Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm.


–RB Ito Smith will miss the final two games with a knee injury that requires surgery. Smith, the team’s second round pick, was injured last week against the Cardinals. Smith finished with 315 rushing yards.

–DB Terrell McClain missed last week’s game with a toe injury. He is doubtful for Sunday’s game vs. Carolina.

–RB Devonta Freeman will not return this season. There had been some hope that the former All-Pro would be able to play in the final two games. But a combination of his progress and the lack of urgency for his return leaves him on the sideline.

–TE Austin Hooper (knee) is unlikely to play this week. He did not play against Arizona.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DE Steven Means has become one of the late-season surprises on the team’s defense. He had a strong effort last week against Arizona and could get a more extensive tryout over the final two games. Means joined the Falcons in September. He was the fifth-round pick of the Bucs in 2013 and spent time with Baltimore, Houston and Philadelphia. He was waived by the Eagles on Sept. 1 and signed with the Falcons nine days later. “He’s been somebody that’s really jumped out to us from practice,” head coach Dan Quinn said.

In the last two games, Means has totaled six solo tackles and four assists. He has two tackles for loss and recorded his first sack of the season against the Cardinals. Means got his first real opportunity with the team when Derrick Shelby suffered what turned out to be a season-ending groin injury. “When Derrick got hurt, we knew we’d rely on him and he certainly answered the bell,” Quinn said. “I thought both in the run game and the pass game, Means was one of the guys that really stood out.”

GAME PLAN: The Atlanta offense will try to again establish the running game like it did last week against the Cardinals. The Falcons had success running against Carolina in the first meeting, going for 170 yards. That was the season high until they ran for 215 yards against Arizona. On defense the Falcons will need to keep running back Christian McCaffrey under control with Taylor Heinicke playing quarterback for the Panthers.

–Falcons CB Robert Alford vs. Panthers WR D.J. Moore. Alford is the corner who gets picked on the most. He was ineffective in the first meeting with one tackle and two passes defended. Moore is the team’s leading wide receiver with 49 catches.

–Falcons DT Grady Jarrett vs. Panthers OL. Jarrett is a handful for any veteran, but the Panthers have had trouble on the offensive line. The Falcons had eight sacks last week and Jarrett had seven tackles and two sacks. Atlanta had only one sack against the Panthers in their first meeting. Jarrett had five tackles and hit the quarterback three times.