Who will stop Steve Smith this Sunday?

With Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall ruled out for the season finale this week, Omare Lowe moves into the starting lineup. A separated shoulder sidelined Hall at the end of his 65-yard interception return last week. The timetable for rehabbing this injury usually is four to six weeks, so Hall undoubtedly would have missed the playoffs.

His absence this week gives the Panthers a considerable mismatch against Atlanta coverage. Hall is one of the few cornerbacks in the league who can run step-for-step with Steve Smith for an entire game.

Without him, the Falcons will stay almost exclusively in zones, but Smith can still exploit the secondary by catching passes on underneath routes.

Either way, Smith is lethal with the ball in his hands. He leads the NFL with 1,432 yards receiving, 32 more than No. 2 Santana Moss, but more than half of his production has come after the catch.

Atlanta has nobody capable of covering Smith, and if the Falcons try to double up on him, that only creates more opportunities for Keary Colbert, Ricky Proehl and Drew Carter.

"We have had to make adjustments, and that is part of the deal," Falcons coach Jim Mora said Wednesday. "(Assistants) Ed Donatell, Brett Maxie and Emmitt Thomas all do a really good job of getting them ready and getting them on the field where they can play at that level."

Though the Falcons rank a respectable 14th against the pass and an impressive seventh in yards per catch, they produced those rankings with Hall in their corner. Atlanta becomes a shell of itself without him, because it already lacks speed and durability at right corner and at each safety position.

Lowe is playing for his seventh team in four years. Before signing with Atlanta, the former University of Washington standout had played in just six games. Now he will make his first career start.

"This is a guy we looked at over the off-season and say that we really have to find a spot for," Mora said. "You got a guy like Leigh Torrence who comes in and contributes on special teams. You'd love to have all four (defensive backs) start every game at the same position. At a position like offensive line or defensive back, continuity is critical. But that has not been the case. We have to keep training and searching and hoping guys on the field will contribute."

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