Panthers Offensive Line vs. Falcons Defensive Line
Teams are only as strong as their weakest links and these are two groups that are not very good. The Falcons defensive line has not been able to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks and only have 11 sacks all year (31st in the NFL).
The Panthers offensive line almost gave up that many against the Eagles when Cam Newton was sacked nine times. This year Panthers quarterbacks have been sacked a total of 31 times, which is the second highest total.
The Panthers starting line has been hit hard by injury and has tried to piece this group together all season. However, this is the perfect opportunity to gain some confidence and win the battle in the trenches. More importantly than confidence is it may give Cam Newton a chance to go through a whole game without taking a beating.
Josh Norman has done a solid job since coming back and is developing into quite the cornerback. The other cornerback position though is a mess right now.
Antoine Cason was the primary starter at this position however he lost that spot to Melvin White halfway through the New Orleans game. White then got the start over Cason against the Eagles however it wasn’t a great performance.
Meanwhile the Falcons have two very good wide receivers in Julio Jones and Roddy White. I would expect Norman to be lined up against Jones most of the game which leaves the match-up of White to whomever starts at the other cornerback position. This is going to be very important for the Panthers to win this battle in hopes of keeping Matt Ryan in check.
Jonathan Stewart vs. Falcons run defense
This is the one match-up that I believe will decide this game. The Panthers have not gotten much production from the running back position but a strong performance by Jonathan Stewart could be exactly what this offense has been missing. The Falcons meanwhile have struggled against the run, giving up 124 yards per game on the ground.
Since Stewart returned four weeks ago he has averaged over four yards a carry and has the only rushing touchdown during that stretch from the running back position (Newton had one rushing touchdown against New Orleans).
A strong run game would take pressure off Newton as well as the offensive line. This would keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons on the sideline and allow Carolina to win the time of possession battle. The key for the Panthers though will be to commit to the run and give Stewart enough carries to have an impact on the game.