9

October

Packers vs. Falcons Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (4-0) face off with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons (2-2) in Week 5 of the NFL season on Sunday Night Football.

The basics 

When: 7:20 CDT; Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011

Where: Georgia Dome; Atlanta, GA

TV: NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth with the call, Michelle Tafoya on the sidelines

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Westwood One Radio, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio)

Series: Packers lead, 14-13 (Falcons won the last regular season game, 20-17, in Atlanta on Nov. 28, 2010)

Five things to watch

1. The beat goes on

For being defending Super Bowl champions and one of just two 4-0 teams left in the NFL, Packers fans sure find ways to look upon the team pessimistically. Yes, the defense has been shaky and needs to improve. But sit back and enjoy what you’re seeing on the offensive side of the ball, because it’s been one of the best starts to a season in Packers’ history. Where to start? The Packers are No. 1 in the NFL in scoring with 149 points (37.0/game), which is also the most points the team has ever scored through four games. They are on pace for a record 592 points. Sunday’s 49 points, coupled with the 42 points in Week 1, marked the first time in franchise history that the Packers have ever scored 40 or more points twice in the first four weeks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is first in the NFL in passer rating (124.6) and completion percentage (73.0), and each would be NFL records if he continued that pace. He’s second in passing touchdowns (12) and yards per attempt (9.40). If Rodgers stayed on this pace through 16 games, he would throw for 5,300 yards and 48 touchdowns, which would shatter the franchise records of 4,458 (Lynn Dickey, 1983) and 39 (Brett Favre, 1996). That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but there needs to be an appreciation level for what the offense is doing in 2011. And just think; they face a defense on Sunday night that made just two additions (Ray Edwards, Kelvin Hayden) and have really struggled at times this season. The Packers offense has earned the spotlight of the entire league, and they’ll get another chance in primetime to show what kind of force they can be in 2011. (Stats courtesy of Packers.com)

8

October

Know Your Packers Enemy: Previewing Falcons-Packers With Dave Choate

In this week’s installment of “Know Your Packers Enemy,” I talked with Dave Choate of the widely respected Falcons blog, TheFalcoholic.com, to talk Packers-Falcons. He was referred to me by AtlantaFalcons.com writer Daniel Cox, who turned down the request in fear of sounding too biased. Both Dave (@TheFalcoholic) and Daniel (@FalconsDCox) are excellent follows for Falcons news.

Enough of the intro’s, let’s get to the Packers-Falcons talk.

ZACH KRUSE: Expectations were (and still should be) high as ever in Atlanta heading into the season, especially with such names as Peter King picking the Falcons to win Super Bowl XLVI in SI’s NFL preview. Packers fans know all about those kind of expectations, as last season Green Bay was the trendy pick to win it all. The Falcons haven’t exactly lived up to those high expectations yet in 2011, but remember, the Packers were just 3-3 after six games last season. Is there any sense of panic or lower feelings for this season being 2-2?

DAVE CHOATE: It’s happening quickly. There are many, many fans who have abandoned the Falcons playoff wagon entirely, leaving it a torched shell. Others barely think the Falcons will get a winning season at this point. That’s balanced out by a number of fans who think it’s all overblown. Personally, I haven’t wavered from my 11-5 prediction, and don’t plan to do so even if the Falcons lose to the Packers. It’s just too early.

ZK: Both Matt Ryan and Mike Smith have stated that Sunday night’s game has nothing to do with revenge. Are you on that same page? Is this just another Week 5 game, or does this one carry any added importance?

DC: I think it only carries added importance because the Packers are 4-0 and one of the best teams in the NFC. Every team should want to prove they can beat a team like that.

ZK: Let’s talk about Michael Turner. Everyone always talks about Ryan and Roddy White, but Turner, in my opinion, is the engine that makes this offense go. And wouldn’t you know it, the Falcons are 2-0 when Turner carries the ball 20 times or more this season. What does he mean in a more specific way to the offense, and has there been any drop off in the running game that you’ve seen this season after losing Harvey Dahl to the Rams?

15

January

Packers – Falcons Key Match Up: The No Huddle vs. the Defensive Line

The Atlanta Falcons could be described as the antithesis of the Packer’s last opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles are often described as “explosive”; they have perhaps the greatest mobile quarterback ever in Micheal Vick and maybe the greatest “home run” threat in the league at the moment with wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Running back LeSean McCoy boasts a 5+ yards per carry and the rest of the Eagle’s skill position players are filled with speedsters.

To this end, this year’s Eagles ranked as one of the best at big plays of over 20 yards and Vick’s ability to buy time in the pocket and scramble often lead to more opportunities down the field.

On the other side of the spectrum are the Atlanta Falcons, lead by quarterback Matt Ryan who is about as pure of a pocket passer as there is.

At his disposable, running back Micheal Turner is known as a bowling ball and not as a speed demon and wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, aren’t speedsters either but manage very good production with crisp route running and steady hands.

While the Eagles are a high-risk/high reward team, the Falcons are unspectacular, but they are efficient and error adverse and that plays into perhaps their greatest advantage for Saturday’s game: the no huddle offense.

The premise is pretty simple, by not huddling up you give the opponent’s defense less time to substitute players and get setup which hopefully leads to a lapse in personnel which will lead to either a mismatch or a blown coverage. The caveat to the no huddle offense is that it requires a smart quarterback who can call plays and read defenses and a team which is fundamentally sound. The Falcons have both.

And it will be a tough challenge particularly for the Packers defense. The Capers’ 3-4 defense is predicated on its complexity; blitzes can come from everywhere and from anyone, coverages can be rolled the moment before the snap.

But complexity has its disadvantages, one being that it takes a lot of time to set up. The other big factor is that communication is very important. One prime example of this was against the Indianapolis Colts during the pre-season; on the Colts first drive, the last play started with the Colts in the no huddle, they snapped the ball quick while the Packers defense was still in the process of calling coverages and adjusting assignments. The result? A ridiculously easy 17 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon who blew by the confused secondary.

14

January

Packers – Falcons Playoffs Preview: Second Time the Charm?

Bring on the Falcons! The Green Bay Packers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in an NFC Wild Card matchup and now move on to the Georgia Dome to face the Atlanta Falcons this Saturday night in the divisional round.
One down, three to go, Packers fans.

In what is becoming a common theme in the Packers’ postseason opponents, they faced the Falcons earlier in the season. On November 28th, the Packers fell to the Falcons 20-17 on a last second field goal. It was arguably the poorest tackling day by an otherwise stout Green Bay defense as Falcons running back Michael Turner gained 110 yards on the ground and scored one touchdown. Quarterback Matt Ryan was also brilliant throwing only four incompletions out of 28 attempts.

You’ve heard it ever since the playoffs began: “Anything in can happen in the playoffs. Everyone’s record is 0-0 and it’s every team for itself.” Perhaps now more was this evident in the 7-9 NFC West champion Seahawks’ upset of the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints in Seattle last weekend.

The Packers stand one win away from their second trip to the NFC Championship Game in four years. This one will be on the road, playing either in Seattle or Chicago depending on the outcome of Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.

Breaking down the Falcons

It’s only been seven weeks since these two teams squared off so the Falcons’ tendencies should still be rather fresh in the mind of the Packers.

On offense, the Falcons boast one the premier young quarterbacks in Ryan. With a nickname like “Matty Ice” you know Ryan remains as cool as a cucumber and he has only lost two home games in his three seasons as the Falcons’ starting quarterback. Ryan remains one the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL.

Ryan’s favorite target is wide receiver Roddy White. Once one of the NFL’s problem children, White has matured into an elite receiver that will give the Packers fits all day. He is able to get the ball downfield but still isn’t afraid to go over the top to make the catch. He is truly a complete receiver.

Don’t forget tight end Tony Gonzalez either. While his “catch” in the first matchup will forever live in Packers infamy, he’s still one of the best tight ends in the game. He’s especially dangerous in the red zone so Dom Capers must keep tabs on where number 88 is at all times inside the 20.