. Brent Grimes did an excellent job on Steve Smith as well. All in all, the Falcons move to 3-3 having played their most complete game of this season. Finally, it would seem all the talk of "improvement" has come to fruition.
The Panthers started this half on offense, and really there's not much I can say that you haven't heard already. The Falcons got very little pressure from their defensive line, and when they did (this time John Abraham) Cam Newton broke out of a would-be sack and turned it into a gain. The defense broke down on yet another third-down play, and Abe's inability to wrap up allowed Newton to rush for the 14-yard score.
The only adjustments on defense that I saw (if you wanted to call them that) were more blitzing and looser coverage. Neither really made any impact. The Panthers were still able to score, only this time it was more painful to watch because the drive was longer.
On offense, the second-half stagnation continued. Outside of a 13-yard completion to Tony Gonzalez, not much happened. On the second third-down of the drive, Ryan threw into double coverage and it fell incomplete. Though he's had a good game thus far, the Ice Man just seems way too locked in on Roddy White at times. You look at quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brees, and you see they use all of their weapons. Just something to consider.
Matt Bosher, however, has finally shown some improvement: he booted a 46-yard punt that landed inside the Carolina 20. The punt team definitely gets a gold star for improvement thus far.
On the defense's second round of the half however, the pass rush finally came through. John Abraham broke into the backfield and forced and incompletion on first down, and then Ray Edwards notched the second sack of the game on third down. That forced the Panthers to punt out of their own end zone, and the offense took over at midfield. Nice to see Edwards show that he's getting healthier by the week.
And the offense did what we'd been expecting all week: leaning on Michael Turner and the ground game. Ovie Mughelli has had a great game blocking for Turner, as has the offensive line (for the most part). Three straight carries by Turner went for 41 total yards and put the Falcons in a first and goal situation as the third quarter came to a close.
So, you could call that third-quarter "improvement," although really it's more a case of "well, it wasn't as bad as before." Still, the Falcons haven't let this game slip away yet, which sadly has me in a good mood. If the Falcons can score and put together a good last quarter, however, they'll be sitting at .500. Let's go!
After finding some offensive success, the Falcons defense again struggled against Cam Newton. In only four plays, the Panthers moved from their own 20 to the Atlanta 28, mostly through the air. After a blitzing Stephen Nicholas sacked Newton and brought up another third and long, the secondary again gave up a long passing play. John Abraham was almost certainly held on the play.
It only took two more plays for the Panthers to score their first touchdown, which came on a one-yard Jonathan Stewart run up the gut. Outside of Nicholas' sack, the lack of pressure has been easily noticed. Perhaps BVG should blitz more, considering that it worked, rather than continuing to only rush four on every play? Just an idea.
Meanwhile, the offense stuck with what successful, namely the no-huddle "Texas" offense. After a couple of runs and a third-down completion to Roddy White, Turner broke to the outside for a 33 yard gain. But, in typical fashion, a personal foul on Roddy (he's been doing that a lot lately) cut that gain in half.
Ryan then finally got Harry Douglas involved on a 23-yard pickup into Panthers territory. Another pass interference on the Panthers- this one pretty blatant- brought up another first and goal from one yard out. It took them three tries, but Ryan finally found Ovie Mughelli on a one-yard TD toss, putting the Falcons up 14-10. It was a 12-play, 80-yard drive orchestrated by Matty Ice to perfection, and exactly what this team needed.
On defense, well... the Falcons were pretty poor again. After converting yet another long third down, Newton was picking up on almost every pass. Then, a very questionable (it was complete #$%&, you could say) roughing the passer called against Abraham gave the Panthers a free 15 and a first.
Then just as the Panthers seemed absolutely guaranteed to score a touchdown, super-clutch Williams Moore batted an errant Newton throw into the air, and Brent Grimes picked it off in the end zone. Talk about timely. That would for all intents and purposes end the half, preserving a 14-10 Falcons lead. Upcoming: the dreaded third quarter. Let's see if the Falcons can make adjustments.
As we get underway at the Georgia Dome, a few notable lineup changes: John Abraham, who's playing status was in question earlier in the week, is starting this week, as is fellow veteran Todd McClure. Harry Douglas has gotten the start on the outside in place of Julio Jones.
