FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The way Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman bounced together to rapper E-40's "Tell Me When To Go" during Thursday's practice, one could tell the Atlanta Falcons weren't uptight preparing for Sunday's NFC South clash with Carolina (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Now it's just about getting the offense into a scoring rhythm.
The Falcons, down two Pro Bowl defenders -- strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL) and middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot) -- might have to rely more heavily on their offensive firepower this week after struggling to get going in a season-opening 18-12 loss in Philadelphia.
Julio Jones & Co. know the Falcons can ill-afford to start the season 0-2 if they hope to keep their Super Bowl aspirations alive.
At the same time, Jones sees no reason to panic despite the depleted defense and scoring woes.
"At the end of the day, control what you can control, and as far as us, it's just going out there and just competing at a high level and just doing our job," Jones said, referring to the offense. "The defense is going to handle their business. We're going to feed off each other. It's the brotherhood.
"We can't coach those [defensive] guys or we [don't] need to go out there and do extra. That's when you go out there and you make mistakes. So you just have to go out there and really just work every day out here on this practice field."
Improving in the red zone against a formidable Panthers defense will be the first step toward progress. The Falcons were 1-for-5 and scored just nine points in the red zone against the Eagles as Matt Ryan faced far too much pressure and missed a few throws. Although coach Dan Quinn backed offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's playcalling against the Eagles, Sarkisian admitted there were a couple things he could have done differently.
One thing Sarkisian refuses to do, however, is succumb to criticism.
"I chose this profession. I love what I get to do," he said. "I've had a life of awesome experiences in this sport. And I've been through other things in my personal life that, because somebody wants to type something on Twitter, if that affects me one way or another, positive or negative, I'm a pretty fragile individual if that's the case."
This week the Falcons face a familiar Panthers defense, led by linebacker Luke Kuechly. Although Carolina has a new defensive coordinator in Eric Washington, they play with the same attacking style and rely on four-man pressure up front.
A couple years ago, Ryan and Jones took advantage of that downhill, attacking Panthers defense as Ryan threw for a career-high 503 yards and Jones had a career-high 300 receiving yards in a 48-33 home win. There might be opportunities for Ryan to take shots to Jones again Sunday if the Panthers are bold enough to leave him single covered. And it wouldn't be a surprise to see rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley get more opportunities this week after he had no catches on one target against the Eagles.
"Two things: one, we're going to continue to take our chances to Ju when he gets singled up, and be aggressive to that, and two, Calvin did a lot of nice things in the game the other night," Ryan said. "The ball's going to find [Ridley] throughout the year. He's going to do a great job for us."
Establishing some semblance of a running game will be equally important after the Falcons had just 15 combined rushing attempts by Devonta Freeman and Coleman as compared to 43 pass attempts by Ryan in the opener. Coleman, who has averaged 4.2 yards per carry in his career against the Panthers, is likely to get the bulk of the carries, with Freeman still recovering from a knee injury and possibly sitting out the game.
The Panthers ranked third against the run last season allowing just 88.1 rushing yards per game and shut down Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott at times last week. Carolina added former Falcons defensive tackle Dontari Poe to bolster its run defense up front.
"This is an excellent front, for sure, in Carolina," Sarkisian said. "A great defense and great defensive scheme. ... It starts with Kuechly in the middle. He's just so smart, and he always gets those guys lined up really well. And then just the strength they have in the interior front with Poe and [Kawann] Short.
"At the end of the day, you got to just keep chipping away at them. I think we've got a good plan going into it. We can't become a one-dimensional team against this group, because it can rush the passer really well. They've got great blitz packages. Balance is going to be key, but we've got to make the most of our runs when we're calling them."
As for the defensive side, the Falcons have to contain quarterback Cam Newton and his ability to run, whether designed or unscheduled, and keep running back Christian McCaffrey from making explosive plays. Newton has a career average of 7 yards per carry against the Falcons with seven rushing touchdowns and 52 rushing first downs.
Deion Jones knocked Newton out of a game in the past, and Neal's physicality certainly will be missed against the 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound quarterback. But the Falcons are counting on Duke Riley to step in at middle linebacker for Jones; Damontae Kazee, Ricardo Allen and Jordan Richards to step in at strong safety for Neal, and Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley to take advantage of the Panthers being undermanned at offensive tackle in order to pressure Newton.
Asked about the possibility of Newton and the Panthers testing him, Riley sounded about as loose as his dancing teammates.
"I hope so. I want them to come after me," Riley said. "Please! I'm ready for whatever."
We'll see if the Falcons are prepared for everything come Sunday.