Panthers at Falcons Preview

"If it's third-and-10 we're not jumping a two-yard route," Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "That's really what it came down to. I talked to the players and told them we are young but at the same time we have to develop callousness about us so we don't make the same mistakes twice."

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 10/16/11
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale

KEYS TO THE GAME

With the vertical passing game struggling and rookie WR Julio Jones (hamstring) out, the Falcons will come out attacking a Panthers run defense allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Atlanta might lack explosive plays, but should be able to methodically move the ball down the field. Carolina has been establishing more balance the past two weeks, but the Falcons' secondary is where the mismatches are. TEs Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey will attract attention as QB Cam Newton looks to set up deep shots to WR Steve Smith.

FAST FACTS

Newton leads all NFL quarterbacks with five rushing touchdowns; no one else has more than two. ... Falcons RB Michael Turner has rushed for 512 yards and nine touchdowns in the past five meetings.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

PANTHERS

Don't take the cheese was the message coach Ron Rivera has been telling his defensive backs and linebackers following Carolina's 30-27 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium.

A few times, Carolina defenders were fooled into jumping short routes on third downs and Drew Brees burned them by finding the open man a little further down the field to move the chains.

The Saints converted 12 of 17 third-down opportunities, including two on the crucial game-winning drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. By the time Brees hit Pierre Thomas with a 6-yard touchdown the Panthers had just 50 seconds to answer back.

They couldn't and the Saints escaped with a win.

"We had a couple of things that you'd like to see us handle a little better (on third downs)," Rivera said. "We had a couple of young guys that had to play key positions because of injuries and they threw a couple of routes that were high-low combinations and we drove on the low and they hit the high on us twice. A veteran guy, you would like to believe he holds off and forces the receiver underneath and we drive up and make the tackle and it's fourth-and-3 or so and we're off the field. That's where our inexperience truly shows on the defensive side of the ball."

"The execution isn't there yet," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "It's about guys learning their roles in this defense and understanding situational football.

"If it's third-and-10 we're not jumping a two-yard route. That's really what it came down to. I talked to the players and told them we are young but at the same time we have to develop callousness about us so we don't make the same mistakes twice.

"That is really the thing about becoming better as a defense - not making the same mistake twice because we can't afford to. The third downs, that is what it came down to."

FALCONS

Falcons cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson are yielding too many pass plays.

Grimes has been targeted on 26 passes this year and teams have completed 14 (53.8 percent). Robinson has been targeted 27 times with 21 completions (77.7 percent).

Both will be assigned to Carolina's Steve Smith at times on Sunday and he's off to a great start. He has 27 catches for a NFC-leading 609 yards. The Falcons will likely bracket Smith with a safety and cornerback.

Robinson was signed to help improve the Falcons' pass defense.

But the defense's league ranking against the pass has not improved since he was signed to a six-year, $57 million contract on March 6, 2010.

After the 2009 season, the Falcons were ranked 28th against the pass while giving up 241.9 yards. Last season they moved up to 22nd, giving up 226.6 yards. This season they are back to 28th, giving up 294.2 through five games.

"Dunta has been solid," coach Mike Smith said. "This year with the offenses, the numbers have just been unbelievable. Right now, you've got seven teams that are averaging over 400 yards of offense per game. That's unbelievable, but Dunta is having a solid start to the season."

PERSONNEL NEWS

PANTHERS

--RT Jeff Otah missed his second straight day of practice with a back injury and coach Ron Rivera is uncertain whether or not he'll play Sunday.

--RT Byron Bell could start in place of Jeff Otah, who is bothered by a back injury. Rivera said there is not much difference in the play of the two tackles.

--DE Charles Johnson sat out practice Thursday with a hip injury. The Panthers expect that he will be back at practice on Friday.

--QB Cam Newton is the first quarterback in NFL history to run and throw for five touchdowns in his first five games.

--RB DeAngelo Williams is averaging more than 10 yards per carry over the last two weeks.

FALCONS

--RB Michael Turner is 12th in the NFL with 360 yards rushing on 84 carries.

--QB Matt Ryan is tied for second, with the Patriots' Tom Brady, with 196 pass attempts. They trail only the Saints' Drew Brees with 219.

--WR Roddy White (thigh) had his first full practice with the team in three weeks. He's played in each game, but had been limited in practice.

--SS James Sanders (hamstring) did not practice on Thursday.

--DE John Abraham (groin) did not practice and is unlikely to play against Carolina.

--SS William Moore (left shoulder) returned to practice and is expected to play against Carolina.


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