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Week 2 Game Recap: Carolina Panthers 24, Atlanta Falcons 31


What you need to know

Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton, despite yet another reshuffling of his offensive line, managed the pocket admirably and continued to fire strikes as the Panthers played from behind for the majority of this contest. Pressure got home on occasion, but Newton remained poised and spread the ball around, especially to Christian McCaffrey, who was consistently open on check downs. The diminutive back showed his toughness throughout, fighting through tackles and acting as a sure pair of hands. One player who could have used such sure hands is C.J. Anderson, who came in for spot duty but committed a crucial error, allowing a ball to bounce off his hands and get intercepted. The receiving corps, sans Greg Olsen, did an excellent job working to get open for their quarterback. Trust continues to build between Newton and Jarius Wright, who hooked up for a touchdown, while Devin Funchess found success in the short to intermediate range. Rookie D.J. Moore made his first splash play, catching a pass on a deep in route before turning up the field, making a couple of tacklers miss in the process, and dancing over the line for a 51-yard score. The offensive line held up reasonably well in pass protection, something for the Panthers to build on. Run defense has to be a concern, but this could lead to similar game scripts in the future, with the offense having to come from behind.

Atlanta Falcons

Ito Smith earned enough playing time in this contest and produced that he could be counted on to be the Falcons’ change of pace as long as Devonta Freeman remains hurt. His big-play ability to cut back and make multiple defenders miss makes him a big-play threat with enough volume to be a weekly factor. Tevin Coleman earned multiple chunk plays as a runner throughout this game thanks to his cutback ability and Atlanta’s strong work up front and at the second level and backside of the Panthers defense. Austin Hooper earned mismatches against linebackers and edge defenders in this game for productive plays, including a touchdown. And Atlanta found ways to drag Calvin Ridley under Hooper on rub routes so he could catch the ball with open field ahead for big gains.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 32 - 45 - 335 - 3 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 5 - 42 - 0
Despite the box score totals indicating a near-perfect game from Cam Newton, there were many flaws in his performance. He had two turnover-worthy throws as the Panthers clawed back from a deficit, one of which hit Desmond Trufant in the hands, the other a pass simply thrown up for grabs to Torrey Smith that fortunately didn't bounce right for Atlanta. The situation was far from ideal for Newton, who for the second time in two weeks had a reshuffled offensive line protecting him. Newton's accuracy was scattershot in the early exchanges, as he missed Smith high and Jarius Wright low, setting the tone for the day. Newton took a shot to his head as he slid on one scramble but returned to the game none the worse for wear. The hit seemed to inspire the offense, and Newton responded with his first touchdown pass, a dart to Wright in the middle of the end zone. The receiver helped out his quarterback on the play, settling down in a void in the zone. Newton held on the ball too long at times and lacked basic pocket awareness as he tried to lock in on deeper plays. For the most part, therefore, he adjusted his radar and targeted Christian McCaffrey underneath, who consistently beat defenders for chunks of yardage. Before long, those chunks added up and Newton threw his second touchdown pass to Smith, who ran a beautiful skinny post route. The throw was pinpoint and the timing was perfect. Newton was forced to shoulder the offense in the final minutes, capping the game with a pass to D.J. Moore on a deep dig that the rookie took for a 51-yard score. However, a crippling interception prior to that play dug a deeper hole for the Panthers, as a simple check down to C.J. Anderson came off his hands, flew into the air and landed in the paws of an Atlanta player.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 63 offensive snaps, Rush: 8 - 37 - 0, Rec: 14 - 102 - 0 (15 targets)
The Panthers passing attack against the Falcons basically ran through Christian McCaffrey, with the second-year back dominating the backfield touches. The former Stanford back looked hungry to make an impact and ran well between the tackles on the rare occasions he had to do so. However, much as the Panthers wanted to run the ball to protect their offensive line, the game began to get away from them. Enter McCaffrey, who was Cam Newton's outlet on nearly every dropback, it seemed. McCaffrey added value to every touch, consistently scooting past a chasing defender or juking a despairing tackle attempt. McCaffrey got the call in the red zone on an inside handoff at one point but was quickly met in the hole by a swarming defense. He continued to bite off small chunks of yardage as the Panthers played in comeback mode for most of the game, but wasn't quite able to break a big one at any point.

