|Falcons coach Mike Smith has to prepare his defense for Cam Newton, the first dual-threat quarterback the Falcons have faced this season. (AP Images)|
There’s a common thread among all three of the Atlanta Falcons ' victories this season. Yes, Matt Ryan has been superb and, yes, the defense has forced more turnovers than any other defense in the league, but there’s a similarity in the type of opponents the Falcons have dominated. All three teams -- Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers -- play traditional offenses with typical pocket-style quarterbacks. Sunday’s opponent, Carolina, has one of the most atypical quarterbacks in the league in Cam Newton.
Newton, in his second year out of Auburn, thrives outside the pocket and is more mobile than the majority of linebackers he’s matched against. This season hasn’t been as easy for Newton as it was for him in last year’s amazing rookie year. In three games, he’s thrown for two touchdowns and had five interceptions. He's also had just one effective running game (71 yards against New Orleans) but does have two rushing touchdowns.
“He’s not the guy that’s going to distribute the ball,” coach Mike Smith said. “He’s going to be a guy that you have to account for.”
Atlanta hasn’t faced any quarterback nearly as dynamic as Newton, but they have managed to confuse two of the top quarterbacks in the league in Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. The difference has been defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s presnap routine. The defense typically rushes four and then has seven defenders back in pass coverage, but none of them are set until the play begins because they’re busy swarming around, showing blitzes and disguising coverage.
The practice has forced a league-high seven interceptions. Carolina’s tied for 30th in the league in turnover differential (minus-6) in part due to Newton’s five interceptions. But although takeaways have been a huge factor to the Falcons' success, the priorities this week should be geared toward containing Newton instead of manufacturing turnovers. That responsibility falls on OLBs Sean Weatherspoon (22 tackles, one sack) and Stephen Nicholas (27 tackles, one interception), who’ve been integral to the team’s defensive proficiency.
Weatherspoon, who had 14 tackles and a sack last season against the Panthers, had a message for the mobile quarterback.
“Leave the cape at home Cam,” he told Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “The cape might slow him down a little bit.”
Abraham unavailable to media: Two days after being arrested for obstructing police officers and firefighters, DE John Abraham wasn’t available to reporters to address the incident.
“Abraham was not in the locker room when it was open to the media and was escorted off the practice field by two of the team’s public relations officials,” wrote Orlando Ledbetter of his noticeable absence.
Coach Mike Smith, similar to how he handled the recent DUI arrest of RB Michael Turner, said that all punishments would be kept internal and that he does expect Abraham to play Sunday vs. Carolina.
Coach Smith has said Palmer is out for Sunday’s game. Five others, most notably WR Julio Jones (hand laceration) and LBs Nicholas (thigh) and Mike Peterson (ribs) didn’t participate fully. Jones suffered the laceration in Sunday’s win over San Diego, but he returned to the field after suffering the injury.
For more Falcons coverage, follow Mike Singer @CBSFalcons.