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5 Things to Watch: Getting the offense in gear


CHARLOTTE — So much has changed for the Panthers since the last time they saw the Falcons.

From the offensive coordinator and the quarterback, to 60 percent of the offensive line, and perhaps the outlook for the rest of the season after losing three of the four games since then.

It's a lot to digest, but the Falcons are 5-7 and have issues of their own.

So here are five things to keep an eye on during Sunday's game:


The Panthers will be without running back Christian McCaffrey the rest of the season, but they were without him in Week 8 ad they put together a season-best rushing attack.

The Panthers ran 47 times for 203 yards that day, the kind of complementary offense (it wasn't flashy, but effective) they needed in a close game.

They relied on the committee of Chuba Hubbard and Ameer Abdullah, with some contributions from Sam Darnold and the since-departed Royce Freeman. Darnold's been replaced by Cam Newton (who, as you may have heard, is OK at running the ball).

Abdullah, the veteran of the group, insisted there was no change in their preparation this week (despite all the changes around him), and talked about the importance of eliminating penalties that have wiped some productive runs off the board. "That's where it starts, mentally not beating ourselves," he said.

He also said they didn't particularly realize the game had gotten that run-heavy until the fourth quarter.

"Nah, it's all about the flow of the game," he said. "As players, we do whatever's called. We don't have any expectations; when you do that, and you put all your eggs in one basket, you might not like the result if that doesn't work. So we just respond.

"Until we looked up, we didn't realize how well we had run the ball. But every week is a different week. This is a different Atlanta team, and we're respecting that."

Of course, the Falcons have had their own struggles of late on defense, allowing 25 or more points in four of their last five games.


Speaking of Newton, the old-new Panthers quarterback said this week this was a "must-win game, in more ways than one."

His theme for the week was about accountability, especially since the team parted ways with former offensive coordinator Joe Brady over the bye week.

"Do I think I had something to do with it?" Newton said Thursday. "The competitor in me, absolutely, yes. Because the truth of the matter is you don't lose your job because of success.

"Where I'm at now is doing what I can control to make sure that I have a job, too. Let's just be honest."

Newton's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

His first three weeks back with the Panthers were a mixed bag, from a storybook cameo appearance in Arizona, to a competent performance in a loss to Washington, to a disastrous day in Miami.

How he plays over the next five weeks will go a long way toward determining his own future, as well as the team's.

It doesn't help that Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has gotten the best of him recently, winning five of the last six meetings between the former league MVPs. Ryan has averaged 331.3 passing yards per game, with 12 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 114.8 passer rating in those games. The Panthers picked Ryan off twice in the first meeting this year though, with Stephon Gilmore sealing the game late.


Panthers wideout DJ Moore was nearly the only thing that worked offensively in Miami, finishing with 103 receiving yards (the rest of the team had 76 receiving yards).

It was the first time since Week 4 that Moore topped 75 yards in a game.

Moore's averaging 71.2 yards per game on the season, which puts him on pace for a career-high 1,210 yards this year.

That would be the most by any Panthers player since Steve Smith Sr. had 1,394 receiving yards in 2011.


As mentioned above, the Panthers will be without three starting offensive linemen from the first Falcons game (in which they allowed no sacks).

Center Matt Paradis is on injured reserve, and guards Michael Jordan and John Miller are out this week with injuries.

Pat Elflein has plugged in at center, and will be flanked by Dennis Daley and rookie Brady Christensen (making his first start at guard).

Veteran left tackle Cameron Erving is expected to be activated later today, but it will still be the ninth different combination of starting linemen in 13 games. That goes a long way toward describing the Panthers' issues on offense this season.


The Falcons lead the all-time series 33-20, though the usual result is a season split between the NFC South rivals (14 times in the first 26 years).

The Panthers have only swept the season series three times (1997, 2005, and 2013), giving them the chance to carve into the all-time deficit Sunday. The Falcons have won three straight in Charlotte, however, with the last Panthers home win coming in 2017.


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Carolina is 21-35 all-time against Atlanta dating all the way back to 1995.

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