Panthers @ Falcons defensive preview

A surprisingly strong Panthers defense will face a stern test from Michael Vick and the Falcons in an effort to avoid falling below .500

Charlotte, NC – The Panthers play the Falcons on Sunday here is the defensive preview.

Pass defense

The Panthers' secondary was supposed to be a major weakness, but has instead more than held its own.  The Falcons' receiving corps was a question mark coming into the season, but… is still a major question mark.

QB Michael Vick is expected to be back, but has not thrown well in practice and is still ailing from a shoulder injury.  He has avoided the inconsistency that plagued him last year, but has yet to light up the scoreboard with his passing ability, having thrown for no more than 209 yards in any one game.  Atlanta's pass protection has been adequate, but the Panthers' pass rush, led by DE Mike Rucker and rookie sensation DE Julius Peppers, will force Vick to deliver the ball under pressure.  Count on his first interception of the year.

Run defense

This has been Carolina's forte, but without rising star MLB Dan Morgan and with an ailing OLB Mark Fields, things could become dicey.  While many expect rookie RB TJ Duckett to get the bulk of the carries, do not be surprised if Falcons coach Dan Reeves uses Warrick Dunn and frequent quarterback draws by Vick to take advantage of the artificial turf of the Georgia Dome and the Panthers' injury problems at LB.  Coach Fox needs to keep his troops focused upon staying in their lanes.  If Vick and/or Dunn can pick up major chunks of yardage on third down situations, this could turn into a frustrating day for Carolina.

Bottom line

Carolina's m.o. up to this point has been to play grind-it-out football, keeping the score close and beating up on the opponents defensively.  Dan Reeves would like nothing more than to take an early lead and take the Panthers out of their gameplan.  However, with a hurting Michael Vick and few gamebreaking offensive players, this game style will suit Carolina more than Atlanta.  The Black and Blue must hold any and all leads, though.  A fourth consecutive fourth quarter collapse, though, could bring the wheels off a once-promising season.

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