Packers at Falcons: Rants & Raves

The Green Bay Packers are on the road to face the Atlanta Falcons and start a stretch of four road games in five weeks.  The last time Green Bay was in Atlanta was in October of 2011.  The last time the teams met was in December 2014 and the story coming out of that contest was Falcons receiver Julio Jones and the night he had: 11 catches, 259 yards and a touchdown.  Nearly two years later, the story remains the same.  Jones is likely the single largest factor in how successful the Packers can be this week and they'll be trying to contain him with a decimated cornerback group that will likely be without their top three cornerbacks for another week.

On we go to what is clicking well for the Packers and what is ailing them in this game that will seemingly determine playoff appearance and seeding.

Rants

Quick note: I often start with "Rants" so I can end on the most positive note but let me know if you'd like to see the format flipped.  

Secondary

It looks like LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson will be the starting outside corners with Micah Hyde in the slot for a second-straight game.  Quinten Rollins is still recovering from a groin injury but has not officially been ruled out yet (as of Friday).  Even if Rollins can go, he won't be 100%.  I mentioned Julio Jones earlier and I'm giving him his own section of his preview.  

A look at his stats this season tells a story that may be less scary than the analysis and hype we've been hearing all week long.  Jones is supremely talented and fast, there is no arguing that.  Through seven games, he has 830 yards and an average of 20.8 yards per catch.  He has only four touchdowns and in three of his games, he has been held under 100 yards.  He has double-digit catches in just one game, week four against the Carolina Panthers when Jones went off with 12 catches for 300 yards and a score.  That game alone inflates his per-catch average, but he's capable of putting up those kinds of numbers this week.  He has explosive plays of 36, 48, 50 and 75 yards and this seems to be the biggest opportunity for Jones to hurt the Packers.

I listed this section as Secondary vs. Cornerback because I'm calling out safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix this week.  After a nice jump in his second season last year, much was made about how he is developing into a big-time safety.  Some predicted he would earn a Pro Bowl berth this season.  So far, he has just one pass defensed and just one interception which was called back because of a penalty.  I don't know exactly what defensive coordinator Dom Capers has on tap for the Falcons this week, but I have to assume that Clinton-Dix will be a big part of helping to bracket Jones.  If Ha Ha is going to break out this season, this is the perfect game to do it.  To be fair, Clinton-Dix is asked to do many different things within the defense.  Blitzing and run support have been prevalent roles for HHCD but with as well as he has done in coverage at times, I'd put my money on a bigger role in deep coverage this week.

I'd also like to acknowledge Mohamed Sanu and Jacob Tamme.  Sanu is the "other receiver" and Tamme is the tight end.  With so much attention likely going towards Jones, these two could potentially steal the show.  We've seen it many times before: the Packers have a solid plan to shut down the obvious threat and all of the other weapons have a field day.  It seems that the Packers defense gets stuck in not being able to defend the one thing that is continuously beating them.  Tight ends have done more than their fair share of damage against the Packers in the past and Tamme is a savvy veteran who will find spots that the defense leaves open.  This section is dedicated to the secondary, but this will be where inside linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez will likely have to play a big supporting role, along with Clinton-Dix's running mate Morgan Burnett. 

This group has their work cut out for them.  If they can somehow get the job done, they take a huge step forward in gaining confidence that they can hold things down while Damarious Randall and Rollins recover.  If not, this will become the area opposing teams continue to attack and the Packers will need to find an answer given who they have left.

Packers Running Backs Game

Last week against the Chicago Bears, Ty Montgomery took on the role of running back and the Packers did some good things in getting him the ball in space.  This short passing attack took the place of a conventional running game, with Eddie Lacy and James Starks on the shelf and with the other two options having just joined the team a few days before the game.  Don Jackson was on the practice squad so he at least had some familiarity with the offense.  Knile Davis had been with the team for two days and, as expected, saw little action.

