The Falcons lead the series against the Panthers 30-18 in regular-season games

Cover 9@9: Hill, Stocker to step up for Freeman, Hooper

1. HILL, STOCKER ARE NEXT UP: While Falcons coach Dan Quinn apparently is waiting on one of those miracle football healings, running back Devonta Freeman (foot sprain) and tight end Austin Hooper (sprained MCL in his knee) appear set to miss some games.

Since they didn’t have season-ending injuries, Quinn said Monday he would update the injuries later in the week. That way, the Panthers will have to prepare for Hooper and Freeman (in his mind).   

Brian Hill will take over for Freeman and Luke Stocker and Jaeden Graham will be counted on to pick up Hooper’s snaps. 

“Brian Hill has earned everybody’s confidence in a way, it started in the preseason, the way he’s practice during the season,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “When he’s got his opportunities in the games, he’s made the most of them. I think he’s got everybody believing in him.”

>Koo named NFC special teams player of the week 

Hill rushed 20 times for 61 yards against the Saints last week. His only 100-yard rushing game came last season against the Panthers when he broke loose for 115 yards on eight carries in a 24-10 win Dec. 23

“We’ll see how it works out,” Koetter said. “We know now that we’ve lost Ito (Smith) for the season. Ito was a very consistent player. We’ll just see how it goes here the rest of the week.” 

Kenjon Barner and Qadree Ollison will back up Hill. 

“Kenjon is a talented player,” Koetter said. “We’d like to get him even more involved in the pass game. Free and Ito were catching so many balls. Kenjon is definitely a guy that we feel like can contribute. He just got more opportunities last week.”

Ollison was active for the first time last week against the Saints. He played six special-teams snaps at New Orleans. 

“If (Freeman) doesn’t make it this week, then Qadree will be asked to play a bigger role,” Koetter said. 

Hooper leads the Falcons with six touchdown receptions and will be sorely missed in the red zone. He has 56 catches for 608 yards. Stocker is mostly a blocking tight end with just 74 career receptions over 108 NFL games.  

“We brought Luke here because he’s played for coach (Mike) Mularkey and myself before,” Koetter said. “We know what he can do as a tight end, even as an H-back, fullback type blocker as needed.”

The Falcons are covered pretty good at running back if Freeman is out. Replacing Hooper will be more difficult.

2. WHAT’S AN MCL SPRAIN? Medial collateral ligament.

“The MCL is one of two collateral ligaments in the knee,” wrote Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, an orthopedic surgeon and co-chair of medical affairs at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, in a report on sports knee injuries.  “The acronym MCL stands for medial collateral ligament. It is a thick band of fibrous tissue that is located on the inside of the knee and connects the thighbone to the large bone in the lower leg. Its purpose is an important one: the MCL, along with the LCL controls the sideways motion of the knee and prevents it from bending inward.”

The degree of Hooper’s MCL sprain will determine how long he’s out, according to a grading system shared by Dr. Cindy Liang, a doctor of physical therapy at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, Calif.
Grading, she wrote, is determined in three levels:
“Grade I – mild severity, no joint laxity, minimal fibers torn; 1-4 mm medial gapping compared to opposite knee (1-2 weeks to heal)
“Grade II – moderate severity, partial tear of MCL, increased joint laxity; 5-9 mm medial gapping compared to opposite knee (3-4 weeks to heal)
“Grade III – severe, complete tear, gross laxity; 10 mm or greater medial gapping compared to opposite knee (5-6 weeks to heal).”

From the sound of things, Hooper likely has a Grade I and could miss just two games and be back in time for the Thanksgiving rematch with the Saints. 

Big Ben in London. (By D. Orlando Ledbetter/dledbetter@ajc.com)
Photo: D. Orlando Ledbetter/Atlanta Falcons blog: Atlanta football news

3. GOING AWAY: The Falcons are set to play in the NFL’s International Series next season.

The opponent, date and site of the game will be determined at a later date. 

The Falcons played the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26, 2014, in London’s Wembley Stadium. 

The game will count as a home game, and the Falcons will play a non-NFC South team.

The Falcons are slated to play teams from the NFC North and the AFC West in 2020. 

If the season ended today, the Falcons’ other two NFC opponents would be the Arizona Cardinals (NFC West) and the Washington Redskins (NFC East).

The Cheerleaders in London.
Photo: D. Orlando Ledbetter/Atlanta Falcons blog: Atlanta football news

4. FILM REVIEW OF THE SACK PATROL: Here’s a film review of the Falcons’ six sacks against the Saints:

• Sack 1: On third-and-goal from the 2-yard with 4:57 left in the first quarter, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, coming from the right end of the defense, beat a cut-block attempt Saints fullback Zach Line and leveled Drew Brees as he tried to slid up in the pocket.