RB C.J. Anderson, 8 offensive snaps, Rush: 3 - 31 - 0 (2 targets)
C.J. Anderson was almost a non-factor in this contest, with an unfavourable game script putting his style of play on ice. The Panthers started off the game with Anderson as the lone back and Christian McCaffrey flanked out wide, handing it to the former Bronco for a nice 23-yard scamper behind a pulling guard. After that point, however, Anderson was left to feed off scraps as McCaffrey continued to boss the backfield touches. Late in the game, Anderson came in to spell McCaffrey and committed a crucial error, a pass caroming off his hands on a simple check down and landing in the hands of a grateful Atlanta defender.

WR Devin Funchess, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 7 - 77 - 0 (9 targets)
Devin Funchess continued to make the plays expected of him as he transitions to the de facto number one receiver in this developing passing attack. Funchess bailed out his quarterback on an early third down, staying alive over the middle as Cam Newton scrambled right ń and threw back left to the big receiver. Funchess was mainly limited to short receptions as the Falcons mixed their coverages well and forced Newton to take quick-hitting underneath throws. Funchess was peppered with targets; however, none could be considered high-impact.

WR Jarius Wright, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 62 - 1 (7 targets)
Jarius Wright proved his worth to the new Norv Turner-coordinated offense with a solid performance against Atlanta. Wright excelled on underneath patterns, getting out of his breaks quickly versus man coverage and showing veteran nous to find the soft spots in zones. His first target was a low ball from Cam Newton, which he couldn't quite get under to haul in, but he would follow that up in style. With the offense set up yards away from the Atlanta goal line, Wright ran an inside-breaking route and smartly sat down his route just past the whitewash, giving Newton an easy pitch and catch for the touchdown. Wright performed some acrobatics later as he reeled in two awkwardly thrown Newton passes, finding plenty of room to work with as the Falcons defense became more conservative, backing off in the secondary.

WR Torrey Smith, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 33 - 1 (7 targets)
After hardly making an impression in his debut last week, Torrey Smith at least made a dent as the Panthers played mostly from behind. Smith's speed at the intermediate and deep levels of the field is still evident; his first target over the middle would have been an excellent start had Cam Newton not thrown it a few inches too high. Smith was targeted subsequently on a pair of passes: a deep ball which was expertly broken up at the catch point, and a pass over the middle that drew a pass interference penalty. Smith cashed in at last with a touchdown catch when the Panthers returned to the red zone, running a skinny post pattern and attacking a Newton bullet pass as he fell to the artificial turf.

WR D.J. Moore, 17 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 7 - 0, Rec: 1 - 51 - 1 (2 targets)
One play summed up the day of Panthers first round pick D.J. Moore, and it may be a sign of bigger things to come. After seeing little action early in the game apart from as a punt returner and on an end around that he successfully crafted into a six-yard gain. Moore struck like a dagger to the heart of the Falcons defense. Just when it appeared the game was in hand, Cam Newton fired a dart to Moore on an intermediate dig pattern. Moore, spotting a gap through the middle, showed good strength to initially shrug off a tackler and then turned on the lightning-fast speed to the endzone. The play lasted just a handful of seconds, but it injected life into the offense. Moore would get one more opportunity to make a splash play. With only five seconds remaining and one more shot for Newton to throw it into the end zone, it was Moore who got the target. Two Falcons defenders closed in on him at the last second, however, and he was unable to make the grab.

TE Ian Thomas, 64 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 10 - 0 (3 targets)
With Greg Olsen out of the line-up for the medium-term, it fell on the young shoulders of Ian Thomas to take up the mantle at tight end. In fact, it proved to be more of a tight end by committee, as both he and Chris Manhertz contributed. Thomas was mostly asked to block, as the Panthers made every effort to keep Cam Newton clean, fully aware of the weakness of their offensive line. Thomas made a couple of incursions into the passing game, catching a short pass on a shallow cross on 3rd-and-long that had no chance. He could have caught a touchdown after running a beautiful seam pattern in the red zone, but the pinpoint Newton pass caromed off his shoulder pads. Thomas, to his credit, came back a couple of plays later and converted a key third down to keep that same drive alive.


