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The Atlanta Falcons don't fall all that far in this week's NFL power rankings. Hooray for not all that far!
After coming into the season with Super Bowl expectations, the Falcons have struggled to a 2-3 start and currently sit third in the NFC South. What has been ailing the Dirty Birds?
We wanted to run the ball, we wanted to control the clock. That was part of the game plan. That's part of our DNA and the way that the game unfolded, we weren't able to sustain some drives for the reasons I just mentioned in going through the drive chart. We've got to be able to sustain drives to be able to continue to run the football.
Maybe 20 is the magical number for Turner, Smith and the Falcons?
When the star tailback gets over 20 carries this season, the Falcons are 2-0. In those two wins Turner has averaged 23.5 carries/game and 92 rushing yards/game and three touchdowns total.
However, when Turner gets less than 20 carries this season, the Falcons are 0-3. In three losses Turner has averaged 12.3 carries/game and just 58.6 rushing yards/game and just one touchdown.
Atlanta is at home this Sunday as they host the Carolina Panthers in the Georgia Dome.
For more insights about the Falcons, check out SB Nation Falcons blog The Falcoholic.
Two quarters of good football doesn't usually make for a win, and in this case that sentiment certainly held true. The Falcons came out looking strong early, but yet again faltered during the latter stages of the ball game. Watch at your own risk:
The defense actually had a large share of impressive highlights. With both of the Pack's starting tackles out of the game with injury, the sacks came in bunches. Ray Edwards, Corey Peters, and Lawrence Sidbury all got in on the action. Sean Weatherspoon came so quickly on a blitz I'm not sure how Rodgers held on to the ball. The guy is a special athlete, that's for sure.
No, the problem was the offense, and not the offensive line. After finding success on the ground early, the Falcons seemingly abandoned the run in the second half. Several Matt Ryan passes fell incomplete, and that in turn gave the ball back to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense rather quickly. The injury to Julio Jones certainly didn't help either.
All in all, there was much more to watch in this game if you were a Packers fan. After a slow start, Rodgers found the likes of Greg Jennings and James Jones on scoring plays of 30+ yards. Those haven't been seen in Atlanta for a long time. Time to improve upon that, Matt Ryan.
The offense took over, and what would have been a 21 yard completion to Harry Douglas was overturned after a Green Bay challenge. That lead to... another punt. Just like last week, the offense has disappeared since the start of the second half, and we've seen 22 unanswered points scored by the Packers since the second quarter. On the bright side, Matt Bosher's punt traveled 45 yards this time. Improvement!
But James Sanders and the defense stepped up in a big way. Sanders applied a monster hit on Jermichael Finley to force an incompletion on third-and-eleven and a Packers punt. On a drive where the Packers could've made it a two possession ball game, they managed to come through for the team. If Matt Ryan wants to show what he's made of, he'll answer with a score here.
Surprisingly, the offensive spark the Falcons needed came in the form of a penalty: unnecessary roughness called on AJ Hawk resulted in fifteen yards and a free first down. Then Matt Ryan went straight to work, completing three passes in a row to Eric Weems, Tony Gonzalez, and Roddy White. That was followed by an eight yard carry by Turner for a first down inside the Green Bay 30.
Everything seemed to pointing towards a Falcons score. But a pass that was a little high and tipped off the hands of a waiting Gonzalez found it's way to Charlie Peprah for an interception, thus killing the drive. That hurts.
The Falcons managed another first down sack, this time by Ray Edwards, but they gave up another long passing play on third down. A missed tackle by Dunta Robinson led to a 22-yard gain and pushed the Pack deep into Falcons territory. A 30-yard Mason Crosby field goal put the Packers up 25-14 and basically sealed it.
Besides reaffirming my desire to see Cris Collinsworth befall some sort of unfortunate accident for his biased and irritating commentating, I also learned that despite playing a great first half, the Falcons still have yet to show that they can play a complete game. Injuries undid the defense. Inability to run, Julio's injury and an unlucky tip-interception spelled out the offense's demise.
Green Bay's a great team, which makes this loss even more heartbreaking. The Falcons will fall to 2-3, leaving us to wonder what the rest of the season will hold for this team. Are the playoffs out of reach? Obviously not. But Atlanta still has to improve if they want a shot.
The Atlanta Falcons suffered what could be a big loss during a challenging second half as wide receiver Julio Jones was escorted to the locker room with what's being called a left hamstring injury. As Jones has been the team's leading receiver this year, this could be a huge setback for Atlanta.
Jones got tangled up while trying to run down a bomb early in the fourth quarter as the Falcons trailed, 22-14.
Jones has been targeted frequently, but hasn't been able to come up with very many. He had one nice catch on a quick route for a first down and took an end-around for 16 yards in the first quarter. It'll be on Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez to step up.
Sometimes, all you need is an injury to both of your opponents' starting tackles. Corey Peters took advantage, sacking Aaron Rodgers on the first play of the half. After a close call pass that was knocked away in part by Brent Grimes (we've been hearing his name quite a bit tonight), the Falcons were able to force a three-and-out to start the third quarter. Promising.
The offense came out in the second half again relying heavily on Michael Turner in an attempt to keep the ball out of Rodgers' hands and wear down that Green Bay defense. And then as he has done all night, Matt Ryan came up big on third down, this time getting it to Roddy White for a gain of eight yards.
But after setting themselves up on a third-and-short approaching red zone territory, Tyson Clabo committed his second penalty of the night. Sam Baker completely missed his block on the ensuing play, and any threat of a Falcons score was immediately erased.
On defense, Corey Peters came up big again, this time stopping James Starks behind the line for a one-yard loss. A big hit applied by James Sanders knocked the ball away from Jordy Nelson and forced a third-and-long. But in the most infuriating fashion possible, Rodgers managed to escape the clutches of an overpursuing Sean Weatherspoon, who went into the pocket untouched. That play would ultimately turn into a 30-yard gain as Rodgers chucked it to James Jones for the first down.
In typical bend-but-don't-break fashion, the Falcons stood strong, and a third-down pass that glanced off the fingertips of Donald Driver only helped their cause. But a 56-yard field goal via Mason Crosby would split the uprights and cut the Falcons' lead to 14-9. Still, the defense has performed beyond expectations. Time for the offense to do their part.
But an illegal formation penalty would put the Falcons in first-and-fifteen, and they couldn't recover. Two Matt Ryan throws, neither of which was on the mark, fell incomplete. Giving the ball right back to the Pack was exactly what Atlanta couldn't afford to do, and yet that's exactly what happened.
Can you guess what happens next? If you guessed "quick Green Bay score," well you're correct. Rogers finds James Jones on a deep post route, and Thomas DeCoud's failure to wrap up allowed him to take it 70 yards to the house. The two-point attempt would fall incomplete, but the Packers would take their first lead of the game, 15-14.
But yet again, the Falcons third quarter offense was absolutely helpless. After first and second down failed to produce anything, Ryan attempted to scramble on third down, but his slide came up short of the first. On the other side, the defense was able to force another third-and-long after two Rodgers incompletions. But the coverage continued to break down on third down. The Falcons continue to rush three, and Rodgers has all day to throw.
As the fourth quarter began, Rodgers found Greg Jennings for a 29-yard touchdown. The bad news continued, as Weatherspoon came out of the game after being shaken up tackling Jermichael Finley. All these defensive injuries coupled with the typical third quarter stagnation has allowed the Falcons to again allow their lead to disappear. They now trail 22-14 with just under 15 minutes left in this ball game.
So, more bad news: Chris Owens is now out of the game, having gotten injured on the ensuing Packers punt return. After a short one-yard return, the Pack were set up at the Atlanta 44 in good field position. Unfortunately, this is when having a good punter would have come into play.
After spreading the ball around the field as Aaron Rodgers often does, the Falcons managed to contain Green Bay enough to force a third-and-two at the seven. But then the Packers became their own biggest obstacle. A holding penalty called back a would-be first down, and on the very next play Jermichael Finley dropped what surely would have been a touchdown catch.
Yet again, the Falcons defense was able to limit the Packers to only a field goal. Though they only lead 14-6, this is the some of the best football I've seen the Falcons play all year. The offense had two excellent drives, and the defense has come up big in the red zone. Maintaining possession of the football hasn't hurt, either.
A remarkable statistic to mull over: Mike Smith is 29-1 while leading at halftime as a head coach. Let's hope the "Seattle Falcons" don't rear their ugly heads this week. We all certainly know what Rodgers is capable of. It's time to see the Falcons play a full 60 minutes and finish strong.
The Atlanta Falcons have lost a pair of defensive backs already, with starting safety William Moore questionable to return due to a shoulder injury and nickel back Christopher Owens out for the game with a head injury (NBC called it a concussion).
Of all teams to experience secondary attrition against, the Packers aren't the one you'd opt for. Even though Owens was the victim of many an Aaron Rodgers pass during last year's uncalled-for playoff blowout, the Birds could use lots of bodies in the backfield.
Still, both Sanders and Hayden are very capable replacements. Injuries have certainly taken a bigger toll on the Packers than they have on the Falcons -- rookie Derek Sherrod took over at left tackle for Chad Clifton earlier.
Good news to begin this second quarter is that Garrett Reynolds, who was shaken up at the end of the first, is now back in the game. Even better news is that the Falcons were able to cap their drive off with a one-yard Michael Turner touchdown, giving Atlanta a 14-0 lead.
The second Falcons offensive possession again saw a great mix of run and pass. Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Jason Snelling all had receptions on the 10-play, six-minute scoring drive. The more Atlanta can keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands, so much the better. Mike Mularkey, you've won my approval so far tonight. I know that means a lot to you.
Perhaps fired up by the offensive success, the Falcons defense came out onto the field with a little swag in their step. Sean Weatherspoon absolutely nailed James Starks for no gain on a first-down carry. But then on third down, the Falcons inexplicably only had three men rushing. Rodgers naturally had all day, and did his best Drew Brees impression by shovel-passing it to John Kuhn for a first down. You're killing me, BVG.
Fortunate for the Falcons- though you never like seeing any player get hurt- Chad Clifton went to the locker room with an apparent leg injury. The very next play, rather unsurprisingly, the Falcons were able to get some actual pressure on Rodgers. But on the other side, William Moore also came out of the game with an injury, being replaced by James Sanders.
And then the Falcons made me scratch my head for the second time on this drive. For some reason, Chris Owens was matched up against Greg Jennings on third down. Rodgers found him for a 39-yard gain, and the Packers had first and goal at the four.
But soon after, we got to see the athleticism of 'Spoon on display as he came on a blitz and sacked Rodgers for an eleven yard loss. Lawrence Sidbury followed that up with a sack of his own, forcing the Pack to settle for a field goal. The Falcons red zone defense came up huge on that drive. They now lead 14-3 with just over five minutes left in the half.
The next offensive possession, however, wasn't so fruitful. After two Matt Ryan incompletions, a third down connection with Harry Douglas that went for 47 yards was called back because of a holding penalty. Ouch. Matt Bosher's punt went for a mere 35 yards. Double ouch. Let's not let this lead get away, Falcons.
The Green Bay Packers are without both starting tackles now that star left tackle Chad Clifton has left the field with a hamstring injury. He's doubtful to return. He was carted into the locker room after landing awkwardly in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons. Mississippi St. Bulldogs rookie Derek Sherrod fills in. Here's video of the injury:
Bryan Bulaga was out on the other end of the line, making for an inexperienced offensive line in a loud environment. So far it hasn't impacted Green Bay all that badly, as they've been able to drive the ball. Seven first downs thus far.
The losses could be key, as Atlanta is without John Abraham for the game. Despite the return on Jonathan Babineaux, the Falcons hadn't been able to generate very much of a pass rush. Aaron Rodgers took a rare hit shortly after Clifton left.
It's Sunday Night Football, the Falcons' second prime time appearance of the year, and they'll be hosting the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers for the third time in two years. I bet it made your day when you realized you'd get to hear Cris Collinsworth for a second time this year. Insight!
As we get under way in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons will begin the game already one man short on defense. After showing up on the team's injury report Friday afternoon with a hip injury, John Abraham was declared a gameday inactive and will not play tonight. The Falcons will need a really big game out of Kroy Biermann and/or Ray Edwards if they want a shot at containing Aaron Rodgers. I'm not holding my breath.
The Falcons got started in very typical fashion: a heavy dose of Michael Turner. And boy, did Turner look like he got his pop back. On his first few carries, he was really busting up the Packers. Later in the drive, he would bust right out of a Charles Woodson tackle for a 15-yard gain.
After zero targets last week, the Falcons would finally get Harry Douglas involved in the offense. Matt Ryan would look his way on third down, and HD turned a short completion into a nifty catch and run good for 13 yards and a first. And then the unthinkable happened: the Falcons ran a reverse, and it actually worked! The Falcons would flip to Julio Jones, who would bust out for a 17-yard gain.
Not long afterwards, the Falcons would get into the end zone on a five-yard TD pass to a wide-open Roddy White. My only question: Where has this been all year? I'll give Mike Mularkey credit: his playcalling on that opening drive was flawless. Turner got some good blocking, Ryan completed four-of-six on the drive, and almost everyone on the offense contributed in some way. Can we please continue this?
The defense didn't start out quite as well. Unless your name is Brent Grimes, that is. The Packers began just how you might expect: Aaron Rodgers was having his way with the Atlanta defense. But one play after knocking away a pass intended for Jordy Nelson, Grimes put his helmet right on Ryan Grant and forced him to fumble the ball. Atlanta recovered, and are now in good position to extend their lead in this game.
