Young quarterback stars Rodgers & Ryan set to do battle again
Nov 24, 2010 ~ by the great Bob McGinn
~Green Bay – Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, a pair of upwardly mobile third-year starters, will meet Sunday at the Georgia Dome in a game rich with playoff implications.
The Falcons (8-2) own the best record in the NFC and would take a giant step toward home-field advantage with a victory. The Packers (7-3) are looking to keep pace with Chicago in the NFC North and extend their winning streak to five games.
“The quarterbacks are going to control this game,” an executive in personnel for a recent Falcons’ opponent said.
“Rodgers is where Matt Ryan wants to go. If it wasn’t in Atlanta, then I’d give the edge obviously to Green Bay. But I’d pick Atlanta because (Ryan) plays a totally different game in the dome.”
Rodgers, the 24th pick in 2005, is in his sixth season but is just a year and a half older than Ryan, who was the third pick in ’08. Rodgers played only three seasons of college football whereas Ryan spent five years at Boston College.
As a rookie in October 2008, Ryan exhibited poise beyond his years in leading Atlanta to a 27-24 victory at Lambeau Field. Ryan was excellent with a passer rating of 94.1 but Rodgers, courageously playing with a sprained right shoulder, performed as well if not better at 109.4.
Counting playoffs, Ryan owns a rating of 86.4 and a record of 28-13 (.683). Meanwhile, Rodgers’ rating is 97.6 and his record is 24-19 (.558).
“It should be a lot of points,” an NFC scout said. “The quarterbacks are pretty close. I’d take Rodgers because he has more experience, but Ryan is definitely on the come. Atlanta plays better at home. I’d take Atlanta.”
Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 18-3 at home compared to 10-12 on the road. As a counter-point, coach Mike McCarthy has a 21-17 record on the road, including 10-3 in domes.
“I’m picking the Packers,” another personnel man said. “Green Bay is not a better offense because Atlanta has a running game, but they are a better passing team. I’m not sold on the Atlanta defense, but they are playing good. I just don’t think Atlanta has seen that good of a passing game. Green Bay should be able to eat them up in that area.”
This season, the Falcons are 5-0 at the Georgia Dome, where Ryan’s rating is 98.1. They’re 3-2 on the road and his rating is 87.5.
“You’re talking about a close game,” the NFC scout said. “Atlanta’s secondary isn’t strong, which plays well for Green Bay. But the Packers are vulnerable at safety, which doesn’t bode well with Atlanta’s passing attack.
Because Atlanta can run the ball and is OK on defense, that gives them the nod.”
Third-year coordinator Mike Mularkey gives opponents much to prepare for: loads of formations and personnel groupings, the insertion of a sixth O-lineman (T Will Svitek) on some first downs and a no-huddle look used about 15 times each week that’s become a tempo-changer. The Falcons’ seventh-ranked power ground game (129.0) incorporates stretch and sucker plays that set up extensive play-action passing. They rank third in turnovers (10) and sixth in yards (371.4) and points (25.6).
WR Roddy White (6-1 ½, 211) has become a great player. He runs exceptional routes, really competes for the ball and doesn’t drop many. He can overpower or weave past tacklers. His 40-yard dash time was just 4.49 seconds in ’05 but he manages to get deep and uses his 41-inch vertical jump to secure the ball. Another major threat is Tony Gonzalez (6-4, 247), perhaps the finest receiving TE ever. At 34, Gonzalez has lost some burst and fluidity. Still, he can line up wide, in the slot or in-line, find windows and take the ball away from defenders. White and Gonzalez are almost impossible to stop. As a blocker, Gonzalez usually gets in the way. Other WRs are Michael Jenkins (6-4 ½, 214) and Harry Douglas (5-11 ½, 183). Jenkins, a 58-game starter, is a long strider with deep sideline speed and inconsistent hands. Tough but little, Douglas is best catching quick passes and darting up field. Backup TE Justin Peelle (6-4 ½, 251) is competent.
The five regulars have been starting together since ’08 and for all 10 games this year. There isn’t a great player in the bunch, but there’s is no weak link, either. RG Harvey Dahl (6-6, 303) and RT Tyson Clabo (6-7, 329) push, shove and generally get after people. Dahl, an original free agent in ’05 now with his third team, continues to improve in protection and mauls for the run. Clabo, an original free in ’04 now with his fourth team, isn’t the most supple athlete and can be beaten outside on dip-and-rip moves. But he hates getting beat and usually doesn’t. LT Sam Baker (6-4 ½, 301), the 21st pick in ’08, compensates for having short arms by being technically sound and naturally athletic. He has become OK in the run game but better speed rushers give him fits. LG Justin Blalock (6-3, 326), a second-round pick in ’07, is very strong, very smart and a solid starter. C Todd McClure (6-1 ½, 296), an 11-year starter, is undersized but still plays just fine.
