And Jake Delhomme threw for 65, then 325, then 90 yards in three consecutive weeks. Has anyone else's season been as weird as his?
When I was writing that Week Two preview so long ago, I remarked on how out-of-balance Carolina seemed. Never would I have guessed they'd still be that volatile, or that Delhomme still wouldn't "have his head screwed on right."
But please, don't misunderstand; this isn't bashing. Roller coasters typically have "ups," too, which in the case of the Panthers are the third-ranked rush offense and sixth-ranked pass defense. Looks like DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, and Richard Marshall at least have things figured out.
Speaking of said figuring, I'm fairly confident my Falcons are back on track after their two-game dip. The third quarter of last week's matchup with Washington aside, we seem in control, but I'll switch over to football-speak to hopefully impart a little wisdom to our on-again, off-again D: Pay attention to your responsibilities, and do what you do.
In that abomination of a 15-minute period after the half, certain Falcons defenders seemed to be way too content with applying token pressure and hoping our lead held. I'd really rather not see that this coming Sunday in hostile confines against a powder keg of a team.
Carolina Run Offense v. Falcon Run Defense
Since his alien abduction and replacement by a drone that resulted in a lame 37-yard performance, DeAngelo Williams has had two (damn near three) 150-plus-yard rushing games. Now that's what I'm used to fearing.
The Panthers' line is undoubtedly one of the big reasons why Williams has been able to improve his production; they're improving with every game, even in terms of sacks allowed (more on that in the passing sections).
Of course, Jonathan Stewart is still a factor, though to this point he has just exactly half of Williams' yards, and he is certainly capable of more.
Of course, our key to stopping the run is the activity of linebackers Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson, who'll come up to the line or around to the side to meet anybody. They're not frequently dealing with linemen, nor do they care much who is running the ball; our strength is making open-field tackles after short gains.
We were pretty so-so stopping the ground attack of the 'Skins, despite them losing Clinton Portis in the first, but I'll mollify that a bit by noting that Ladell Betts picked up the majority of his 70 yards in that aberration of a third quarter.
Still, 70 is too much to give up to him. What will we do when faced with not one second-stringer and not one first-stringer, but two first-stringers?
Using our performance at home a month-and-a-half ago doesn't really do any good. Sure, we were pretty effective against the two-pronged attack, but they're at another level right now, whereas we've lost Peria Jerry and Brian Williams and allowed a bunch against the Saints.
At Bank of America Stadium, there will be potential for more than 144 yards rushing for Carolina. How much more is up to us (and because of spotty line stuffing, primarily the 'backers).
Atlanta Rush Offense v. Carolina Rush Defense
Thanks, Michael Turner, for getting a Eurhythmics song stuck in my head for the rest of the day. At least I'm connecting it with your yardage:
Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a tragedy ...
That'd be back-to-back games of 151 and 166 yards, against two pretty darn good defenses, too. I'm loving the thought that the modest production of the first six games has given way to a re-energized attack and full embrace of the old smash-mouth attack.
Here I'm going to let my unbridled enthusiasm truly out: If he did what he did to the Redskins' third-ranked run D, what will he do to the Panthers' 23rd-ranked unit? I see a red sun rising...
Then again, Jon Beason is a beast. The loss of Thomas Davis is bigger than anything he can do, though, so maybe I'll just toss some more praise on the Dirty Bird production: Turner clearly wants the end zone these days, as he seemingly willed his two breakout touchdown runs last week. Where is your Albert Haynesworth now?
No, but in all seriousness, the thing I've harped upon so many times when it comes to the ground game, getting blocking from everybody, remains of utmost importance. I can call Na'il Diggs "old" all I want, but we must account for not just Beason and Julius Peppers, but also safety Chris Harris, who has shown great ability up in the box.
Now, no one would say we're better without Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling (both still questionable as I'm writing) to help spell the Burner, but note that Michael's done his serious damage when he's not sharing carries.
Would love to have big Snell back for his lead blocking, though; pulls by Harvey Dahl and downfield knocks by Justin Peelle can only get us so far. Jerious' change-of-pace can wait until he's in the clear; get well, buddy!
Carolina Pass Offense v. Atlanta Pass Defense
Poor dude's head must be spinning.
