Matthews & Peppers have to play like Superstars to have chance in Atlanta
By Brian E. Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor
~The Green Packers defense features more than triple the amount of first round draft picks as the offense does. Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Datone Jones, Kenny Clark, Nick Perry, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Damarious Randall are all premium, first round picks. That’s seven guys on defense, each still on the active roster not on IR.
On offense, there’s just Aaron Rodgers and his lone first round supporting cast-member, Bryan Bulaga.
Yet the offense routinely has to score at least 30 points to expect to overcompensate for this swiss-cheese defense, and sometimes the thought of a mere 30 isn’t nearly enough.
True, the Packers have been missing Sam Shields all year, but that’s just one cornerback. I’ve seen Super Bowl winning teams like the 2007 New York Giants win with much less back there at the cornerback position.
But that was because the Giants front seven stepped up and covered for the back end.
This is where Matthews and Peppers must rise up and play like the superstars their contracts say they are.
True, Matthews has been playing on a bad shoulder since former Packer Allen Barbre blind-sided him in Philadelphia on November 28th, the game that started the table run.
That was eight weeks ago.
Matthews and Peppers need to beat the Falcons offensive linemen across from them more than they have yet this season.
Dom Capers cannot afford to go crazy and go blitz-happy. Matty Ice will carve them up, beit screens to Julio Jones or the speedster Taylor Gabriel, or the fast running backs Tevin Coleman or Devonta Freeman.
The fate of this game, the defense specifically, does not rest on Capers. It rests on the work that Matthews and Peppers do. But Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, and Datone Jones also must play well.
Capers cannot be bringing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Damarious Randall, LaDarius Gunter, Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde on too many blitzes because it will expose the terrible cornerback play we have seen most of this season, including yesterday in Dallas.
Per Pro Football Focus, when targeting Gunter and Randall yesterday, Dak Prescott’s passer rating was over 130 each case. That’s record-setting high.
It also happens to be the same passer rating Matt Ryan had this weekend when he targeted Julio Jones, with six of eight of them being when All-Pro Richard Sherman was covering Jones.
Randall and company have made journeymen Adam Thielen, Tavares King, and Marvin Jones Jr. look like Jerry Rice. Julio Jones is far better than any of those receivers.
Earlier this season, Rodgers played a Rodgers-type game. And that was without Randall Cobb in the lineup as he and Matthews each missed the game with hamstrings.
Rodgers finished 28-38 with four touchdowns, and no interceptions, for 246 yards, and a passer-rating of 125.5. That should win every game.
Rodgers threw his fourth touchdown pass and succeeding on the two-point conversion, putting the Packers ahead 32-26 with 3:58 remaining, good enough to win many games.
Not against Ryan though, for this defense that was missing Matthews.
Ryan tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds left to lift the Falcons to a 33-32 victory over the Green Bay Packers before 70,165 jubilant fans on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“For me, I saw an opportunity to give him a high-ball in the end zone and he made a great catch,” Ryan said of Sanu. “He came down and got his feet it, which was nice to see.”
The Packers offense went cold in the second half, scoring just one time in the fourth quarter and zero in the third quarter, as the Packers defense broke late allowing a late touchdown pass for a 33-32 loss.
The problems with the offense were mostly the running game. Rodgers was the Packers leading rusher with 60 yards on six scrambles.
The leading running backs were Ripkowski with 34 yards, Don Jackson with 10 yards, and Knile Davis with four yards on three carries.
That allowed the Falcons to pin back their ears and go after Rodgers. Adrian Clayborn had two sacks of Rodgers and NFL-sack leader Vic Beasley got Rodgers once.
Things have changed at running back for the Packers with Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael capable of explosive runs any time.
Atlanta was missing Coleman that game, and the Packers held Freeman to 35 yards rushing on 11 carries, which is fantastic. They also held a somewhat-gimpy Jones to three catches for 29 yards. Seeing those two key stars held way in check like that, you would have expected Atlanta to be under 20 points.
Nope. Mo Sanu caught nine passes on 10 targets, for 84 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. Gabriel was targeted just three times, and caught them all including a deep one for a 47-yard quick score.
Tight End Austin Hooper was targeted five times, and each was complete. The other tight end Jacob Tamme was also two-for-two being targeted.
Ryan was 28 of 35 for 288 yards and three touchdowns. “They don’t call the guy Matty Ice for no reason,” Sanu said. “The guy has ice in his veins.”
Atlanta scored 108 points more this season than the Packers did, almost 20 per cent more. They are lethal, especially at home.
It’s not unfathomable to imagine the Falcons scoring 45 on this defense. They can score fast, and the Packers can allow fast, long touchdowns with that leaky back-end of cornerbacks missing Sam Shields.
You know what you have in Gunter, Randall, Josh Hawkins, Herb Waters, and Quinten Rollins if he’s able to come back from the neck, head bump he suffered the last time he played when he allowed a deep completion and then hurt himself falling over the receiver onto the sideline hard on his head.
You can’t morph these guys into 2010 Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields. They are who they are.
But what does have to change is Matthews, Peppers, and Perry have to show why they were first round draft picks and in Matthews and Peppers case, why they are perennial Pro Bowlers and often considered superstars.
Peppers and Matthews have to take over this game in stretches, especially in the second half.
It is time.