The Atlanta Falcons are riding a lot of momentum in the 2012 season blistering 3—0 start.
With Atlanta set to host division rival Carolina Panthers, most observers and many experts expect the Falcons to remain unbeaten, which is hard to argue.
Nonetheless, the Falcons won't win by simply showing up. They'll need to do three things right in order to ensure victory over a Carolina team hungry to fulfill preseason expectations for success.
When the game clock strikes zero Sunday afternoon, the Falcons will indeed be 4—0 if they handle these three keys to the game:
First: Contain Steve Smith.
Steve Smith is not only the Panthers best offensive weapon, but also one of the most productive players in the NFL.
While Smith has been held out of the end zone thus far in 2012, he currently ranks as the NFL’s 4th receiver with 296 yards on 19 receptions, with a long of 66 yards. Make no mistake, a player of Smith’s caliber will not be held scoreless for long.
The Falcons singular focus can’t be on merely keeping Smith out of end zone; they must focus on limiting his effect on the game as a whole.
The NFL has earned the reputation as a pass— to —score league. Gone are the days of teams consistently driving the field with a run—heavy ratio. In today’s NFL teams throw to get in scoring range; and this is where Smith can hurt the Falcons whether he scores or not.
Second: Confuse Cam Newton.
Cam Newton is a big man with a big arm, who has yet to prove he can consistently and effectively read, and therefore pick apart, a defense.
While he took the league by storm last year in route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, he did so by chucking the ball deep against man coverage a lot.
The Falcons need to attack Newton just as they attack Peyton Manning, utilizing organized chaos and forcing Newton to be a passer rather than a thrower.
There’s little evidence to prove Newton can handle such unconventional pre—snap alignments, and even less proof that he can handle the resulting mania post—snap.
Newton’s first instinct is to find Steve Smith down the field, which plays right into this particular scheme. Much like Manning, Newton will more than likely be throwing instead to a Falcons’ defensive back he wasn’t expecting to be there.
Furthermore, even if the Panthers and Newton are well prepared for the Manning plan, and even if they effectively check down to underneath options, the scheme has still worked in keeping the ball in front of the defense, minimizing big plays, scoring threats, and gutting first down production.
Third: Improve offensive rushing production
The Falcons have become a passing team, that’s not arguable and that’s not bad.
However, the NFL still requires effectiveness in all aspects of scheme. One dimensional doesn’t lead to consistent greatness.
Moreover, Carolina is the 6th worst run defense in 2012.
Exploiting such weakness, will allow the Falcons to develop the ability to win in a different style this season.
The Falcons are going to need the run —game to win a game or two this season, maybe more. The best place to start that process is at home against a division opponent.