Atlanta Falcons

QB Matt Ryan, 62 offensive snaps, Pass: 23 - 28 - 272 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 4 - 18 - 2
The Falcons quarterback threw a lot of outs early in the game and ran twice for positive yards. He ignored a wide open Calvin Ridley on a crossing route on one of those runs. He overshot Julio Jones by 10 yards on a third and long during the second drive, forcing a punt. Carolina, especially Luke Kuechly seemed in-tune with the Atlanta offensive tendencies in the first half and forced a lot of short plays. However a pass interference foul against Atlanta and the ground game set up Atlanta’s first touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley on a short slant. After throwing a sail route to Jones early in the third quarter with a lot of air under it, Ryan got hit and the ball sailed on an intended post route to Jones and Carolina intercepted the early third-quarter pass. Ryan put Atlanta up by 14 with a dive into three defenders on a red zone play and keeping his feet to spin for the score.

RB Tevin Coleman, 41 offensive snaps, Rush: 16 - 107 - 0, Rec: 4 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
Carolina stuffed Coleman twice on outside zone runs during the first drive but he broke free on a well-blocked toss play on third and 1, running through a Luke Kuechly grab for a first down across midfield for over 20 yards. Coleman earned 36 yards off right tackle with a great move in the crease. Coleman earned 19 yards up the middle with a nice cutback in the late third quarter. Atlanta earned a lot of good second-level and backside blocks to open Coleman to the second and third level of the defense.

RB Ito Smith, 18 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 46 - 0, Rec: 1 - 8 - 0 (1 targets)
The rookie replaced Coleman after Coleman earned a strong gain on a toss play during the first Falcons drive and took the same play call as Coleman up the right side for a first down but Smith committed a facemask on the tackling defender who also horse-collared Smith. Offsetting penalties nullified the play and he only gained two yards on the following play. Smith earned a first down in the middle of the second quarter on a run to left end and showcased an effective stiff arm. He earned another four up right guard to get Atlanta inside the 10 yard-line. Smith made multiple defender smiss with a cutback up the middle and earned a first down in the third quarter. Smith fumbled a red zone carry in the fourth quarter while up by seven Atlatna recovered.

WR Calvin Ridley, 35 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 4 - 64 - 1 (5 targets)
He earned his first catch of the season on a short out route as an outside receiver during the first drive. Ridley forced a defensive pass interference penalty from a stacked set with Austin Hooper but it shouldn’t have bene called; Ridley fell and there was nothing but incidental contact. Ridley scored on an easy on-on-one singled up against a defender with outside shade for a slant. Ridley earned a strong game during the final two minutes working with Austin Hooper on a rub route and gained another 17 after the catch. Atlanta found Ridley on another route dragging under Hooper and gained another 15 yards after the catch. Ridley dropped an in-cut of a pivot route trying to run after the catch in the third quarter.

WR Julio Jones, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 64 - 0 (9 targets)
Featured in the slot as the inside trips receiver, he earned a strong mismatch on the first third down of the game for his first catch. After catching an out at the top of the second drive, he dropped an out delivered over his inside shoulder against James Bradberry.

WR Mohamed Sanu, 48 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - -4 - 0, Rec: 2 - 19 - 0 (2 targets)
Atlanta tried to earn a first down on a third and one read-option play with Sanu at quarterback but Luke Kuechly read the play, penetrated into the backfield, and tackled Sanu for a loss, resulting in a 43-yard Matt Bryant field goal. He earned his first catch in the fourth quarter on a drag route off play action for a first down on a smart third-down play.

WR Marvin Hall, 9 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 30 - 0 (1 targets)
Hall worked the slot and got wide open against a busted zone on a sail route, earning 30 yards to reach the red zone late in the half.

TE Austin Hooper, 53 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 59 - 1 (5 targets)
He juggled his first target on a play-action shallow route for seven yards, setting up a third and one. He caught a bullet on a shallow route at the first down marker late in the half to get Atlanta inside Carolina territory. Hooper followed up with an out against single coverage for a touchdown. Hooper also made a fantastic block on an edge defender to begin the third quarter to clear a pocket for a Ryan-to-Jones pitch and catch but then missed the same block when forced to run the play again on a deep post and the edge defender was savvy to adjust. Hooper worked wide open in the fourth quarter corner route and got Atlanta deep into Carolina territory in the mid-fourth quarter.