• Sack 2. On third-and-4 from the Saints’ 42 with 3:41 left in the second quarter, Grady Jarrett and Adrian Clayborn worked a twist with Jarrett going outside and Clayborn coming around inside. He powered his way to Brees for the second sack. 

• Sack 3. On second-and-10 from the Falcons’ 10 with 7:14 left in the third quarter, Jarrett beat Saints guard Will Clapp. Jarrett and Vic Beasley broke free and hit Brees for a split sack. 

• Sack 4. On third-and-14 from the Saints’ 42 with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter, the Falcons sent just three with Jarrett in the middle. He worked his way free around to his left and got past guard Larry Warford for the sack.

• Sack 5. On first-and-10 from the Saints’ 26 with 6:56 in the fourth quarter, Jarrett beat Clapp, who was playing for Andrus Peat, for another sack.

• Sack 6. On fourth-and-5 from the Saints’ 21 with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter, Takk McKinley and Beasley work a stunt. McKinley powered up the field and Beasley came free and got the sack. He owes McKinley a beer for doing the heavy lifting on this play.

5. WHO’S KYLE ALLEN? The Falcons will get their first look at the Carolina Panthers without quarterback Cam Newton, who recently was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. 

Kyle Allen, who played at Texas A&M and Houston, has replaced Newton in the lineup and has posted a 5-2 record as a starter. The Falcons (2-7) are set to play the Panthers (5-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. 

“We’re going to go through some growing pains,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said to the Charlotte media Monday. “He’s going to give us everything that he can, which I most certainly do appreciate.”

After winning his first four starts, Allen, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018, has lost two of the past three, including a 24-16 loss to Green Bay in the snow at Lambeau Field on Sunday. 

“I thought he played well,” Rivera said. “At the end of the day, we were in position to win the game or at least tie the game. Again, I felt very good about what he did.”

Allen has completed 144 of 234 passes (61.5%) for 1,598 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions and has a passer rating of 87.2.

6. ALLEN’S WEAPONS: Allen has leaned heavily on running back Christian McCaffrey and second-year wide receiver D.J. Moore. 

McCaffrey is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing, as he has 989 yards on 185 carries and 11 rushing touchdowns. He’s also caught 48 passes for 396 yards and has three receiving touchdowns.

Moore has 54 catches for 684 yards and one touchdown. Moore has posted back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. He caught 9 of 11 targets for 120 yards against the Packers. He caught 7 of 10 targets for 101 yards in a 30-20 win over Tennessee on Nov. 3. 

Also, wide receiver Curtis Samuel is playing well. He has 34 catches for 442 yards and four touchdowns.

“Curtis is coming along in his role,” Rivera said. “I’m very excited about what we are getting from DJ. I just think he’s a young guy that’s blossomed.”

It’s been hard for teams to key on McCaffrey as Allen tries to utilize all of his weapons, including tight end Greg Olsen, who has 35 catches for 429 yards and two touchdowns. 

“They’ve really added speed, the way they’ve added Moore and Samuel to the receiving group,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “These guys can make a ton of plays. McCaffrey is picking up right where he left off in terms of the run game, the pass game.”

The Falcons lead the series against the Panthers 30-18 in regular-season games

7. PANTHERS LEAD LEAGUE IN SACKS: On defense, the Panthers lead the NFL in sacks with 36, but are giving up 136.7 yards rushing per game, which ranks 29th in the league. 

Defensive end Mario Addison leads the Panthers in sacks, with seven. There are seven other players with at least three sacks including former Falcons Bruce Irvin (3.5) and defensive tackle Dontario Poe (three).

8. SERIES HISTORY: The Falcons swept the Panthers last season, winning 31-24 in Atlanta on Sept. 9 and 24-10 in Charlotte on Dec. 23. The Falcons lead the series 30-18 in regular-season games.

9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s the depth chart of the Panthers’ game: 

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 83 Russell Gage, 13 Christian Blake 
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 73 Matt Gono 
LG 68 77 James Carpenter,  64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 71 Wes Schweitzer 
RG 68 Jamon Brown 
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo 
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham 
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub 
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 23 Brian Hill, 38 Kenjon Barner, 32 Qadree Ollison

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DE 98 Takkarist McKinley, 99 Adrian Clayborn 
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford 
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat 
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky 
DE 44 Vic Beasley, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 54 Foyesade Oluokun 
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 Jermaine Grace, CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 27 Damontae Kazee, 20 Kendall Sheffield
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller, S 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman 
SS 36 Kemal Ishmael, 35 Jamal Carter 

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen 
LS 47 Josh Harris H 9 Ryan Allen 
KOR 38 Kenjon Barner 
PR Kenjon Barner

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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