FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons defense has struggled against Carolina’s zone read option offense this season.
The Panthers rushed for a season-high 199 yards against the Falcons on Sept. 30 and nearly duplicated the effort with 195 yards in their 30-20 upset victory on Sunday.
The Falcons could face zone read option quarterbacks in the playoffs if they play Washington or San Francisco. But defensive end John Abraham said the Falcons don’t have a problem with the attack that is popular in the college game.
Pro defenses are designed to stop drop-back quarterbacks and rarely account for a running quarterback. In their first meeting, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton rushed for 87 yards. On Sunday, he rushed for 116 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown run.
“I don’t think the read option really bothered us,” said Abraham on Monday. “Cam just ran a good play into a blitz and things happen. Sometimes you do good things and they show up. It was just a good play by him and good play-calling by them. I don’t think that the read option is a big deal for us.”
Newton also passed for 287 yards, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 250 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, a touchdown pass and a touchdown run in one game.
“Defensively, we didn’t do a whole lot of good things in the ballgame,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Probably the most significant thing that we did was we were 3-for-3 when they got the ball in the red zone. When they got the ball down in the red zone, we played some good red-zone defense.”
Smith was perturbed that all of the Panthers touchdowns came on explosive plays of 25, 72 and 53 yards.
Third down slump: The Falcons were 2-of-8 (25 percent) on third down conversions against the Panthers.
“We need better production on first and second down so that third down is manageable,” running back Michael Turner said. “So guys won’t have the ears pinned back, going after Matt (Ryan) and teeing off on him. We just have to get the ball rolling and keep it moving.”
The Falcons were 1-of-11 in the previous game against the Saints, making them 3-of-19 (15.7 percent) over the last two games.
“We’ve been pretty good all year, so we’re not going to panic over two games,” Turner said.
Injury report: Cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) was active, but did not play against the Panthers. Smith said he was available for an emergency situation. He will return to practice on Wednesday.
Safety William Moore (hamstring) could be cleared after running for the trainers.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (rib) was injured in the game, but returned to the action.
Long hangover: The Falcons are still searching for a reason for the poor start against the Panthers. They hadn’t played since a Thursday game on Nov. 29 against the Saints, making for a nine-day layoff.
“We were very flat when we came out, especially there in the first half,” Smith said. “We couldn’t convert our third downs, and we couldn’t get off the field defensively on third down. Through their first two drives, they had run 27 plays and we had only run five or six.”
The Panthers converted on 9-of-15 (60 percent) of their third downs.
“You kind of get behind the 8-ball when you can’t get off the field on third down,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be much better on both sides of the ball on third down.”
Etc.: The Falcons had won five straight over the Panthers … Wide receiver Roddy White’s 4-yard touchdown pass was the 50th of his career. … Ryan’s 342 passing yards marked the seventh time that he has thrown for more than 300 yards this season, breaking his own franchise record of six games set last year. … Julio Jones needs just three yards to post his first 1,000-yard season. Jones and White (1,140) would become the first Falcons teammates to post 1,000 yards receiving in the same season since 1998 when Tony Martin (1,181) and Terance Mathis (1,136) did it. … Defensive tackle Vance Walker recorded his third sack of the season. He’s tied for third on the team this season behind Abraham (10 sacks) and Babineaux (3 1/2).
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