Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta, GA, Georgia Dome
Saturday, January 15, 2011 8:00 PM ET FOX
Laying the scene
This game is a rematch of a November 28th meeting between the two teams that the Falcons won 20-17 on a late field goal after a drive led by quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan's coolness under pressure that earned him his "Matty Ice" nickname was on full display in these teams' first meeting, and will have to come out in full force in order to beat the Packers a second time. The Packers will look to take the pressure off of their quarterback by trying to continue the success that their rushing attack had last week against the Eagles.
What Atlanta has to do to win
On offense, the Falcons are rather bland and boring, but what makes their offense so explosive is that they execute very well. Assuming they continue to execute as well as they normally do, their biggest concern on offense will be neutralizing Green Bay pass-rusher Clay Matthews. Right tackle Tyson Clabo did a very good job of this last time the two teams met, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey should keep a back or a tight end in the backfield to help slow Matthews on key blocking plays.
Goal-line defense is an area where the Falcons need to improve on from their first meeting with the Packers. In general, the Falcons are going to have to play less man coverage than they did, because it made defenders turn their back to Rodgers, allowing him to run for yardage if everybody is covered. They also need to devise a manner to get better pressure up the middle, because an inability to attack the interior offensive line was the reason Rodgers was able to walk in for one of the Packers' two touchdowns last time these teams played. One solution to this is the Double A-Gap blitz, which I suggested for the Falcons in a Try This video from Week 10, and which I explained in last week's Eagles-Packers preview as a manner in which the Eagles, who have similar defensive personnel to the Falcons, could best contain Rodgers:
“This look involves two linebackers creeping up to the line of scrimmage on either side of the center, threatening to blitz. Even if the Eagles don't blitz from this formation, the offense has to audible into a play with shorter routes just in case they do blitz, so it keeps the Packers from attacking the entire field. Also, because the Eagles have athletic defensive ends who can drop back into coverage in the flats if necessary, they can use the double A-gap blitz look to confuse Aaron Rodgers and keep him from knowing ahead of time who's rushing him and who's dropping into coverage.”
Without a doubt, the Falcons need to improve their defensive play-calling to adjust for Rodgers’ ability to buy extra time in the pocket. On the 4th-and-goal play from the Falcons’ ten-yard line when the Packers tied the game with under a minute left, Rogders held the ball for 8 seconds before throwing it, because the Falcons rushed only three men. One of those rushers, Kroy Biermann, shed his block when Rodgers rolled left, but because of Rodgers’ scrambling ability Biermann had to occupy the space in front of Rodgers to make sure he didn’t run it in for a touchdown. Aside from the three down linemen, everybody else on the field dropped back towards the endzone to commit to the pass. Because of the nature of today’s rules against contact more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, somebody will get open eventually if the quarterback has enough time. For this reason, the best way to defend against the Packers in this type of situation is to get into a heavy-pressure look and force the Packers to shorten their routes. For a 4-3 defense, the Double A-Gap blitz look is one of the best ways to confuse defenses and pressure quarterbacks, and the Falcons would benefit greatly from using it.
What Green Bay has to do to win
The Packers' defense is definitely going to have to perform their assignments well, and not make technical mistakes that make Atlanta's job on offense easier. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is going to need to find a way to give his cornerbacks help against receiver Roddy White without allowing room for tight end Tony Gonzalez to get open underneath. At the same time, he's going to want to make sure he doesn't let running back Michael Turner bounce to the outside. While it sounds like a tough task, if anyone can do it, it's Capers. He's going to have to be at his creative best in order to give this team a chance of winning.
On offense, the Packers are best-served by eschewing their typical empty-backfield sets, and using a lot of their full house formation that they brutalized the Eagles' defense with. While Atlanta has an incredibly talented defensive backfield, they are very vulnerable to runs up the middle, so the Packers should send running back James Starks up the middle as often as possible.
Warning to gamblers: I picked all four Wild Card games incorrectly last year and quit picking for the rest of the postseason, so don't bet your life savings on my predictions. With that being said, I'm going to go with the theme of picking teams with the least off-field distractions to win. Neither team has anything close to a major off-field distraction going on, but the closest thing to a distraction is that pundits have been assuming for a while that Atlanta will be hosting the NFC Championship game. If the players have heard this talk, then it will be very tough for the coaches to keep that from going to the players' heads. When you combine that factor with Green Bay's renewed rushing game, this game looks a lot like the Seattle-New Orleans game last week where the underdog surprised everybody and won in a dominant fashion. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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