The Falcons’ defensive players will face a major task against the Carolina Panthers, trying to stop quarterback Cam Newton.
The Falcons (9-6) can clinch a playoff berth with a victory over Newton and the surging Panthers (11-4) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Panthers have clinched a playoff berth, but are playing for seeding.
The Falcons, the defending NFC champions, need to win or for Seattle to lose to get in. There’s also a scenario where if both teams tie, the Falcons would advance, too.
But, the Falcons know that if Newton is running free around their shiny new stadium, their season likely will end. The Seahawks are 7.5-point favorites to beat Arizona.
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Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows that the first priority against Carolina is stopping Newton.
“When you play a team that has some option to them, you better have your option rules right,” Quinn said. “That’s certainly something that defensively we began (Tuesday) and they are working through them again (Wednesday) in preparation for the game.”
The Falcons’ run defense has improved vastly since the showing against the Panthers. The Falcons are giving up 105.2 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL.
“You just have to be disciplined,” Jarrett said. “Guys have to do their jobs. A lot of teams that run the option they have different ways that they can get the ball to different people. That puts a lot of stress on everybody on the defense to be disciplined.”
The Falcons must prepare for Newton’s designed runs and for his scrambles out of the pocket. Rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley played 23 defensive snaps (35 percent) against the Panthers in November.
“As a defensive line, we have to make sure that we collapse the pocket,” McKinley said. “We have to make sure that we are discipline in our rush because once Cam sees there is a lane open or a gap open, he’s going to take it. As a (defensive) line, we have to be real smart when we are rushing him.”