The Atlanta Falcons were able to overcome a lot of mistakes and sloppy play and pull out a last second victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week Four. Now, 10 weeks later, a match-up that was mostly one-sided in the first meeting could be crucial again.
The match-up to watch is Panthers DE Charles Johnson against Falcons tackles Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker. Johnson completely overpowered and out-finessed both Clabo and Baker in the first game against the Falcons, grabbing a Panthers-record 3.5 sacks. Atlanta will have to figure out a way to keep Johnson at bay in this meeting if the Falcons want to have a healthy Matt Ryan in the playoffs.
On the whole, the Panthers defensive line manhandled the Falcons offensive line in Week Four, but the battles against Johnson were the focal point in the trenches.
Baker has been much maligned in Atlanta over his first few NFL seasons, battling not only poor performance but seemingly chronic injuries. Although he has played better this season, he still seems to have struggles against the better defensive ends and tackles in the league.
Clabo, who is usually very dependable, had particular trouble with Johnson’s speed rush, and was flat beat for all of Johnson’s sacks in the week four meeting.
It may be that Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will have to sacrifice a little bit of offense to get the offensive tackles some help against Johnson by keeping a running back behind the line to chip at Johnson should he get through the line, or using more two tight end sets to provide an extra blocker on either side.
If Johnson has the same success in this week’s game as he did in the first, the Falcons may end up leaving Charlotte with their second loss of the season.