Personally, I think for anyone to try to say, with any certainty, where the heck Delhomme is headed is foolish. He was a good quarterback in '04, good enough for several years in between, hit rock bottom with 11 interceptions in two games (ever heard that stat before? Geez, SportsCenter), and now is in some strange limbo of serviceable and certifiable.
Getting after him and maybe getting in his head just a little are crucial.
Hopefully we can shake him with an early sack, though he actually hasn't gone down that much (18 times) despite all the hate, and then remain active enough in the defensive backfield to break up deep balls and cross routes.
Our secondary has seen Chris Owens (unreliability) and Brian Williams (injury) leave the limelight, so I would suggest just sticking with Tye Hill opposite Chris Houston. If we're so sold on Brent Grimes, so be it, but giving Hill and Chevis Jackson multiple series in a row would do some good for everyone involved, if you ask me.
We simply slack off plays too often. Against Washington, it was on short-to-mid routes to big fellas, even though Chris Cooley was out. It cannot, I repeat, cannot be on deep balls come the topical game, and I think you know why.
Steve Smith hasn't been needed a whole lot, but he's always a massive threat. Sticking Houston on him man-to-man is obvious, but beyond that I think sometimes allowing Thomas DeCoud to roam might be smart.
As we saw against Chicago and N.O., Erik Coleman is simply too valuable in the box to place too far back, though.
Thankfully for us, No. 2 Muhsin Muhammad is playing more like a No. 3, and tight ends aren't a huge pass-catching concern here. More go Williams' and Stewart's ways, which is OK considering mighty-mite Grimes faces less of a size disadvantage against them should he need to grab 'em.
Besides that, Coleman has the speed to catch either should they get past Stephen Nicholas, who seems to have become our designated hang-back LB.
Atlanta Pass Offense v. Carolina Pass Defense
"Use it or lose it" doesn't apply to the air game. Or does it?
Nah. Our receivers are going to come back with just the same skills, plus maybe some incentive to make up for their lack of statistical production last week. I don't care if it's for selfish reasons, as long as Roddy White goes wild like he did versus San Fran (or at least Nawlins).
Tony Gonzalez has been called upon less since the first two games of the season, but he was way too effective in the first meeting between these two teams for Atlanta to not go to him two times or more per series. Brian Finneran being questionable only makes the need for a tall target more glaring.
Not that Matt Ryan doesn't know that.
Yes, he's been throwing more picks recently, but I'll readily explain those away: He's been rushed, he's been on the road a bit, and he's passed only in big risk, big reward situations because of how well the running game has been going.
After all, he practices with these guys every day. He knows that when the three (Tony, Roddy, and Michael Jenkins) are on the field together, one of them is open.
If Marty Booker and Eric Weems can offer something up as they have in the past, we can get back to what I wrote about shortly after coming home from Week Two at the Dome.
But then, I haven't even mentioned the sixth-ranked pass offense that we've got to deal with; a ratio of 10 TD to nine INT looks just fine to Carolina, I'm sure.
But check out what I picked up via NFL.com: Though this club is ranked ninth overall in opponents' overall yards per game, they're 22nd in opponents' points per game.
Looks like they're letting up plays when it counts, which is not something you want against an offense that still is among the best in red zone production, despite a lull in late October.
Good news for us is that really only Chris Gamble is all about the man-to-man; safety Chris Harris is much more about containment, which will be harder when facing Tony G, who none of these guys have the size necessary to put the brakes on.
Still, stats are stats, so I can't expect an explosion. I'll settle for well-timed planned detonations.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Panthers 21
Looking at simply the two teams' records going into this one would be a mistake, though I doubt anyone would contend that Carolina is the NFC South-winning team it was last year and so many predicted it would be again in '09.
This is a divisional rivalry (for what that's worth in the pros), and more notably, it's on the road.
I'm like thinking of this one like our trip to Candlestick, but it's not entirely equatable. For one, Frank Gore was hurt for our trip out west, and for another, Shaun Hill had a total meltdown.
It would require Delhomme playing like he did in Week One for us to drub the Panthers as hard as we did the Niners. I see us winning another close contest, though playing both sides of the ball will be critical.