CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five weeks remain in the regular season and it starts Sunday as the Carolina Panthers take on the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium.
It’s been three weeks since the Panthers were at Bank of America Stadium and a lot has changed in that time. With an offense that’s been nothing short of inconsistent all season, the Panthers decided to part ways with Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady.
Now, Jeff Nixon will be stepping in to call the plays. Nixon was Head Coach Matt Rhules’ play caller at Baylor University, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he gets the nod this week to run the offense.
>> For everything you need to know ahead of the Carolina Panthers game against the Atlanta Falcons, watch Panthers Gameday at 11a.m. on Channel 9.
Rhule said he stepped out of his comfort zone in hiring the hottest name in coaching at that time. Brady was the architect of the Joe Burrow-led LSU passing attack that just about set college football on fire in 2018. Nixon previously served as the Panthers’ running backs coach, and now the Panthers’ offense is in his hands.
Even without Christian McCaffrey, Rhule said earlier this season that he wanted to run the football more. That may have not been received by Brady but it will be by Nixon, looking out for a heavy mix of Ameer Abdullah and Chuba Hubbard carrying the rock.
The Panthers have only won two games since October, but in those games, they ran the football 37 and 47 times.
Of course, all this change only makes it more difficult for Cam Newton as he continues to settle into his role as the Panthers’ starting quarterback. The question remains -- how will be bounce back?
After Newton struggled against the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago, he has had two extra weeks to learn the playbook and how the offense operates ahead of the game against the Falcons.
ATLANTA (5-7) at CAROLINA (5-7)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, Fox
OPENING LINE: Panthers by 2 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Falcons 5-7; Panthers 5-7.
SERIES RECORD: Falcons lead 33-20
LAST MEETING: Panthers beat Falcons 19-13 on Oct. 31 at Atlanta.
LAST WEEK: Falcons lost to Buccaneers 30-17; Panthers had bye, lost to Dolphins 33-10 at Miami on Nov. 28.
FALCONS OFFENSE: OVERALL (24), RUSH (t-27), PASS (17), SCORING (27).
FALCONS DEFENSE: OVERALL (25), RUSH (22), PASS (18), SCORING (31).
PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (29), RUSH (16), PASS (29), SCORING (24).
PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (2), RUSH (17), PASS (2), SCORING (7).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Falcons minus-7; Panthers minus-6.
FALCONS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Russell Gage. Gage is coming off a big game last week against Tampa Bay with 11 catches for 130 yards. He’ll face a Carolina team that has been No. 1 in pass defense for most of the year but has struggled in recent weeks and will be without No. 1 cornerback Donte Jackson following a season-ending injury.
PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard. Hubbard is expected to start for Christian McCaffrey, who is out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury. Hubbard also started in the last meeting vs. Atlanta, rushing for 82 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown in the 19-13 win. Look for backup RB Ameer Abdullah to see plenty of work against Atlanta.
KEY MATCHUP: Panthers OC Jeff Nixon vs. Falcons’ defense: Nixon, the team’s senior offensive assistant/running backs coach, will take over play-calling duties this week after offensive coordinator Joe Brady was fired this past Sunday. Nixon worked with head coach Matt Rhule at the college level so he has a better understanding for what he wants than Brady did. The Panthers ran the ball 47 times for 203 yards against the Falcons in the last meeting and there’s little doubt Rhule wants the team’s focus on that this week.
KEY INJURIES: Falcons S Richie Grant (ankle), LB Adetokunbo Ogundeji (ankle) and CB Fabian Moreau (hamstring) were labeled by coach Arthur Smith as day to day. TE Hayden Hurst (ankle) returned to practice from short-term injured reserve. ... Carolina will also have to make adjustments up front with guards John Miller (ankle) and Michael Jordan (hamstring) expected to be out this week. However, starting LT Cam Erving (shoulder) is back following a stint on short-term injured reserve.
SERIES NOTES: The Panthers are 2-1 against the Falcons under Rhule, but Atlanta has won nine of the last 12 matchups overall. Matt Ryan has typically owned the Panthers, but the veteran quarterback struggled in the first meeting this season, limited to 146 yards passing while throwing two interceptions. The Panthers relied on four field goals to win the game.
STATS AND STUFF: The Falcons are 5-2 away from home including a win over the New York Jets in London; the Panthers are 2-4 at home. ... Ryan threw for 297 yards last week and needs 86 yards passing for his 12th straight 3,000-yard season. He also needs four TD passes for his 13th straight 20-touchdown season. ... RB Cordarrelle Patterson had 96 scrimmage yards from scrimmage last week. He already has career highs in yards receiving (518) and yards rushing (489) and touchdowns (9). ... Falcons RB Mike Davis had 1,015 scrimmage yards and eight TDs last season as a member of the Panthers. ... TE Kyle Pitts is third among rookies with 709 yards receiving. ... Falcons LB Foyesade Oluokun led the team with 15 tackles last week against Tampa Bay. He also had 16 tackles in the last meeting with Carolina. ... The Panthers have not won at home since beating the Saints 26-7 on Sept. 19. ... QB Cam Newton has lost his last 10 starts for the Panthers. His last win as Carolina’s starting QB came on Nov. 4, 2018. ... Newton did not play in the previous meeting with the Falcons, but QB Sam Darnold ran for 66 yards. ... Newton has 14 combined TDs in seven career home starts against Atlanta. ... WR D.J. Moore led the Panthers with 103 yards receiving in Week 12 against Miami, his 12th career game with 100-yard game. ... Panthers LB Haason Reddick has five games this season with at least 1 1/2 sacks. Reddick has 6 1/2 sacks and seven tackles for a loss in six home games. ... CB Stephon Gilmore had an interception in the last meeting. ... S Jeremy Chinn has at least 11 tackles in three straight games.
FANTASY TIP: Panthers PK Zane Gonzalez was 4 for 4 on field goal attempts in the last meeting with the Falcons. He has made 17 straight field goals and has not missed since Oct. 3.
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