Key Battles, Week 2 Edition: Green Bay at Atlanta

On Sunday, Green Bay will try to make last year's NFC Championship game a distant memory against high-flying Atlanta. 

Sunday night’s primetime showdown between Green Bay and Atlanta represents the third matchup between the two teams in a year. This time around, though, the Packers come in far closer to full health than the previous two meetings. 
 
Even with legitimate health concerns along the offensive line, the Packers have a full complement of weapons for Aaron Rodgers and a deep defensive backfield. Compare this to the teams’ first meeting last season. Depleted resources left the likes of Don Jackson and Knile Davis as the primary backs, while Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, and Geronimo Allison all hauled in receiving touchdowns. Green Bay came up short 33-32. 
 
Then in January’s NFC Championship game, with Jordy Nelson out, Davante Adams banged up, and a rag-tag group of defensive backs with varying levels of injury, the Packers simply had no chance to keep up and were throttled. 
 
Don’t expect another boat race. In projecting Sunday night’s result, the outcome that seems most unlikely is a blowout by either squad. What’s more likely is a back-and-forth contest between two of the NFC’s top squads. 
 
Where injuries are concerned, the difference Sunday night could fall on the availability of tackles David Bakhtiari and defensive behemoth Mike Daniels. All have been listed as questionable. 
 
Here are some of the key battles: 
 

Keeping Rodgers upright is paramount

 
Were the Packers to be at full strength—with Bakhtiari and Bulaga in tow—the Falcons would still present a challenge, with a young, emerging defense led by its pass rush. Green Bay played a surprising number of five-man protections in their win over Seattle in Week 1, but given the O-line health and the game’s location—at Atlanta’s new $1.5 billion stadium—one has to imagine head coach Mike McCarthy sends some extra help defending against the pass rush. 
 
Running back Ty Montgomery’s involvement also looms large. He missed the first game last season and was underutilized in January with the Packers in passing mode from the get-go. It might be ideal for the Packers to get him as many touches as he had against the Seahawks.
 
Rodgers should still get his yards after plays break down, but Green Bay needs to approach the game with a focus toward getting rid of the ball quickly.
 

Third-down defense can't be liability

 
Third downs tell most of the story of Green Bay’s 44-21 trouncing at the hands of Atlanta back in January. The Falcons converted 10 of 13 third downs, illustrating as crucial the timing of Green Bay’s failures. This time around the Packers have to find a way to get Atlanta off the field. A Packers defense that picks up where it left off a week ago shouldn’t surrender anywhere close to 75% of third down conversions. 
 
 If the Packers deploy their Nitro package, subbing a third safety for an inside linebacker in a scheme that already features a nickel cornerback, it will be interesting to see if Atlanta attacks using the run. Green Bay held up well against the run vs. Seattle, but Atlanta’s O-line and running backs are several degrees better than the Seahawks’. Expect bracket coverage against Julio Jones, meaning the rest of the defense could be vulnerable to one-on-one matchups. 
 
After facing one of the league’s best defenses in Week 1, the Packers are tasked with slowing down a top-flight offense. 
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Comments (7)

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Bearmeat's picture

September 16, 2017 at 10:41 am

Yep. You nailed all 3 phases important for GB. I'd suspect ATL's viewpoint would be:

1. Protecting Matty Ice form interior pressure
2. Convert 3rd downs (which they didn't do against CHI)
3. Make GB 1 dimensional and rush ARod.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

September 16, 2017 at 02:23 pm

I really think we need to move Aaron Jones to backup RB this week. 3 reasons:

1. Atlanta struggled badly against a small, quick back in Chicago, and the Bears didn't neglect their explosive weapon because he can't pass-block. They pounded him and went to quick passes, thus creating a close game against a vastly superior Falcons team.

2. Jones was clearly the best, most explosive backup RB in the preseason. His speed, quickness, vision, and sure hands greatly outpaced Jamaal Williams.

3. Atlanta's turf is a fast track--ideal for Jones.

I confess I'm not confident in McCarthy on such decisions, so I expect we'll make the wrong decision and suffer for it.

Combined with poor health at tackle, I believe McCarthy's mistake will produce a 34-17 Atlanta win.

Hope I'm wrong.

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Turophile's picture

September 16, 2017 at 06:33 pm

I like that thought about fast RBs, though the bigger guys would punish them more over a game.

How about quicker RBs early (Jones Montgomery) to gas them, bigger guys late (Williams Mays) to punish tired tacklers.

You could do the same thing with receivers. A couple of deep routes later in the game, with a fresh Janis or Davis, might shake something loose.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

September 16, 2017 at 07:00 pm

Works for me :)

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Samson's picture

September 16, 2017 at 04:09 pm

GB's RBs combined for 21carries and 63 yards against the SeaHawks. -- That's a measly 3 per carry. -- If that average doesn't improve against Atlanta, AR will be passing 40+ times again. ----- With the health status of the OL tackles questionable, I hope this game doesn't turn into a sack fest for the opposing team.

The Pack may need to win the turnover numbers by a +2 or even +3 to put this game in the win column.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

September 16, 2017 at 05:00 pm

Agreed.

But at least Atlanta's not as tough against the run as Seattle.

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Turophile's picture

September 16, 2017 at 06:38 pm

Keep sucking those lemons, Samson.

Did you happen to notice the difference in defensive rating between Seattle and Atlanta ? That just might have an impact on the Packers yards per play, don't ya think ?

I do agree the OTs are key, but we'll just have to wait and see who they trot out.

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