Fans settling in for the Atlanta-Carolina game Sunday might want to be situated by the time the Falcons get the ball for their first possession, particularly Falcons fans.
If recent history holds, it will be a case of an irresistible force meeting a movable object.
The division-leading Falcons are the only NFL team that has scored touchdowns on their opening drive in every game this season. Meanwhile, the Panthers are the only team to give up touchdowns on each of their three opponents opening series.
The Panthers (1-2) allowed Tampa Bay, New Orleans and the New York Giants to drive 80 yards and jump out to 7-0 leads. An Observer analysis using the coaches tape and broadcast replays on the NFL.coms Game Rewind feature revealed the opening drives were a microcosm of the performances of the Panthers defense and Falcons offense through three games.
The Panthers did not record a sack on any of their first defensive series, and had matchup problems trying to cover tight ends and running backs. The Falcons (3-0) showed off a good balance of run and pass, and benefited from a short field after the first of three first-quarter interceptions of Peyton Manning in a Monday night game in Week 2 at the Georgia Dome.
Carolina at Tampa Bay
Drive: 13 plays, 80 yards, 7:20.
Scoring play: On first-and-goal from the 6, Bucs QB Josh Freeman fakes a dive to Doug Martin. FS Haruki Nakamuras first move is forward. CB Chris Gamble is unable to get much of a press on WR Mike Williams, who gets a free inside release and catches the ball in the end zone with plenty of space between Nakamura and Gamble.
Key moment: On third-and-2 from the Panthers 24, Nakamura and OLB James Anderson blitz from the right side, leaving rookie CB Josh Norman 1-on-1 with WR Vincent Jackson. RB D.J. Ware picks up Nakamura and Anderson gets to Freeman a second late as he finds Jackson in front of Norman on a 17-yard out route.
Third-down conversions: 2-for-2.
Red zone plays: 1 rush, 1 pass.
Drive analysis: On their first offensive series under new coach Greg Schiano, the Bucs went down the field with a series of conservative play calls. Freeman took advantage of rookie LB Luke Kuechlys aggressiveness with three play-action passes, including an 11-yard wheel route to Martin that Kuechly had well defended. Martin had seven touches on the drive. On four of his five runs, he didnt get hit until he was at least 4 yards past the line of scrimmage.
New Orleans at Carolina
Drive: 11 plays, 80 yards, 5:21.
Scoring play: On third-and-goal from the 1, TE Jimmy Graham is flexed out right with QB Drew Brees in the shotgun. SS Charles Godfrey is playing about 7 yards off Graham, who runs 3 yards, turns around and catches Brees strike before Godfrey has a chance to make a play on it.
Key moment: With the Saints facing third-and-3 near midfield, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott calls for OLB Thomas Davis to blitz from the left side. Davis shows the blitz, and 6-foot-7, 320-pound right tackle Zach Strief pushes Davis past the pocket, allowing Brees to hit RB Darren Sproles, who beats LB Jon Beason on a wheel route for a 25-yard gain to the Panthers 23.
Third-down conversions: 3-for-3.
Red zone plays: 2 rush, 2 pass.
Drive analysis: Like Week 1 at Tampa Bay, the Panthers were burned when they failed to get to the quarterback on the blitz. The Saints used Sproles much like the Bucs used Doug Martin on the opening drive a week earlier, getting him involved with several touches early in the game. In a sign of what was to come in Week 3 against the Giants, poor tackling by DE Antwan Applewhite and Beason allowed RB Mark Ingram to gain an extra 10 yards, setting up a first-and-goal.
New York Giants at Carolina
Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards, 3:22.
Scoring play: Like the Saints in Week 2, the Giants flexed out a tight end to take advantage of a matchup against SS Charles Godfrey. On third-and-2 from the Carolina 14, TE Martellus Bennett came off the line clean, made an inside move to beat Godfrey and caught Eli Mannings pass before FS Haruki Nakamura could get there.
