Game Overview ::
By mike johnson >>
- This game may be over by 3:00 pm EST, with both teams leaning run-heavy and playing at a slow pace.
- The NFC South is still wide open, with all four teams within a game of each other at 3-4 or 2-5. If the Bucs lose on Thursday night, the winner of this game will be in first place in the NFC South.
- Both teams are bottom-10 in defensive DVOA and have been worse against the pass than they are against the run.
How Carolina Will Try To Win ::
The Panthers enter Week 8 coming off what is likely the biggest upset of the NFL season to date, a 21-3 thumping of Tom Brady and the Bucs, a game which the Panthers entered as two-touchdown underdogs. This was especially shocking given the trade of Christian McCaffrey just three days before the game which seemed to indicate a “fire sale” and waving of the white flag from the organization. Now, after one dominant performance by their defense and running game, the Panthers find themselves only a game out of first place in their division. Shockingly, if the Bucs lose to the Ravens on Thursday night (they are currently 1.5-point underdogs), and the Panthers win on Sunday, then Carolina will be tied for the division lead and hold the tiebreaker as they will have beaten every team in the division. The NFL is crazy sometimes.
Looking at this specific game, it will be interesting to see how the Panthers attack. They ran the ball on 54% of their offensive plays in their impressive Week 8 win over the Bucs, but now face a Falcons team that has devolved into one of the biggest pass funnels in the league – ranking dead last in the NFL in defensive DVOA and 31st in PFF pass rush grade. While the Falcons run defense hasn’t been anything special, it would be borderline malpractice for any team to not attack their ineptitude in pass defense. Panthers starting QB PJ Walker had what is likely the best game of his career against the Bucs, averaging just over 8.0 yards per pass attempt and throwing for two touchdowns. Walker also kept a few plays alive with his legs, took only one sack, and did not turn the ball over in a very clean performance.
Carolina ranks 12th in the NFL (about middle of the pack and near league average) in situation neutral pace of play for the season. However, they have played much slower in recent weeks than they did to start the year and they really drained the clock last week, managing only 50 total plays despite never trailing and having a decent amount of offensive success. We should expect a similar game plan this week with a methodical approach, albeit a likely shift from their 54% rush rate to play-calling split that is slightly pass-heavy due to the easy nature of the matchup in the passing game. DJ Moore is the clear alpha here and received a 48% target share in his first game without CMC and Robbie Anderson. With Atlanta’s secondary and defensive scheme struggling to stop any passing attack, we shouldn’t expect a situation where Moore is “taken away” by the Falcons. The Panthers defense has played pretty well this season, holding every opponent to 26 points or fewer and ranking 10th in the league in yards per play allowed, so we should expect a conservative offensive approach here that relies on their new 1-2 punch (D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard) in the backfield while passing slightly more than last week. The Panthers will trust their defense to keep them in it late into the game and hope to pull away late like they were able to against the Bucs.