Stuffing the Dirty Birds: Green Bay Packers – Atlanta Falcons Preview – NFL Week 12
After the Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 31-3 in a game that cost Brad Childress his job, Packer fans could have stayed on cloud nine all the way into next training camp. But here come the Dirty Birds (AKA the Atlanta Falcons)…
So let’s snap back to reality here. The Packers have six games left and have a realistic shot at the Super Bowl and that means a lot more than one win over the Vikings, right?
Anywho, the Packers head to Atlanta this week to face the Falcons who currently own the best record in the NFC at 8-2 and are led by a quarterback that is darn near a clone of Aaron Rodgers.
How’s that for a sobriety check?
Breaking down the Falcons
The aforementioned Rodgers clone is Falcons quarterback Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan. The third year quarterback out of Boston College continues the spectacular play that began in his rookie year of 2008.
Ryan is smart with the ball and doesn’t cost his team games. He is well respected in the locker room after taking over for a quarterback (the since redeemed Michael Vick) who had a messy divorce from the organization.
Besides Ryan, the Falcons offense is led by running back Michael Turner and wide receiver Roddy White. Turner is one of the most bruising backs in the league whose big frame and ability to break tackles will provide a tough challenge for the Packers’ stout run defense.
As for White, he can make any catch anywhere on the field. He’s good down the sideline or in the middle of the field. His strong hands and elusiveness have made him Ryan’ number one target.
Defensively, the Falcons are led by defensive end John Abraham. Playing the position like a linebacker, Abraham hits as hard as anyone and is able to cover the entire field.
The Falcons secondary is a weak link with Dunta Robinson being their strongest player. They don’t match up well with the Packers receivers so the Falcons could have their hands full all day.
When the Packers have the ball….
I think Mike McCarthy might be on to something.
Last week, the Packers featured a two-pronged rushing attack consisting of Brandon Jackson and former Falcon Dimitri Nance. Nance performed well as the third down back and his knowledge of his former team could come in handy.
Look for the same kind of rushing attack while Rodgers and Greg Jennings continue their game of pitch and catch they’ve been playing the last few weeks. The multiple weapons he Packers’ offense possesses will keep the Falcons defense on its toes all day.
If they have any hope of stopping the Packers, the Falcons have to shut down Jennings. Even if they do that, they can’t stop both Donald Driver and James Jones at the same time. Look for Rodgers to have another big day.
When the Falcons have the ball….
This is the game where we really will see how far B.J. Raji has come from his rookie year to this year.
Turner is a big back who likes running up the middle. Raji and Ryan Pickett will have to find a way to remain fresh or Turner will run right over them.
The Packers secondary, with Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, need to take away White and force Ryan to spread the ball around. Sometimes it seems Ryan lacks a rapport with his other receivers so the Packers will need to exploit that.
Three keys to the game:
1. Handle the dome noise
The Packers did an excellent job of this last week but the Falcons are not a crumbling 2-7 team like the Vikings. The Georgia Dome is guaranteed to be rocking for the entire game so the Packers will face a crowd noise challenge they didn’t face last week.
2. Get into the Falcons’ heads
The Falcons play some of the most sound football in the NFL. They don’t hurt themselves so in turn you have to hurt them.
Paging Clay Matthews. Mr. Matthews, you’re on in five.
Hitting them hard and often is the only way to crack their calm demeanor. Even if the Packers can’t stop them for a loss, a solid hit will remind the Falcons that Packers will be around all day.
As the game wears on, this could work more and more in the Packers’ favor.
3. Thaw Matty Ice
Ryan, again like Rodgers, is the rare breed of a young quarterback that does not rattle easily. Forcing him into a couple early turnovers would help but the Packers have to stay after him all game.
Dom Capers has shown a willingness to step on an opponent’s throat during games this season and rattling Ryan as much as possible will be crucial to a Packers victory.
Packers 33, Falcons 24
Honestly, this game could go either way.
Both teams are so much alike, I could easily reverse the scores. That said, I like the way the Packers are playing right now. The defense remains hungry as ever and the offense is finally showing the finesse that we saw in the preseason, despite missing some weapons.
That combination of hunger and finesse should be enough to overpower a tough Falcons squad and serve notice that the Packers are the best team in the NFC.
After all, it couldn’t be more appropriate to stuff some birds the weekend after Thanksgiving.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke