Falcons at Panthers
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
On TV: Fox
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton is eager to break out of a four-game slump and the Atlanta Falcons could be exactly the opponent the fourth-year quarterback needs.
Newton's Carolina Panthers have lost four straight games and the 2013 Pro Bowler has completed just 52 percent of his passes and thrown twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes during that span.
Enter the struggling Falcons, Newton's hometown team and an opponent he seems to thrive against.
He's won his past three starts against Atlanta and has thrown nine TD passes and run for four scores in six career starts against the Falcons.
In addition, he'll face an Atlanta secondary that ranks last in the league in pass defense, allowing more than 280 yards per game through the air.
"He's a guy who's given us some problems," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He's such a big, athletic quarterback. It's tough to get him on the ground. They've got designed runs you've got to defend, and you've also got to be concerned when he scrambles. He doesn't always scramble to run, he scrambles to pass. And he's got a big arm. So those are big concerns for you."
Newton is confident the Panthers are about to turn the corner after going 1-6-1 in their past eight games.
"We're past due for a great game," Newton said.
Newton was sacked nine times and turned the ball over four times in a 45-21 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night. The Falcons haven't provided much of a pass rush all season with just 11 sacks, although four of those came last Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"I'm going back to the little things — the check downs, protecting the football and overall execution of the offense and that will get us over the hump," Newton said.
In a division where New Orleans (4-5) has the best record, the Panthers (3-6-1) and Falcons (3-6) both still have a chance to win the NFC South.
"You never know how a year is going to shake out and this year has certainly been different than any I've been a part of," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said.
Some things to watch in the Falcons-Panthers game:
O-LINE CONTINUITY: The Falcons have lost five offensive linemen to season-ending injuries, but they finally seem to be coming together with a patchwork unit up front.
Atlanta will be starting the same five linemen — center James Stone, guard Justin Blalock and Jon Asamoah, and tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder — for the third game in a row. That hasn't happened all season. "Going in there with a bunch of different lineups is a bit of a challenge at times," said Blalock, the senior member of the line. "Hopefully, now that we've had the same lineup for a couple of weeks now, we'll continue to grow with each passing week and improve on the things we need to."
SACK ATTACK MINUS HARDY: The Panthers sacked Ryan nine times in the previous meeting, setting a team record. But that's when the Panthers had Greg Hardy coming off the end. Hardy has not played since the season opener while appealing a conviction on domestic violence charges, and the Panthers pass rush has suffered.
They have only 21 sacks after registering 60 in 2013.
RODDY'S MILESTONE: Roddy White is closing in on a career milestone. The 33-year-old White needs just 73 yards to become the 42nd player in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards receiving. "It just speaks volumes to how consistent I've been the last couple of years in this league," White said. "It will mean a lot once I get to that plateau."
SECONDARY CONCERNS: The Panthers have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air this season, but they will get some help back this week from rookie nickel back Bene Benwikere, who returns after missing five games with an ankle injury.
DeCOUD HOMECOMING: Safety Thomas DeCoud played six seasons for the Falcons before signing with the Panthers as a free agent this offseason. "It's been circled on my calendar with red and yellow highlighter," DeCoud said.