FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the Falcons main offseason projects was to come up with a better defensive plan for the read-option.
The staff spent time with the college staffs at Clemson and Vanderbilt as part of that project.
One major problem, as they are about to face Carolina at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, is that of the key players they've used in the past to spy on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton are injured.
Defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (out for the season) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) will both miss this game.
Carolina is averaged 130 yards rushing per game, which is eighth in the league. They are tops in time of possession with 33:40 minutes per game.
Running back DeAngelo Williams is the Panthers leading rusher with 477 yards on 114 carries and one touchdown. Newton has 50 rushes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Mike Tolbert has 182 yards on 51 carries and three touchdowns.
"You have to be more disciplined against that style of offense than your typical running game, because everyone has a one-on-one (matchup)," Nolan said. "You're playing against 11. Usually when the quarterback hands the ball off, you've got 11 defensive guys playing 10." The Falcons thought they'd see some read option against Geno Smith and the New York Jets, but they didn't run it much.
In addition to seeing Carolina, the Falcons play Seattle next and will see San Francisco's pistol version later this season. Last season, the Falcons contained Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, but allowed the tight ends to roam free in the secondary.
"You have to be very discipline because if you have one guy running with the ball free, you can afford it," Nolan said. "That's really what you have to deal with, if you're going to play it five snaps or 35 snaps." Last season, Newton did some damage in both games rushing the ball.
"You have to be prepared because it only takes one to go to the house," Nolan said. "As we experienced last year, Cam in both games, had explosive runs, one for 70 something yards and a touchdown. The other one wasn't for a touchdown, but it was the second or third play of the game and he got a big gain." That was with Biermann and Weatherspoon. He'll have younger players trying to shadow and spy on Newton this time around.
"You must be disciplined," Nolan said. "We got pinned last time, last year. Both runs were similar to what the run was last week (Andre Ellington's 80-yard run). It was a similar thing, he went inside, everybody collapsed and he got outside. We can't allow that to happen." The Falcons can not afford to have missed tackles against Newton and the Panthers.
"Tackling will be a huge thing in the game," Nolan said. "Last year, we didn't (tackle well)."
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