Five Things To Watch: Panthers vs. Falcons

1. DEFENSIVE REBOUND? The Panthers, ranked third in the NFL in total defense, are looking to bounce back from a tough outing in New Orleans, where the unit surrendered 334 yards and a season-high 38 points in Carolina's comeback victory.

"A lot of self-imposed errors. It was a humbling experience," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We are not as perfect as the record may indicate. But we are humble enough to know that we have get better."

The next foe is the division rival Falcons, who are fifth in the NFL in total offense (386.7 yards per game).

Second-year running back Devonta Freeman leads the league with nine rushing touchdowns and is eighth in rushing yards with 811. The shifty tailback has also recorded 58 catches for 476 yards and two touchdowns.

"Freeman has done a great job this year. He's powerful and he's quick in short spaces," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and I think that's the thing that makes him most difficult. He runs good routes for a running back, and we need to do a good job of putting a hat on him."

Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan has been under scrutiny for some untimely mistakes this year, but Carolina knows what he's capable of, especially throwing to a weapon like Julio Jones – the NFL's leading receiver with 1,338 yards. Fortunately for the Panthers, they have a top-flight cover corner in Josh Norman ready to tangle with Jones.

"Maybe some stuff hasn't gone (Matt's) way, but he's a good player, and we have to prepare like he is going to be on his 'A' game," Kuechly said.

2. PANTHERS PASS RUSH: The best way to force Ryan into mistakes is by collapsing the pocket. Carolina ranks third in the NFL with 35 sacks, but defensive linemen have posted just two over the last two weeks. They'd like to see that number increase.

Defensive end Charles Johnson, still looking for his first sack since returning from short-term IR, is one to keep an eye on. The Georgia native loves playing the Falcons, and he's been productive against them, notching five sacks in the last four meetings.

Carolina also gets a boost from the return of defensive end Mario Addison, expected to play after missing last week's game with a shoulder injury.

3. NEW-LOOK ATLANTA DEFENSE: First-year Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is employing a defensive scheme similar to the one he ran as defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.

"You see a lot of similarities from a scheme standpoint," tight end Greg Olsen explained. "They are really trying to implement a lot of that eight-man spacing with the single high (safety). Eight guys in the box on first and second down and playing fast. You are not going to get a ton of different coverages, but the ones you do get are very sound. Definitely going to be a challenge."

Quinn's Seattle defenses always made things difficult for the Panthers offense, and he certainly hopes that carries over.

"I've got lots of respect for this team and this staff," Quinn said in a conference call. "As you know, some of the games from the years past with Seattle and with Carolina were just absolute battles."

4. CAM'S SURGE: Atlanta's 14th-ranked defense will have its hands full with quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday.

Newton has been red-hot of late. Last week at New Orleans, he tossed five touchdown passes for the second time in three games, vaulting him to the front of the MVP race.

Individual accolades aren't a motivation for Newton, but playing the Falcons? The Atlanta native admitted that matchup gets the juices flowing.

"I don't need anything to get me going outside of just the love for the game," said Newton before cracking a smile. "But I kind of get excited when I play Atlanta."

5. CAN COLEMAN KEEP STREAK ALIVE? Safety Kurt Coleman has recorded an interception in four consecutive games, increasing his team-leading total to six.

The last time a Panther had that many interceptions was back in 2005, when cornerback Chris Gamble recorded seven.

Matt Ryan, meanwhile, has thrown 13 interceptions, the second most in the NFL.


LAST TIME THEY PLAYED

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