Key moment: On second-and-10 from the New York 47, the Giants called a simple off-tackle run for RB Andre Brown. MLB Jon Beason, playing with a shoulder injury, met Brown at the line of scrimmage. But Brown ran through Beasons arm-tackle attempt, and bounced outside and out-raced Godfrey down the sideline for a 31-yard gain to the Panthers 22.
Third-down conversions: 1-for-1.
Red zone plays: 1 rush, 2 pass.
Drive analysis: Manning threw from the pocket five times on the drive, and was pressured only once. DE Charles Johnson beat right tackle Sean Locklear with a speed rush and got to Manning, who threw the ball away to avoid the sack. Replays appeared to show Mannings knee hitting the ground before he released the ball. It was clear from the opening drive the Panthers defensive backs were playing too soft: Gamble gave up a pair of completions on the first two snaps of the game.
Atlanta vs. Kansas City
Drive: 12 plays, 80 yards, 6:09.
Scoring play: Out of shotgun on 3-and-2 from the Chiefs 8-yard line, Matt Ryan sees Julio Jones in man-to-man coverage to the far right. Ryan looks off the free safety to the left before turning his shoulders and hoisting a pass to the 6-3 Jones before the cornerback ever turned around.
Key moment: Ryan and Jones first connected two minutes into the game to get the Falcons into Chiefs territory. On 1-and-10 from the Falcons 31-yard line, Ryan found Jones wide open in the middle of the field for a 25-yard gain.
Third-down conversions: 3-for-3.
Red zone plays: 1 rush, 2 passes.
Drive analysis: The Falcons marched down the field by staying between the numbers. Not until the eighth play on the drive did Ryan test the sidelines by throwing a deep pass to Jones on first down. A healthy diet of Michael Turner on the ground and Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez in the air got the Falcons into the end zone. Also, Ryan had great protection on the drive. He was pressured once on a five-step drop in the red zone that resulted in a 6-yard completion.
Atlanta vs. Denver
Drive: 3 plays, 1 yard, 0:53.
Scoring play: Turner punched in the touchdown on a 1-yard leap into the end zone. RB Lousaka Polite crossed in front of Turner and picked up the safety coming from the left while the Falcons line got a big enough push to allow Turner to cross the plane on third down.
Key moment: Denver had the first possession but gave it away three plays in when Peyton Manning threw an interception that was returned to 33 yards to the 1-yard line. Atlanta rushed four on third down when Denver was on its own 12-yard line. Manning tried to look off safety Will Moore by faking left, but Moore wasnt fooled with only one receiver and two defenders on the left side of the field. He cut under receiver Jacob Tamme and picked off the first of what would be three Manning interceptions.
Third-down conversions: 1-for-1
Red zone plays: 3 rushes.
Drive analysis: The Falcons were never going away from the 5-10, 247-pound Turner. The Broncos goal-line defense was stout, denying a gain on first and second down before Turner barely snuck the ball across the line for the score.
Atlanta vs. San Diego
Drive: 10 plays, 80 yards, 5:17.
Scoring play: On 2nd-and-goal from the Chargers 8-yard line, Ryan faked the handoff to Jacquizz Rodgers and then passed it to the back just behind the line of scrimmage. Rodgers followed his blockers up the middle and into the end zone for the touchdown.
Key moment: Julio Jones absorbed a hard hit on the first play of the game but held on to make the 19-yard pass from Ryan. Jones hurt his hand on the play when free safety Eric Weddle delivered the blow across the middle. The catch set the tone for the Falcons drive as Jones popped back up after getting hit.
Third-down conversions: 0-for-0.
Red zone plays: 3 passes.
Drive analysis: Atlanta attacked the Chargers vertically on the first drive, rushing only twice in 10 plays. Ryan went 7-for-8 on the drive with his only incompletion a harmless pass out of the end zone when the Chargers finally broke through the Falcons front line. Five different Falcons receivers registered a catch on the drive, and there were four plays of 11 or more yards. Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 36-9 when scoring first.