WEEK 11 PREVIEW: Panthers have been unable to solve Matt Ryan

WEEK 11 PREVIEW: Panthers have been unable to solve Matt Ryan

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Ryan is coming to town, which tends to mean trouble for the Carolina Panthers.

The Falcons quarterback has dominated the rival Panthers of late, going 6-1 in his past seven starts while averaging 318 yards passing with 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.

Ryan is 14-8 against Carolina.

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So, while much of the attention this week has been on Carolina’s porous run defense - they’ve allowed opponents to run for a combined 516 yards and 10 touchdowns in the past three games - defensive coordinator Eric Washington knows the Panthers can’t forget about old No. 2 and his favorite target Julio Jones.

“We know what he’s capable of and they have explosive talent at the wide receiver position,” Washington said of Ryan. “So we need to make sure we do a good job of getting him in third down situations they don’t want to be in. And we have to be really efficient with our pass rush. The ball tends to come out fast on third-and-medium.”

That won’t be easy.

Carolina’s top cornerback James Bradberry is coming back from a groin injury this week, but the team’s second- and third-best cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Ross Cockrell missed the first two days of practice this week with injuries and may not play. That means the Panthers (5-4) could have to lean on young players such as Javien Elliott, Cole Luke and Corn Elder, who was re-signed earlier this week because of injury concerns.

The Falcons (2-7) may not be contending for a playoff spot, but showed last Sunday they still have plenty of life - and firepower - by throttling the Saints 26-9

NEW LOOK AT RUNNING BACK

If Devonta Freeman is held out with a sprained foot, as expected, the Falcons will have a new look at running back. The position was considered to be the team's deepest spot before Ito Smith was placed on injured reserve last week following a concussion and a neck injury.

Brian Hill played well behind Freeman last week and is expected to start. Former Panthers backup Kenjon Barner would be the top backup and Qadree Ollison, who was active for the first time against the Saints, could play a bigger role. Notably, Barner was used in the wildcat formation, filling the role formerly held by Mohamed Sanu before the receiver was traded to New England. There could be more direct snaps for Barner against the Panthers.

NEW KICKER IS A KEEPER

The Falcons may have found their kicker, at least for the remainder of the season, in Younghoe Koo. Koo made four field goals, including a career-long 48-yarder, in last week's win at New Orleans in his Falcons debut. Koo was signed after veteran Matt Bryant's second stint with the team didn't go well and Giorgio Tavecchio couldn’t hold the job.

Koo was the NFC special teams player of the week following his successful debut. He made three of six field-goal attempts with the Chargers in 2017 and kicked for the Atlanta Legends of the short-lived Alliance of American Football earlier this year. Koo, from South Korea, played for Georgia Southern.

TACKLE CHANGE

The Panthers drafted Greg Little in the second round earlier this year to be their left tackle, but two concussions have limited him to two games and one start this season.

However, Little has now been cleared from the concussion protocol and is expected to start Sunday at left tackle with Dennis Daley sitting bothered by a groin injury. The Panthers have won both games that Little has played this season.

SACKS SURPRISE

Before last week's game, Atlanta ranked last in the league with only seven sacks. Suddenly the Falcons rediscovered their pass rush with six sacks against the Saints, including 2½ by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Vic Beasley Jr., who has been unable to duplicate his 2016 production, when he led the NFL with 15½ sacks, added 1½ sacks.

“To me, it was just a good example to show what we're capable of,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “If we apply those things time after time, those are the results that we hope to get.”

MORE OF MOORE

The Panthers are getting more production of late out of second-year wide receiver D.J. Moore, who is coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games for the first time in his career. Moore had seven catches for 101 yards against the Titans two weeks ago and followed that up with a nine-catch, 120-yard performance last week against the Packers. Moore is leading the Panthers in receptions (54) and yards receiving (684). The next goal for him is getting into the end zone - he only has one TD catch.

ATLANTA (2-7) at CAROLINA (5-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

OPENING LINE - Panthers by 7.

RECORD VS. SPREAD - Falcons 3-6; Panthers 5-4

SERIES RECORD - Falcons lead 30-18

LAST MEETING - Falcons beat Panthers 24-10 on Dec. 23, 2018

LAST WEEK - Falcons beat Saints 26-9; Panthers lost to Packers 24-16

AP PRO32 RANKING - Falcons No. 27, Panthers No. 15

FALCONS OFFENSE - OVERALL (10), RUSH (29), PASS (2).

FALCONS DEFENSE - OVERALL (23), RUSH (20), PASS (25).

PANTHERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (21), RUSH (7), PASS (20).

PANTHERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (20), RUSH (29), PASS (11).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES:

  • Falcons will be without RB Devonta Freeman and TE Austin Hooper because of injuries.
  • Falcons are minus-12 in turnover margin.
  • QB Matt Ryan needs 254 yards passing to pass Warren Moon for 10th place in NFL history.
  • RB Brian Hill had 71 yards from scrimmage last week after replacing Freeman.
  • WR Julio Jones' 96 yards receiving per game highest in NFL history.
  • WR Calvin Ridley has TD catch in past two games vs. Carolina.
  • DT Grady Jarrett had 2½ sacks last week vs. Saints.
  • K Younghoe Koo made four field goals, including career-long 48-yarder in Falcons debut last week.
  • Panthers QB Kyle Allen 6-2 as NFL starter.
  • Allen has five TD passes and no interceptions in two starts vs. NFC South.
  • RB Christian McCaffrey has TD rushing in seven straight games. McCaffrey has at least 12 catches and 75 yards receiving in past two games vs. Falcons.
  • WR D.J. Moore coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games for first time in career.
  • WR Curtis Samuel has four TDs in past four games.
  • Panthers have NFL-high 36 sacks, seven from DE Mario Addison.
  • First of seven straight 1 p.m. ET games for Panthers, which coach Ron Rivera likes.
  • Fantasy tip: Falcons QB Matt Ryan has averaged 318.1 yards passing in past seven games vs. Carolina with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions.