All Michael Vick talk aside, this weekend’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons will do a lot to determine who the team to beat is in the NFC. The Falcons have won eight out of their last nine and the Packers’ defense has allowed only 10 points over the last three games. This could definitely turn out to be the first of two games between these teams this season.
1. Can the Falcons Get to Aaron Rodgers Early?
Green Bay’s passing offense in an indoor stadium is a recipe for disaster for Atlanta. Aaron Rodgers and company already comprise one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the NFC, and they play their home games in the unfriendly conditions of Lambeau Field. Rodgers carved the Vikings up for 301 yards and 4 touchdowns last weekend playing in a dome in Minnesota. Greg Jennings was the recipient of three of the scores. Atlanta ranks only 24th in the NFL in passing defense, but they’re going to have to buckle down this weekend. The Falcons are also dangerous with Matt Ryan and Roddy White, but Green Bay’s defense may not allow the game to become a shootout.
2. Can Michael Turner Get Going Early?
Despite their insane success over the past three weeks, the Packers’ defense ranks only 18th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The Falcons have a guy running the ball that’s pretty good in Michael Turner. Turner has eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground in three of Atlanta’s past four games — with the one exception being 39 yards against a stingy Ravens run defense. The best way to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field is to run the ball efficiently. If Atlanta can establish the running game early with Turner, they can open up some play action opportunities and take a shot or two to White deep down the field. Controlling the clock will be the key to victory, and the Falcons certainly have the ability to do that with one of the best backs in the league at their disposal.
When it comes to turnovers and the Atlanta Falcons, the numbers don’t lie. Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 17-1 when they win the turnover battle. They’re second to only the Eagles this season with a plus-10 turnover margin. Simply put, Atlanta’s defense knows how to create big plays and its offense knows how to turn them into scores. Mike McCarthy will undoubtedly be stressing ball security to his team all week long, but the Packers need to execute if they want to win in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons are 7-0 when they turn the ball over fewer times than their opponent this season. Green Bay probably won’t win if they don’t protect the ball.
There are a lot of tasty match-ups in this game on both sides. For Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings are must-starts, as they’ve been red hot lately and playing indoors should only help. James Jones has been streaky and is a risky play this week as Atlanta’s defense always seems to come to play in the Georgia Dome. It’s tough to trust any Green Bay running back anymore. Brandon Jackson has topped 100 yards only once this season, and he’s their top back.
Matt Ryan is 18-1 in his career at the Georgia Dome, so I’d start him no matter what defense he’s going up against. As I mentioned before, Michael Turner could be in for a big game as the Falcons will try to establish the run and keep Rodgers off the field. Roddy White is having a ridiculous season and the Packers are hurting a bit at safety, so a big play or two isn’t out of the question for him. I’d probably stay away from any other Falcons in this game unless you need them. Don’t forget, Green Bay’s defense has allowed one touchdown over the past three games.
Matt Ryan is 18-1 in the Georgia Dome, so it’s tough to pick against the Falcons in this one. However, I’m going to. Green Bay’s defense is an extremely confident unit and their passing game seems to be clicking. If anyone can protect the ball on the road, it’s Aaron Rodgers — especially in a game against a team that has a reputation for making you pay for mistakes. Look for one or two big plays in the passing game to be the difference in this one either way.