ON THE HOT SEAT: Defending the read-option offense

For the Falcons, studying the read-option offense was a major offseason project.

The defensive staff, in addition to its film-study, spent time with the college staffs at Clemson and Vanderbilt to learn more about the college-based attack.

Facing Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton provides the first big read-option test of the season for the Falcons.

Defensive end/linebacker Osi Umenyiora and linebacker Joplo Bartu will be on the hot seat against the Panthers because the must make the correct reads to contain Newton.

“We have six (such offenses) coming up pretty soon,” Umenyiora said. “This will be the first one, and hopefully we’ll be able to rise to the occasion.”

Last season, Newton rushed nine times for 86 yards, including a 32-yard gain in the Falcons’ 30-28 victory at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 30. In Carolina’s 30-20 win Dec. 9, Newton rushed nine times for 116 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown run.

“He’s a dynamic quarterback,” Umenyiora said. “He can beat you with his arms and his legs. We know that we have a tough challenge in front of us. We have to find a way to get the job done.”

With Newton as a threat, the defense has to account for all 11 players.

“You have to know your assignment because if one guy makes a mistake, that’s when they gash you,” Umenyiora said.

What makes Carolina’s read-option even more potent is that Newton has developed into a strong passer.

“Each year he taken big steps,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “If they just sat him in the pocket and had him throw the ball, he could beat you.”