But that was the Bears.  Atlanta isn't the Minnesota Vikings or the Denver Broncos, but they'll have a plan in place to deal with Montgomery and the wrinkles he offers.  The Packers have to get production running the ball.  They don't need 100 yards and two scores, but they need to pick up yardage on first down.  Jackson had a hand injury early in the Chicago game but has practiced this week and appears good to go.  He carried just twice last game.  Davis has had some additional time to practice and brings a few years of experience with him so hopefully head coach Mike McCarthy has the confidence to call his number more often.  That includes quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who often checks into and out of plays at the line, based on what he sees across the line of scrimmage.  

It's hard to get amped up about the Packers ground game right now so it's an area of concern.  Between McCarthy's creativity (and hopefully not a lack thereof) and the abilities of Jackson and Davis to do more, the Packers need to see their ground game overachieve in this tilt if they want a decent chance to win.  If nothing else, the Packers should have a better idea of what they do and don't have a running back after this game.

The Kicking Game

Eric Weems is back with the Falcons and Packers fans will remember him from the 2010 season when he ripped off two long returns.  He's still a good returner and the Packers struggled a bit against a good Dallas Cowboys returner in Lucky Whitehead.  Special teams in general continues to be an inconsistent area for the Packers and this is one that can make things very difficult in a hurry.  It comes down to discipline and willing tacklers on the kickoff.  They find a way to bottle up the better returners and the Packers need that mentality this week.  Without the club cast on his hand and no Jared Abbrederis breathing down his neck anymore, maybe Jeff Janis returns to the special teams monster he was a year ago.

In the punting game, Jake Schum is always on notice.  Coverage plays a part in his average, but his net is under 40 yards.  If Atlanta is starting drives near mid field, it's too easy for them to operate their offense and get into scoring range.  It's an indoor game with no wind so Schum avoids at least one week outdoors in tougher elements with the weather turning to late fall.

I can't jump all over Mason Crosby for getting a kick blocked against the Bears.  He's been very good all season long.  But he also missed an extra point, his first since they moved the line of scrimmage back.  It's far from a tend or concerning, but any further gaffes or misses and Crosby loses his "automatic" status.  With the offense not punching it into the end zone as often this season, that would be another area of worry to add to an already good-sized list.

Raves

Is He Back?

Rodgers threw over 50 times in last week's game.  That formula won't work all season long but Atlanta ranks 30th in the league in pass defense, giving up just under 300 yards per game.  At this point, we need to accept the fact that the "old Packers offense" that we knew and loved is gone.  Whatever works from week to week is what they need to do.  Some are saying this game will be a shootout and if that's the case, Rodgers will likely be hurling it around all day.  I don't see a shootout as a good thing for the Packers, given how inconsistent their offense has been compared to how good Atlanta's has been.  But if this is the route Green Bay goes and they can punch it in when they get into the red zone, this game could feature some fireworks. 

Regardless of the game plan this week, or any week for that matter, Rodgers continues to be the key to success and so if he's any more "back" to form, it couldn't happen at a better time.

Run Defense

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman is inactive for this game, which is a break for the Packers.  Paired with Devonta Freeman this season, Coleman and Freeman are doing damage to opposing defenses.  The Packers, minus a blip against the Dallas Cowboys, have defended the run well this season.  Yes, Dallas has a superb offensive line so some call that game an outlier.  But according to Pro Football Focus, Atlanta has the fourth-ranked line.  This will clearly be another valid test of the Packers' true ability to take a team's running game away.  Even without Coleman, however, Freeman has started out this season well.  He's a threat in the short passing game with 22 catches on the season and a receiving touchdown.  

Take Freeman away and force Atlanta into throwing to move the ball and the rest of the defense benefits.  They can pin their ears back and get after Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who is also having a good season.  After giving up nearly 200 yards to Ezekiel Elliott two weeks back, the Packers bounced back and held Chicago's run game in check.  It won't be as easy this week but Green Bay's defensive front against Atlanta's protection is a match up the Packers can still win.

