Falcons won’t ignore Panthers’ passing attack

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has simplified their playoff scenario: Win, and they’re in.

“We’ve earned this opportunity to control our own destiny,” Quinn said Wednesday. “All that we would like to accomplish is out there for us and it’s not a good feeling when you have to rely on someone else for those things, but when you can control what you can, that’s a good feeling.”

In their path: the 11-4 Carolina Panthers and their passing attack lead by quarterback Cam Newton, at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons can still reach the playoffs with a loss and a Arizona victory over heavily favored Seattle, or if the Falcons and Seahawks each tie. But Quinn doesn’t want to rely on the Cardinals.

The Falcons know that while Carolina is a run-heavy team, they’ll need to play strong pass defense.

“They got a mix, they’re good receivers and Cam throws it all around,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said, “We just to prepare for all of them, do your technique and do what you do on every play.”

In their most recent matchup, on Nov. 5, the Falcons held Newton to only 137 passing yards and no touchdowns in a 20-17 loss. Devin Funchess lead the receivers with five catches for 86 yards. Carolina’s receiving corps took another hit this week. Receiver Damiere Byrd was placed on injured reserve and Mose Frazier was called up from the practice squad.

With another receiver down, Carolina will likely rely on other pass catchers like tight end Greg Olsen and running back Christian McCaffrey to shoulder more of the load. McCaffrey leads the Panthers in receptions (75) and catch rate (71.4 percent).

Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said the team is preparing for the multiple looks McCaffrey is in, especially paired with fellow running back Jonathan Stewart.

“You can look at McCaffrey with both of them in there as a wide receiver,” Allen said, “You got to understand that he can play any position; they’re going to get him in space, check-down balls and they like to see him in the open field with people so you just have to be ready to tackle him.”

Olsen didn’t play in the previous game. He was out with a broken foot. Quinn recognizes Olsen as one of the toughest players on Carolina to prepare for.

“Well, for sure he’s one of their very best players; I think it’s the catching radius that he has,” Quinn said, “He’s been a player that we’ve regarded for a long time in terms of his game and how he plays.”

As for Desmond Trufant, he’ll be tasked with containing Funchess, who leads all receivers in the NFC South in touchdown catches with seven. Funchess, who’s 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, will provide a challenge to Trufant (6-foot and 190 pounds), who is ranked as the 13th best cornerback this year according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s a good receiver, he’s got a wide catch range and runs hard after the catch,” Trufant said “You have to play physical with him and contain the big plays.”

The Falcons are no stranger to the “win-or-go-home” scenario having went on a Super Bowl run a season ago. Allen said that experience can help the Falcons in getting back to the playoffs this season.

“It helps that you’ve seen you’ve done it before; just dig deep and bring out as much inspiration as you need,” Allen said, “Take it for what it is and just know that this game is important and it’s all-or-nothing at the end of the day.”