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News » Can they stay alive?


Can they stay alive?


Can they stay alive?
Trailing Carolina by two games in the NFC South, the Falcons face an important divisional matchup Sunday. A loss would leave them three games behind Carolina with five to play. The Panthers (8-2) defeated the Falcons (6-4) 24-9 on Sept. 28 at Charlotte. Here are five questions the Falcons must answer to avenge their loss to the Panthers and remain firmly in the playoff race:


1. Has the secondary improved?

It appears so. In the first meeting, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and veteran wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (above) put on a passing clinic. Delhomme threw for 294 yards, and Muhammad caught eight passes for 147 yards. Steve Smith also broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown reception. Domonique Foxworth has replaced Brent Grimes at left cornerback, and the unit is playing much tougher.

2. Can they eliminate dropped passes?

In the previous meeting, the Falcons trailed 17-9 going into the fourth quarter but couldn't come up with the big play to flip the game. The Panthers took away the running game and forced quarterback Matt Ryan to throw 41 times. He was victimized by six drops.

3. Can Ryan find his accuracy?

Against Denver, Ryan threw one interception and another potential pick that was dropped. He also overthrew an open Brian Finneran in the end zone. All of that contributed to his 71.5 passer rating, his fourth-worst game of the season. He had lower ratings against Philadelphia (68.1), Carolina (60.8) and Tampa Bay (29.6). "I know that personally I had a couple of throws that I didn't put on the spot and didn't do as well as I would have liked," Ryan said. "If you put some throws on target in that type of situation, maybe we have a chance to win."

4. Is the Burner flaming out?

Running back Michael "The Burner" Turner has 227 carries for 971 yards this season. Before this year, Turner had 228 carries for 1,257 yards in four seasons with San Diego. Turner has carried at least 25 times in five of the past six games, but he's rushed for more than 100 yards in only one of the past five games. He wants to break the 1,000-yard mark but isn't overly worried with his numbers. "You can't really go off numbers alone," Turner said. "It's how effective we are on offense." Health-wise, Turner said he doesn't feel like he's wearing down. "I don't feel any different."

5. Where are the linebackers?

The linebacker unit figured to be the strength of the team. According to the official game book against Denver, four of the top five tacklers were defensive backs. Rookie Curtis Lofton led the linebacker unit with six tackles. Veterans Michael Boley (three) and Keith Brooking (two) were not in the top group. It might be time for special teams ace Stephen Nicholas to get more playing time.



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 18, 2008

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