Well, the Falcons first offensive drive of the game featured a good mix of pass and was moving along just fine, until Matt Ryan threw the ball to no one on third down, and the Falcons were forced to punt at midfield. Clearly there was some sort of miscommunication between Ryan and the intended receiver Roddy White, and that'll happen sometimes. But you can't have it killing your drives.
On the plus side, Matt Bosher had probably his first good punt of the season, pinning the Panthers on their own 12. But that great field position was squandered almost immediately: pass interference called on William Moore resulted in almost 20 free yards for Carolina. Then after forcing a third down, Cam Newton did his best Aaron Rodgers impression by escaping what should have been a Falcons sack and scrambling for the first down. Suddenly I'm having flashback's to last year's UGA-Auburn game...
Later in the drive, with the Panthers inside the red zone and threatening to score, Newton's pass intended for Greg Olsen would fall incomplete in the end zone. But man, it could have easily been a touchdown. Carolina would settle for a field goal, giving the Panthers a 3-0 lead early in this ball game.
Atlanta took over on offense again, and three straight running plays called pretty much tells you what the Falcons are trying to do. A toss (!!) to Jacquizz Rodgers and some nifty running would result in a first down. Then Ryan went to the air and found Roddy for a 14-yard gain. That is how you open up the passing game.
After a series of multiple penalties against the Panthers, Ryan went deep to Roddy White in the end zone and Charles Godfrey was called for the pass interference (it could have easily been a touchdown). So with first and goal at the one, Turner punched it in as the first quarter came to a close. The Falcons now hold the lead, 7-3, on the back of that great no-huddle offense.
The Atlanta Falcons will be without Julio Jones against the Carolina Panthers, but you already knew that. They'll also be without defensive backs James Sanders and Christopher Owens. The good news: defensive end John Abraham will return, as will center Todd McClure. Both missed last week's game against the Green Bay Packers.
For the Panthers, linebacker Omar Gaither is still officially out. Tackle Jeff Otah, who had been questionable and limited in practice with a back injury, is also out. He'll be replaced by rookie Byron Bell. Defensive end Charles Johnson will play.
Otah's exit and Abraham's return could make for some interesting matchups along the offensive line. This could be a good week for Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann to get going opposite Abraham, but they'll still have the slippery task of wrangling Cam Newton.
With some zero- and one-win teams still hanging around, man NFL fans are resorting to other avenues to keep them interested. And which one is more obvious than the one that goes straight to Vegas? The NFL Week 6 lines are here.
Cam Newton could be getting friendly with Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham after all. Abraham returned to practice on Friday for the Falcons after a groin injury forced him out of last week's loss to Green Bay. Abraham was listed by Atlanta as limited and questionable for Sunday, and the AJC reported that he was considered 50/50 to play.
Center Todd McClure and offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds both returned on Friday. McClure also missed the Green Bay game, and is listed as probable for Sunday. Safety William Moore has also returned from a neck injury suffered in the loss to the Packers. Meanwhile, the age-defying wonder and certain Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez returned to full practice with an elbow injury, and will be probable for the Panthers game. You can't hope to stop the NFL's Methuselah, only to contain him.
The only players officially missing Sunday's game will be wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) and safety Chris Owens (concussion).
Atlanta is a narrow home favorite going into a must-win divisional game against Carolina this weekend.
The president of the Hall of Fame, Steve Perry, will introduce Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who will present Sanders with his Hall of Fame ring.
In five seasons in Atlanta after being drafted out of Florida State, Sanders became known for his flashy "Neon Deion" nickname as well as his on the field exploits. He was the rare to CB who was also a household name, and he was one of the last two-sport athletes in the professional ranks, splitting time as an OF for the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.
He made three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams with the Falcons, and his jaw-dropping athleticism allowed him to score touchdowns on interceptions, receptions, punt and kickoff returns.
Sanders, now an analyst at the NFL Network, was enshrined as the eighth member of the Falcons Ring of Honor in a ceremony last season.
The Atlanta Falcons' head coach Mike Smith is familiar with the problems that facing an athletic quarterback can present for your defense. Smith will face one of the bright young stars in the NFL this week in the Carolina Panthers No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Cam Newton. Smith knows that you can't lead the league in 20+ yard plays, like Carolina currently does, and not have someone doing something right under center.
Smith said as much after the Falcons' practice on Wednesday. via atlantafalcons.com
"They’re number one in the League so they’ve got a very explosive offense that can cause you problems in a lot of areas and one is the quarterback with his ability to scramble, extend plays and put the pressure on your entire defense."
