The Atlanta Falcons insist Matt Ryan(notes) isn’t struggling despite his poor numbers over the last three games. The Carolina Panthers appear to be happy just to see Jake Delhomme(notes) avoiding more mistakes.
The NFC South rivals meet for the second time this season Sunday with both clubs facing questions about their quarterbacks.
Atlanta (5-3) is playing the first of two straight games on the road, where it is 1-3 with two straight losses. Ryan threw five interceptions in his last two road games.
Ryan, who led the Falcons to 11 wins and a playoff spot as a rookie last season, had four touchdowns, six interceptions and a 54.5 completion percentage in his last three games.
“Matt has played very well the entire season,” coach Mike Smith(notes) said. “I don’t think you can judge a one-game stretch, a two-game stretch, or a three-game stretch in terms of determining. I think that’s talking points for a lot of folks.
“For us, we are working for the next game and making sure we make corrections on all levels of the football team. I don’t think that contention that Matt is not playing well; I don’t believe that at all. I think Matt’s played very, very well.”
Ryan was 17 of 24 for 135 yards, one touchdown and one interception in last Sunday’s 31-17 win over Washington.
Delhomme has five touchdowns and an NFL-high 13 interceptions this year after guiding Carolina (3-5) to the South title in 2008. He didn’t thrown an interception the last two games, but coach John Fox has been forced to defend the passing game for not throwing downfield more.
Delhomme passed for 201 yards and no touchdowns in a 30-20 loss at New Orleans last Sunday.
“I’m confident,” Fox said, “that we can get better.”
Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith has one touchdown reception this season and is tied for 34th in the league with 34 catches.
Both teams are taking the pressure off their quarterbacks by running the ball well. Michael Turner(notes) gained 166 yards and scored two touchdowns last week for Atlanta, six days after he gained 150 yards on 20 carries in a 35-27 loss at New Orleans.
Turner has scored in seven straight games and leads the NFC with 10 rushing touchdowns.
The Falcons’ beleaguered run defense may be tasked with slowing down a resurgent DeAngelo Williams(notes), who posted an NFL-high 548 rushing yards over the last four weeks. Atlanta ranks 24th against the run, and Williams had 79 yards on 16 carries in a 28-20 road defeat to the Falcons on Sept. 20.
Williams, though, is questionable after sitting out practice Friday for the second time in three days.
Delhomme had 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in his last seven games against the Falcons, going 25 for 41 for 308 yards and one TD and three interceptions in the September meeting.
Ryan also turned in one of his most efficient performances in that game, completing 21 of 27 passes for three touchdowns, one interception and 220 yards.
Atlanta won six of its last nine games in Charlotte, falling 24-9 in last year’s visit as Delhomme threw for 294 yards, two scores and no interceptions.
Carolina will play the rest of the season without weakside linebacker Thomas Davis(notes), who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last Sunday. Davis had been productive to the point that teammates believed he could reach his first Pro Bowl.
“He’s played very well. I feel bad for the young man because he’s put a lot into it,” Fox said. “He was playing at a high level. It’s unfortunate, and I feel bad for him and his family.”