Even at this very early point in the 2018 season, there is a real cause for concern regarding the Atlanta Falcons.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday night, Matt Ryan passed for an inept 251 yards on 21 for 43 passing, with no touchdowns and an interception.

Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran for a combined 55 yards and one touchdown.

The offense managed only 12 points last Thursday night. In comparison, the Dirty Birds averaged almost double that total in 2017.

Even worse, the Falcons had five opportunities to score from inside the red zone to win Monday night’s game. Ryan threw incomplete passes on all five attempts.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian must find an answer for his team’s inefficiency if the Falcons plan on playing Super Bowl LIII in front of their home fans.

As with any good offensive unit, it starts with the front five. The offensive line has to buy Ryan time to deliver passes to an extremely talented receiving corps. Ryan was hit thirteen times, and was sacked four times. The O-line also has to open holes for Freeman and Coleman. They are Pro-Bowl quality backs, who should not be held to only 36 and 19 yards rushing, respectively.

Sarkisian’s offense targeted receiver Julio Jones 19 times; no other receiver was targeted more than six times. With a group of receivers that includes Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper and Calvin Ridley (who had no catches), the Falcons have the ability to attack opposing secondaries from many different angles. Ridley is special; the Falcons have got to do a better job of incorporating him into the passing attack.

Defensively, the Falcons were strong. The defense managed to drastically slow down an Eagles offense that racked up 41 points in Super Bowl LII. However, the Falcons lost two Pro Bowl defensive players in the loss. Linebacker Deion Jones is out for at least eight weeks with an injured foot; safety Keanu Neal is done for the season with an ACL injury.

The Carolina Panthers come to Atlanta Sunday, fresh off of an 16-8 win over the struggling Dallas Cowboys.

In order for the Falcons to be successful on Sunday, the O-line has to create time for Ryan in the pocket, and lanes for their running backs. Sarkisian has to intelligently use the other pieces of a skilled offensive unit. The Falcons receivers are entirely too talented for Ryan to target Jones twice as much as all other receivers combined. Even with a talent like Julio Jones, excessive attempts to get him the ball can result in the rest of the offense becoming stagnant.

Defensively, Damontae Kazee will be the key for a Falcons win. He’ll replace Neal at safety. Like Mario Stanfield from “The Wire” would say, that sounds like a good problem. Kazee is fast, intelligent and physical; the Falcons will need that sort of play in order to slow down Cam Newton and the Panthers.

The Panthers biggest weapon, of course, is the dual-threat Newton. His size and ability to run the ball make him dangerous, particularly on third down and in the red zone. His one touchdown last week came on a four-yard run against a very good defensive front seven. The Falcons will also have to key in on running back Christian McCaffrey. The second-year running back from Stanford attacks holes quickly, and has the speed to outrun most defensive backs if he makes it into the secondary.

The Panthers will be without tight end Greg Olsen, who refractured his right foot against the Cowboys. Pro-Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly was also injured in the Cowboys game, but the Panthers’ injury report says that he will play on Sunday.

Kickoff between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons is Sunday at 1:00 PM at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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