Matt Ryan (6-4 ½, 217) is a fiery, charismatic leader with a 28 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. As a third-year player, he is in complete command of a high-volume offense, follows his progression from sideline to sideline and gets the ball out on time. He’s a touch-type passer with average-plus arm strength. On Sunday, he threw a pass that carried 57 yards. He has enough speed (4.89) to take off and run, but that’s not his strong suit. He exudes maturity. Backup Chris Redman (6-2 ½, 225), 4-8 as a starter with a 79.3 passer rating, is a tough, pure pocket passer.
In ’08, Michael Turner (5-10 ½, 247) pounded the Packers for 121 yards in 26 carries.
The Steelers, 49ers, Eagles and Ravens held Turner to 176 yards (2.6 average), but he averaged 114.7 (5.2) in the other six games. He has huge legs, pumps them on contact and moves piles. He probably still runs in the 4.55 range. His receiving skills are marginal. Jason Snelling (5-11, 234), who operates as a FB, RB and third-down back, has replaced injured Jerious Norwood on third downs and provides effective early-down breaks for Turner. Snelling isn’t fast (4.79) but he is rugged and an able receiver. Ovie Mughelli (6-1, 250) is among the last of the battering-ram FBs. He’ll hit anything that moves, and usually moves it.
Coach Mike Smith permits third-year coordinator Brian VanGorder to call the game. The 4-3 scheme is similar to what Bob Sanders used in Green Bay from 2006-’08. In order to compensate for a small line, the Falcons slant and stunt. The base look is Cover 2. The Falcons rank seventh in points (19.2), tied for 11th in takeaways (20) and 17th in yards (339.5).
The Falcons played it safe Sunday in St. Louis, deciding two hours before kickoff that RE John Abraham (6-3 ½, 263) should sit with a groin injury. But Abraham, who has 97 ½ sacks in 11 seasons, should be fine.
His acceleration isn’t what it was, but years ago he didn’t have the great inside counter move that he does now. He remains an elite pass rusher.
LE Kroy Biermann (6-3, 255), a fifth-round pick from Montana in ’08, has adequate speed (4.75), top strength, charges hard off the edge and will not quit. Backup DE Chauncey Davis (6-2, 271), a 24-game starter in six seasons, produces more than first-round bust Jamaal Anderson (6-5 ½, 291). Three-technique DT Jonathan Babineaux (6-2, 300), a second-round pick in ’05, can be disruptive because of outstanding quickness. He’s solid overall, but will buckle against double teams. Rookie NT Corey Peters (6-3, 305), a third-round pick, has kind of a bad body but is doing a better job recognizing blocking combinations. He gives way sometimes to Vance Walker (6-1 ½, 304), a seventh-round pick in ’09 with long arms and a penetrating style. DT Peria Jerry (6-2, 295), the 24th pick in ’09, still isn’t fully recovered from a blown knee suffered 14 months ago and isn’t offering much as a third-down rusher.
MLB Curtis Lofton (6-0, 241), a second-round pick in ’08, plays every snap. He attacks the run hard, is instinctive and knocks runners backward. He struggles getting off blocks, and his coverage is so-so. WLB Mike Peterson (6-1 ½, 226), a decorated starter for the Colts and Jaguars, is 34 and playing out the string. Having played for Smith in Jacksonville, he understands the defense. He’ll still pop people, but don’t ask him to extend in coverage. At SLB, Stephen Nicholas (6-1, 236) starts in base before giving way to rookie Sean Weatherspoon (6-1, 244) in nickel. Nicholas is tough, strong and runs well (4.65) but is a late reactor. Weatherspoon, the 19th pick, just came back from a sprained knee. He’s fast (4.55), loud-mouthed and a lusty hitter.
Former Texans RC Dunta Robinson (5-10 ½, 183), the 10th pick in ’04, plays with swagger, challenges receivers, has top speed and is tough. He also will gamble and lose. LC Brent Grimes (5-9, 183), a free agent from Shippensburg in ’07, gets picked on. He’s smart (24 on the Wonderlic), highly emotional and big on effort. He plays to his 4.55 speed, giving cushion and trying not to get beat deep. Usually, he holds his own. Nickel back Brian Williams (5-11 ½, 208), a nine-year veteran, ran just 4.56 in ’02, is coming off a blown knee and can be exploited. FS Thomas DeCoud (6-1 ½, 192), a two-year starter, and SS William Moore (6-0, 221) are vulnerable deep. DeCoud plays more of a cerebral game than Moore and is seldom out of position. Moore, a second-round pick in ’09, is a hard-hitting physical specimen but does blow assignments.
Well-traveled K Matt Bryant, 35, is 22 of 25, including game-winning FGs of 46 yards in New Orleans and 43 against San Francisco. P Michael Koenen kicks off very well. As a punter, he doesn’t have a big leg (39.9) but does well in terms of direction and hang time. His net of 33.3 ranks 30th. Dual return specialist Eric Weems (5-9, 195) is too cautious on punts (15 fair catches, nine returns). He isn’t fast but runs recklessly on KOs and averages 26.0.
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