Trench Warfare

I mentioned Atlanta's offensive line and the Packers aren't far behind.  PFF has them ranked seventh (they finished last season fourth).  While Rodgers and the passing game have struggled for (insert your own reason here), the protection hasn't been to blame.  Rodgers has been sacked just 11 times through six games.  That's not an extraordinary total, as it averages out to nearly twice per game.  And we know that some of those sacks were the result of Rodgers having all day to throw and not finding anyone to get the ball to.  But overall, that's a pretty clean pocket.  Second-year linebacker Vic Beasley gets his first look at Rodgers and will give the Packers offensive line something to do on Sunday for sure.  

The key to the line play has been that they have generally stayed healthy and guard Lane Taylor has stepped up admirably in place of Josh Sitton.  T.J. Lang was banged up and left the Bears game but returned to finish it out and he is listed as questionable this week.  If history is any indicator, along with the fact that Lang returned against Chicago, I'd expect him to suit up this week.  The Packers will need him, as he's one of the better lineman in the short passing and screen game.  Atlanta has taken strides up front on defense but this, much like the Packers defensive front vs. Atlanta's offensive line, is a match up that can go either way.  The Packers line has been playing with some good moxie over the past three seasons so I'd give them a good shot to come out ahead in most scenarios.

 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Cheesehead TV Live, Pulse of the Pack and Pack A Day podcasts.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Comments (9)

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rdent's picture

October 29, 2016 at 11:21 pm

I just read a piece on thefalcoholic.com that the crew officiating tomorrows Packers Falcons game is known for pass interference calls,it hints at how that may benefit Julio Jones and co.

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Lphill's picture

October 29, 2016 at 06:12 pm

Ok he had 259 yards and 1 touchdown last meeting, so if I had 1 catch for ten yards and a touchdown then I would be as good as Julio Jones. If you remember that game Shields could not stop him, I always felt Shields was overrated fast but that was about it , Packers secondary might be better without him as the young corners develop , Gunter and safety help will do the trick
tomorrow . As I said in another post the Falcons have the 27 th ranked defense so they should be concerned if Rodgers gets in a groove , I believe he has had some good games in Atlanta.

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rdent's picture

October 29, 2016 at 11:01 pm

The article imo was about pass interference that wasn't called for Julio Jones in the last several games and how there could be a lot of PI called in this game with GB's depleted secondary but that can go both ways, just something to watch for in tomorrows game.

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al bundy's picture

October 29, 2016 at 10:41 pm

I think ATL will have a decent day through the air.
I agree about Ha Ha, he is a joke to me. Hey when you have a guy who doesn't even get bruised in two and half years. you got to ask "What the hell is going on out there........"

He has a good seat in center field watching everyone else make plays.

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croatpackfan's picture

October 30, 2016 at 04:20 am

You do not need bigger joke than yourself.

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rdent's picture

October 30, 2016 at 07:43 am

At this point I am inclined to agree but I haven't seen much of HHCD on the highlight reels so far except for the TD Beckham caught over him. Starting tomorrow they need his help over the top,he has been invisible in the secondary on pass plays.

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Razer's picture

October 30, 2016 at 07:33 am

All things being equal, this game would be a good barometer of where the Packers are as a team. Atlanta is one of those teams that we should beat. Generally we have less holes than they do. But, that is not the case this year at this time.

I am calling this our 'most important' game of the year. We should beat them and if we do beat them, in their house, despite the injuries then the team is steel. Lose the game and cite all your injuries - well, I guess there is always next year.

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EdsLaces's picture

October 30, 2016 at 09:26 am

Stop the run and make em pass??? Um no? Goodson and Gunter at CB and you want em to pass more? No thanks...

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dobber's picture

October 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

I think the argument is to make them one-dimensional, and that's the easiest way to do it. If the Packers are getting gouged in the run game it's going to be far worse than if it's just Julio Jones running free...

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