Packers at Falcons: 5 what ifs …
Nov 26, 2010 ~ by D. Orlando Ledbetter, AJ-C
~As the 8-2 Falcons are prepared to meet the 7-3 Green Bay Packers in a game with serious playoff ramifications, what if …
1. Fans are not tardy for the party: While everyone was breaking down their tables at the fabulous tailgate parties, the Falcons got jumped on by San Francisco earlier this season. Before the crowd get into the building and became loud and rowdy, the Falcons were down 14-0.
Falcons coach Mike Smith doesn’t want a repeat Sunday. He wants the crowd on time like they were for the Thursday night game against Baltimore.
“It was a big advantage for us as a football team to have the fans in the stands, rocking and rolling,” Smith said. “It should be a good game. The Green Bay Packers are on a roll.”
Matt Ryan is 18-1 in the Georgia Dome as a starter. He is much more comfortable at home, where he has had passer ratings of 117.3, 67.3, 118.1, 94.1 and 101.8 in 2010. He has thrown 11 of his 18 touchdowns passes at the Dome.
2. The Falcons continue to protect Ryan: The Packers’ defense has been playing lights out over their current four-game winning streak.
The Packers have 29 sacks, which ranks fourth in the NFL. The Falcons‘ offensive line faced a similar challenge last week against the Rams, who were tied for the league lead in sacks at the time. The Falcons held them sackless.
Todd McClure and his linemates have yielded only 15 sacks this season and have not allowed one in three of the past four games.
“I thought they did a great job with identification and communication,” Smith said.
The coaching staff schematically put together a good plan to neutralize the Rams’ rush and will have to do the same to slow the Packers.
“Our tight ends are also involved in that, as well as our running backs,” Smith said. “That is a very cohesive unit up front.”
The Packers were in their base defense for only seven snaps against Minnesota last week. They have a stout front line and left outside linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. has 11.5 sacks.
“This is a very talented Green Bay defense,” Smith said. “Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is one of the top defensive coordinators in the league. Whenever he puts a product out there on the field, they are going to know what they’re doing and they are going to play very effectively.”
The Packers rank second in lowest opposing quarterback passer rating at 66.5.
3. We see the Roddy White and Greg Jennings show: Both teams lean heavily on their marquee receivers.
White has 79 catches for 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns. Jennings has 46 catches for 703 yards and nine touchdowns.
“Roddy is just a guy that if you throw the ball his way, he’s going to catch it,” Smith said. “He’s got the speed to go deep, so he’s going to have some soft coverages. He’s got the ability, if they’re going to press him, to get off of the press coverages.”
Ryan and White have been in sync since the outset of the season. White has caught 11 passes or more in three games.
“Matt feels very comfortable hooking up in terms of throwing the ball [to White],” Smith said. “Roddy has a great understanding of what we’re trying to do with our offensive scheme, especially in the passing game.”
Jennings has been on a roll over the past five games. He has caught 32 passes over that stretch. Against Minnesota last week he caught three touchdown passes.
He has had six catches or more in five consecutive games.
If confronted with similar situations against the Packers, look for Smith to pass on the field goals and try to score some touchdowns.
“Normally we will consider taking a fourth-down shot,” Smith said. “Really in the red zone, we’ve taken our shots the majority of the time.”
On 37 trips inside their opponents’ 20, the Falcons have scored 183 points, which ranks fifth in the NFL.
The Falcons have scored 20 red-zone touchdowns, 13 on passes and seven on runs. Kicker Matt Bryant has added 14 field goals.
The Packers have not been allowing points in the red zone — or otherwise.
Over the past 13 quarters, the Packers have allowed one touchdown. In four road games, the defense has allowed five touchdowns. Also in road games, they kept the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings from scoring a touchdown.
The Packers ranked second in the NFL with 15 interceptions and are second in defensive touchdowns with four. The unit ranks first in fewest touchdowns allowed with 14.
New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer each passed for more than 300 yards against the Falcons. Those three and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco each threw three touchdown passes against the Falcons.
Rodgers is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL right now. He had a 141.3 passer rating last week against the Vikings. Overall, he ranks ninth with a 95.7 passer rating.
“They have a very good quarterback that’s operating as well as any quarterback in the league,” Smith said. “They’ve got some very good receivers. We’re going to definitely have to contain that passing game.”
Since losing 23-20 to Miami, the Packers have ripped off four consecutive wins and have outscored the opponents 85-10 over the past three games. In a 31-3 rout of Minnesota last week, Rodgers threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns.
The Falcons have searched for a successful formula against the pass. They have blitzed heavily in some games, but they allowed some big plays. They have elected to play zone and rush four at times, too.
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