News & Analysis

NFL Week 8 PFF ReFocused: Atlanta Falcons 25, Carolina Panthers 17

Oct 29, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) calls out an audible during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

On a night when the rain was coming down hard in Charlotte for most of the game, the Atlanta Falcons were able to even up their season series with the Carolina Panthers after losing the first contest 23-16 just three weeks ago.

That game in Week 5 brought the Panthers’ win streak to three, but now they’ve dropped three consecutive games and have a record that aligns more closely with the expectations for this team coming into the year.

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.

STORY OF THE GAME

The Falcons were able to move the ball for much of the night, with Matt Ryan hitting Julio Jones for chunk plays against the Panthers’ zone defense early. Jones made Donte Jackson look foolish on one out-breaking route, in particular. His ability to stop and make cuts on routes like that as a big receiver is one of the things that makes him such a threat every time he takes the field.

Field goals reigned early, however. Younghoe Koo converted three field goals of less than 40 yards compared to just one Matt Ryan touchdown run in the first half, and it looked like that inability to finish drives might come back to hurt Atlanta — perhaps setting the stage for another heartbreaking loss late. 

Luckily for the Falcons, Carolina also had trouble finishing drives. The Panthers failed to convert on two fourth-down conversions — both of which involved strong plays from Foyesade Oluokun at linebacker — and Atlanta was able to get to Teddy Bridgewater with their pass rush.

Oct 29, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) is tackled after the catch by Carolina Panthers free safety Tre Boston (33) during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers came into this game allowing pressure on just 23% of their snaps (fourth-lowest mark in the NFL). It’s safe to say that number was just a little bit higher this week, and the Falcons were able to get both Bridgewater and backup quarterback P.J. Walker off the field in key situations.

As is tradition with Atlanta, they had to make things interesting late. Koo missed an extra point that kept it a one-score game at eight points. The Falcons then proceeded to force the Panthers into a third-and-18 only to allow a conversion. But to the defense’s credit, it was able to make the final play (a game-clinching interception) on a rare impressive night for Atlanta on that side of the ball. The Falcons showed tonight that they are a more talented football team than their 1-6 record coming into the game. 

ROOKIE WATCH

Stepping in for the injured Juston Burris, Sam Franklin had himself a solid showing. He broke up a pass in the end zone toward the end of the first half and didn’t stand out for the wrong reason on many plays. The ability to avoid the negatives as a safety is one of the more underrated aspects of quality play at the position even though highlights are drawn to flash plays like pass breakups and interceptions. 

Franklin wasn’t the only rookie tasked with heavy contributions on the Panthers’ defense. Troy Pride Jr., Jeremy Chinn and Derrick Brown all played over 50 snaps. Chinn flashed his athleticism on a fake punt and found himself around the football on defense with several quarterback pressures and another strong performance in the tackling department.

It wasn’t the best of nights for Pride at cornerback, whose only targets in the game were either caught, off target or dropped. Brown, meanwhile, had his ups and downs in run defense. He struggled in that phase of the game in the first matchup against Atlanta but has flashed dominance against the run at times this season. 

On the Falcons' side of things, A.J. Terrell has played like Atlanta’s best cornerback this season, but this was not his best night. Terrell was beaten several times — none more notable than the reception he allowed to D.J. Moore late in the fourth quarter on third-and-long that kept hope alive for Carolina. 

ELITE subscribers can view player grades, advanced statistics, positional snap counts and more in Premium Stats 2.0.

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