Smith has been coaching his defense on how to handle a player like Cam Newton, or at least how to try and contain him.
"Our guys, that’s a big emphasis point starting today, is that you’re going to have to cover longer. This is a guy that has shown in the first five games that he can extend plays and there’s that fine line of when you come out of coverage; we’ve seen it happen and he’s launched the ball 60 yards down the field. "
Another wrinkle that the Falcons will have to deal with is the option-attack that Newton and Carolina will use from time to time. It's not something you see very often anymore in the NFL and is definitely something that you have to gameplan for, especially when facing a quarterback with the rushing ability that Newton possesses.
"It’s been a while since we’ve had to defend the option. Again, that’s part of their offense. In terms of what they’re doing, they have multiple packages. We’ve got to make sure that we are sound because the quarterback is a ball carrier. He’s their leading rusher down in the redzone, especially down there in the redzone and that creates a completely different dynamic."
The Falcons take on the Panthers Sunday at 1pm in Atlanta. For more information and coverage on the Atlanta Falcons visit The Falcoholic.
The Atlanta Falcons find themselves at 2-3 on the season and two full games behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South standings. The Falcons host the 1-4 Carolina Panthers in Week 6.
With Julio Jones ruled out of the starting lineup for Sunday's game against Carolina with a hamstring injury means that the Atlanta Falcons will have to shuffle around their depth chart at wide receiver. Harry Douglas will move into the Falcons starting lineup and reserve wideout Kerry Meier also figures to see extended playing time.
Douglas has just 11 catches for 80 yards on the season as the Falcons' No. 3 wide receiver. Douglas' speed is his weapon and he could benefit from a few more looks from quarterback Matt Ryan this Sunday.
Kerry Meier has been active in four of the Falcons' five games but has yet to catch a pass. He figures to get extended minutes on Sunday with Eric Weems also joining in the rotation.
"We feel very good about Kerry Meier and his athletic ability," Smith said. "We haven't done a lot of four-wide sets so we've not had an opportunity to get him many snaps. He'll get his opportunity this week."
For more on Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons, be sure to check out The Falcoholic.
In a statement released by the NCAA, the NCAA's associate director of enforcement Jackie Thurnes told Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs that the Tigers had no major violations and have ended their investigation in signing of Cam Newton.
Over 50 interviews were conducted in regards to Cam Newton over an alleged pay-for-play scenario, along with documents obtained by the NCAA including bank statements, IRS tax documents, phone records and e-mail messages.
It is noted in the letter that Auburn self-reported their dealings with Cecil Newton, Cam Newton's father, and "an owner of a scouting service (presumably Will Lyles) that they worked together to actively market Cam Newton for compensation. The report listed that Cam and the University of Auburn were not aware of the activity, this making Cam's time as a Tiger violation-free.
Also in the letter, Thurnes addressed the allegations of Raven Gray, Stanley McClover, Chaz Ramsey and Troy Reddick, who were all featured HBO's Real Sports "Dirty Money" episode. It was alleged that they all had received impermissible benefits while at Auburn. Due to a "lack of cooperation" by certain individuals involved, all allegations have not been substantiated.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones will miss the team's upcoming game against the Carolina Panthers due to his hamstring injury, coach Mike Smith confirmed at his Wednesday press conference. Jones had been held out of practice early in the week, with Smith saying he'd wait until Wednesday to update Jones' condition.
Jones suffered the injury late against the Green Bay Packers while trying to run down a deep pass. He got tangled up with a defender and had to step to the sideline. Trainers walked him into the locker room shortly after.
It'll be ... interesting ... to see what the Falcons can do offensively minus perhaps their best weapon. Statistically at least, Jones has been just about the only Falcons receiver or runner who's exceeded expectations. He currently leads the team in receiving yardage.
If one is trying to understand why the NFL reigns supreme in the national sports landscape then look no further than this game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers. Six weeks ago this game was billed as a blowout with the dominant NFC regular season champions poised to demolish the cellar dwelling Carolina Panthers, but now the fortunes of both teams has lead to a line in this game only giving Atlanta a 3.5 point edge in Sunday's game.
This is astonishing because the Falcons are at home, meaning Vegas only has faith in them to beat the Panthers by what equates to a half point (imagining this was played on a neutral field). An unsure injury situation surrounding Julio Jones, coupled with a Panthers team that played the New Orleans Saints down to the wire has ensured this game which was once an easy W, is no longer regarded as so easy.
Perhaps some of this 3.5 point line can be attributed to a gross under-estimation of Carolina thus far in 2011. Across their five games the Panthers are 4-0-1 against the spread as they continue to play close games amounting to an average loss of just 5.5 points. Meanwhile the Atlanta Falcons have been lackluster in terms of their spread with games like Seattle where Atlanta were pegged to blow out Seattle, only to leave the door open.
Sunday's game will be decided by quarterback play. Matt Ryan has under-performed expectations in 2011 as he's thrown 7 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, while Panthers' QB Cam Newton has vastly exceeded them as a rookie, throwing for the same number of scores and picks as Ryan. Ultimately I think the Falcons win, but it's going to be close, so I would take the Panthers plus the points.
When it comes to over/under we're looking at a line of 51 points. Neither the Falcons nor the Panthers have any problems scoring in bunches, and both have suspect pass defenses; as such I'm taking the over all day long. Atlanta are able to put up a lot of points in the Georgia Dome, and the Panthers are averaging 25 points when there are no weather conditions.
This really is a tale of two cities, where in Atlanta their team really shouldn't be 2-3 as some critical execution errors have prevented them from winning games, and in Charlotte where the Panthers are better than their 1-4 record suggests. When it's all said and done I feel the Falcons have too much veteran experience for a young Panthers team to overcome, but I have a distinct feeling this will have a 'game of the week' type result.
The Atlanta Falcons don't fall all that far in this week's NFL power rankings. Hooray for not all that far!
The Atlanta Falcons take on the Carolina Panthers this Sunday, October 16th at 1pm ET at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
After coming into the season with Super Bowl expectations, the Falcons have struggled to a 2-3 start and currently sit third in the NFC South. What has been ailing the Dirty Birds?
Over the past few years, Falcon-Panther matchups have been some highly contested games, often accentuated by the fact that these two teams simply don't like each other. Fortunately for the Falcons, the Panthers' lack of a fully capable QB at the moment likely puts them at a disadvantage for their week six trip to the Georgia Dome.
This game marks the Falcons coming off a very tough five-game stretch to open the 2011 season, which makes it all the more crucial that Ryan & Co. can beat the Panthers. However, given their surprisingly underrated defense the Falcons cannot afford to overlook a Panthers team with a fair share of elite-caliber players.
Record: Went 2-14 in 2011 (worst record in the NFL)
Last Meeting: Twice in 2010 (Falcons won both games)
Notable Additions: TE Greg Olsen (trade), TE Jeremy Shockey, K Olindo Mare, QB Cam Newton (draft pick)
Notable Losses: CB Richard Marshall, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King
When Jerry Richardson mentioned that the Panthers would be "aggressive" during free agency, many people scoffed at the idea of the notably stingy owner going on a spending spree. However, that's exactly what the Panthers did. Carolina most notably traded for Bears TE Greg Olsen. The team also managed to keep several of their own high profile free agents, including RB DeAngelo Williams, LB James Anderson, and DE Charles Johnson, whom the Panthers brought back on a whopping six-year, $72M contract.
For the 2011 edition of the Panthers, they look surprisingly similar to the one that went 2-14 last season. The defense, led by LB Jon Beason, looks on paper to be an above average defense at the very least. The front four are still in question, but Carolina's linebacking corps is probably top-five in the NFL. While the defense may not shut down what is perhaps the best Falcons offense I've ever seen, Turner is not going to run all over them either.
Then we come to the offense, which (along with injuries) was the achilles heel for the Panthers last year. Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike, and Brian St. Pierre all appeared at QB for Carolina last season. This year, it appears Clausen and first overall pick Cam Newton are battling it out for the signal-caller job, and by all accounts neither has been particularly impressive this preseason.
For the Falcons, this game should be a real chance for the secondary to shine. With No.2 WR David Gettis out for the year with an ACL tear, the receiving options are once again limited to Steve Smith (and Greg Olsen). Thus, it will come down to Grimes being able to shut down Smith, and the Abe-Edwards tandem being able keep Newton in the pocket and wrap him up when he's running.
Still, with the first five games being so tough, this game will serve as a nice breather for the Falcons.
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