The word “momentum” has been thrown around for the Atlanta Falcons heading into their Week 8 clash with the Carolina Panthers—and for good reason.
Atlanta has reeled off back-to-back wins following their 1-3 start to the year. In Week 7, the Falcons had to claw their way to a pivotal road win over the Miami Dolphins, especially as they allowed four touchdown drives to the Tua Tagovailoa-led offense. But in the end, Atlanta prevailed as quarterback Matt Ryan notched the 40th game-winning drive of his career during the late stages of the contest.
Now, Atlanta turns to its second NFC South matchup of the season, as it will take on the Panthers on Sunday. Atlanta meets a reeling Carolina team that has lost four straight games and has seen quarterback Sam Darnold go from being one of the top contenders to post a breakout season to being benched against the New York Giants last week.
With much optimism surrounding the Falcons, look for the team to achieve each of these four feats in the contest.
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4. Matt Ryan once again finds success in 12 personnel
When the Falcons named now-former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as their new head coach in the offseason, there was much anticipation into how he would revamp the team's offensive system.
Through six games this season, one can already see notable changes made by Smith on the offensive end.
For one, 12 personnel, which is a grouping that consists of 1 running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers, has been one of Smith's go-to formations this season. The Falcons have run 12 personnel on 35 percent of their plays, which ranks at second only behind the Dolphins (51 percent).
This is far from a surprise, especially as Smith opted to go with 12 personnel on 35 percent of plays during his final year as Titans offensive coordinator last season, which topped out at first in all the NFL.
Ryan has found potent success with this personnel grouping, particularly with his tight ends. When Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst are both on the field, he has been able to go to either in critical passing downs. The former has proven to be key in opening up the field thanks to his 15.2 receiving yards per reception average in the season, which leads the team.
It could be a long day for Jermaine Carter Jr. and the rest of Carolina's linebacker unit in Week 8.
3. Falcons pick up crucial third down stops that decide the game
One notable issue that has marred the Falcons' ongoing campaign has been their vast struggles in picking up vital third down stops. Last week, the Falcons allowed seven third down conversions to the Dolphins, which Miami went on to extend drives and further exhaust Atlanta's front seven.
Overall, Atlanta has allowed a 47.8 percent third down conversion percentage this season, which ranks 28th in the league.
The Falcons are on par to have a golden opportunity to bounce back in this area of play as they will take on a Panthers offense that currently ranks at 28th in third down conversion percentage with a 31.6 percent mark.
It will be up to key talents such as rising star and versatile cornerback A.J. Terrell to help in clinching pivotal third down stops against the Panthers in Week 8.
2. Falcons finally have a breakout game in the sacks department
The Falcons have been one team that has had quite a difficult time in getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Atlanta currently ranks at 30th in the NFL in total sacks with a mere 10. The likes of Dante Fowler and Grady Jarrett have had their fair share of struggles in creating havoc in the backfield over the course of games this year.
Fortunately for the Falcons, they will meet a Panthers team facing struggles of its own in protecting quarterback Sam Darnold. The fourth-year passer has been sacked 21 times, which is tied with three other quarterbacks for second-most on the season.
Center Matt Paradis and offensive tackle Taylor Moton remain as the only Panthers offensive linemen who have played in all 492 of the team's snaps on offense, as injuries and inconsistencies continue to mar the unit over the opening half of their campaign.
Something must give in this matchup, and the Falcons' front seven unit surely must take full advantage of this opportunity to post a standout day in getting to Darnold.
1. Atlanta moves a game over .500 for the first time since 2017
The last time that the Atlanta Falcons had a winning record at any point during a regular season came in Week 17 of the 2017 campaign. The Falcons finished the campaign with a 10-6 record, which clinched them a spot in the playoffs as a wild-card team.
Since then, the Falcons have squandered a multitude of pivotal opportunities to boast a winning record. The Falcons had one golden chance to kick off the ongoing campaign on a winning note with a possible win in their Week 1 opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but they instead put out for one lowly performance at home.
With the Falcons now at 3-3, they will have an opportunity to move over the .500 mark with a win against the Panthers—and they should do just that. As mentioned, look for Ryan to orchestrate key plays under 12 personnel and for the team's front seven unit to win the line of scrimmage battle against Carolina's offensive line.
A possible win in this divisional matchup could be a season-changing one for Atlanta.