1:00 PM ET, October 16, 2011
Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
The Atlanta Falcons can talk all they want about how positive they remain despite a disappointing start. What they need is to turn that alleged confidence into some victories.
Looking to bounce back from another disappointing defeat, the Falcons could face another stiff challenge Sunday when they host the improving Carolina Panthers in rookie quarterback Cam Newton's first professional game in his home state.
Saddled with lofty expectations, Atlanta (2-3) has already lost as many games this season as it did while going 13-3 in 2010. An inconsistent offense and an underachieving defense can summarize the Falcons' rough start, but that's not enough to set the reigning NFC South champs into panic mode.
Not even after they were outscored 19-0 in the second half of a 25-14 home loss to undefeated Green Bay in a playoff rematch last Sunday.
"Certainly you have expectations to go out and play well," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "We haven't done that. But it's a long year. We're at that point where we've done some things really well, but we've also done some things poorly. We've got to feed off those positive things."
Ryan's play has contributed to his team's early struggles. The fourth-year signal caller has a 79.9 passer rating and has thrown six interceptions -- three fewer than he threw all of last season, when he posted a career-high 91.0 rating.
"I need to play better," Ryan said. "All our guys need to play better. That's what we're trying to do."
Michael Turner has rushed for 360 yards but only 146 over the last three games.
An offensive line that could be without injured center Todd McClure (knee) for a fourth time this season has not only struggled in run blocking but also has yielded 14 sacks.
Top receiver Roddy White's 32 receptions are tied for second in the NFL, but he has just two touchdowns.
All of that has caused a team that ranked fifth with 25.9 points per game last year, to be currently ranked 21st at 20.8 per contest.
"We're just not clicking," White said. "We're not where we need to be right now. But it's only the sixth game of the season. We've got nothing to do but get better. I'm trying to look at the bright side."
Typically, facing Carolina (1-4) would provide a ray of hope. Atlanta won both 2010 meetings with the Panthers by scores of 31-10, and has taken three straight in the series at the Georgia Dome.
Turner has averaged 102.4 yards and rushed for nine TDs in his last five games versus Carolina. Ryan has thrown for 1,166 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions while the Falcons have won four of five overall from the Panthers.
However, things might not come so easily for the Falcons in 2011. Though the Panthers have just one victory, all five of their games have been decided by seven points or fewer.
Offensively, Atlanta will be without talented rookie receiver Julio Jones because of a hamstring injury. Defensively, a unit that ranks 24th with 26.0 points allowed per game must find a way to contain Newton.
The dynamic No. 1 overall draft pick, who grew up just south of Atlanta in College Park, Ga., leads all quarterbacks with five rushing touchdowns -- one shy of tying the Panthers single-season record. Add in his 13 passing scores, and he's had a hand in 12 of the team's 13 touchdowns.
Newton's abilities through the air or on the ground obviously pose a challenge for the Falcons.
"It creates a lot of issues because in your preparation for most teams, more often than not, you don't have to account for the quarterback (as a runner)," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "That really is the issue it creates for coordinators."
While Newton appears to be a budding superstar, the Panthers still must learn to win.
They held a late four-point lead against New Orleans last weekend but allowed the Saints to score with 50 seconds left and lost 30-27.
"We're real close, but close doesn't get you nowhere," Newton said. "And that's probably the most disheartening thing, knowing how close we are to getting that win and putting us back on the map."
Veteran wideout Steve Smith has been a favorite Newton with 609 receiving yards -- second in the NFL. Smith, who has already surpassed his yardage total (554) from 2010, has caught 16 balls for 299 yards in his last two games at the Georgia Dome.
More from ESPN.com
Thursday NFL preview: Fantasy football guidance for Thanksgiving
NFL Nation previews what to watch for around the league on Thursday, including how Lions QB Matthew Stafford and Panthers QB Cam Newton could fare in their Thanksgiving Day matchups.
Brady leads all players in Pro Bowl fan balloting
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's 342,471 votes lead all players in fan balloting for the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl.
Panthers-Falcons: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Panthers-Falcons matchup.
1. Bring some heat: Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows how to bring heat after spending the past few years in Philadelphia. With the way the Atlanta Falcons have struggled to protect quarterback Matt Ryan lately, we can expect to see a good variety of blitzes in this game. This team is not built to blitz a lot, but it needs to find a way to bring some heat.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||27.2||24.5|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CAR|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CAR|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Atlanta leads 15-7|
|Jan 2, 2011||CAR 10, @ATL 31|
|Dec 12, 2010||CAR 10, ATL 31|
|Nov 15, 2009||CAR 28, ATL 19|
|Sep 20, 2009||CAR 20, @ATL 28|
|Nov 23, 2008||CAR 28, @ATL 45|
|Sep 28, 2008||CAR 24, ATL 9|
|Nov 11, 2007||CAR 13, ATL 20|
|Sep 23, 2007||CAR 27, @ATL 20|
|Dec 24, 2006||CAR 10, @ATL 3|
|Sep 10, 2006||CAR 6, ATL 20|
|Jan 1, 2006||CAR 44, @ATL 11|
|Dec 4, 2005||CAR 24, ATL 6|
|Dec 18, 2004||CAR 31, @ATL 34|
|Oct 3, 2004||CAR 10, ATL 27|
|Dec 7, 2003||CAR 14, @ATL 20|
|Sep 28, 2003||CAR 23, ATL 3|
|Nov 24, 2002||CAR 0, ATL 41|
|Oct 20, 2002||CAR 0, @ATL 30|
|Nov 25, 2001||CAR 7, ATL 10|
|Sep 23, 2001||CAR 16, @ATL 24|