As the first quarter comes to a close, the Falcons currently have the ball at the Green Bay 26 after Ryan hooked up with Jason Snelling and Julio Jones for 17 yards each. The only bad news is that starter Garrett Reynolds was shaken up, and his return is questionable. Brett Romberg will take his place.
The turnover was great, but I still can't emphasize the impact that seven-minute scoring drive will have on this game. The Falcons have started this game exactly how they wanted to, so here's hoping they can continue.
Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham will not play Sunday night against the Packers. Abraham was declared inactive for the team with a hip injury that had him added to the team's injury report on Friday afternoon. In Abraham's place, expect Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury to share snaps opposite Ray Edwards.
Abraham opened the season with two sacks against Chicago, but has been quiet through three games. In other injury news, both receiver Roddy White and running back Jason Snelling participated fully in practice on Friday. White sat out practice Wednesday with a hip injury, while Snelling is recovering from a concussion suffered in the loss to Tampa Bay two weeks ago.
Abraham will join starting center Todd McClure, who is out with a knee injury, on the inactives list. McClure missed the firs two games of the 2011 season recovering from offseason surgery. Rookie center Joe Hawley will start in place of McClure.
The first bye week of the 2011 season is upon us, but there's no shortage of excitement with most of the big boys still in action. And with only one double-digit spread across the NFL landscape, gamblers have a lot of tough calls to make.
One of the three or four most anticipated Atlanta Falcons games of the season gets underway Sunday night at 8:20 pm ET (on NBC, 790 The Zone and at NBCSports.com). The Birds have the home field advantage, not that it did a whole lot of good in the last meeting between the two teams, a 48-17 Green Bay victory you may recall.
Atlanta did win a 20-17 matchup in the regular season last year in this very building, so all is not lost. But the 4-0 Packers might be even better than they were last time around -- they're certainly healthier -- so the 2-2 Falcons are going to have to take it up a level or three from what they've shown so far this year.
The Pack opened the week favored by 4.5 points. As expected, that line has inched all the way to six points. Each team has a key offensive line injury: Falcons center Todd McClure and Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga are out.
The Atlanta Falcons will be without center Todd McClure again for their critical game against the Green Bay Packers. The longtime anchor had battled back from an early injury to play against the Buccaneers and Seahawks, but a knee injury will keep him out for another week. Rookie defense end Cliff Matthews is also out, which could be a bigger deal if John Abraham isn't able to go.
The good news is Roddy White was a full practice participant, meaning he's almost certain to go on Sunday.
The Pack will be without starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, a setback considering defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux will return for Atlanta. The two wouldn't have been paired against each other anyway, but any adjustments for Green Bay could cause challenges. Then again, the Packers won the Super Bowl last year with about six healthy players, so.
PLAYER 10/5/11 10/6/11 10/7/11 LB Stephen Nicholas (calf) LP LP FP_P DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee) LP LP LP-Q C Todd McClure (knee) DNP DNP DNP-O WR Roddy White (thigh) DNP LP FP-P RB Jason Snelling (concussion) LP FP FP-P S William Moore (neck) LP LP FP-P CB Chris Owens (ankle) LP FP FP-P DE Cliff Matthews (knee) DNP DNP DNP-O TE Michael Palmer (ankle) DNP LP FP-P DE John Abraham (hip) LP-Q
GREEN BAY PACKERS
PLAYER 10/5/11 10/6/11 10/7/11 T Bryan Bulaga (knee) DNP DNP DNP-O T Chad Clifton (knee) LP FP DNP-P S Nick Collins (neck) DNP DNP DNP-O WR Donald Driver (shin) DNP FP LP-P RB Ryan Grant (kidney) FP FP FP-P LB Brad Jones (hamstring) LP LP DNP-Q LB Jamari Lattimore (shoulder) LP LP LP-P CB Pat Lee (back) LP LP LP-P LB Clay Matthews (quadricep) DNP DNP DNP-P DE Mike Neal (knee) DNP DNP DNP-O TE Andrew Quarless (knee) DNP DNP DNP-D TE Ryan Taylor (shoulder) LP FP FP-P CB Tramon Williams (shoulder) LP LP LP-P CB Charles Woodson (foot/knee) DNP DNP LP-P LB Frank Zombo (shoulder) LP LP LP-O
The oddsmakers, reflecting conventional wisdom, think the Atlanta Falcons will have their hands full in the NBC primetime game Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. According to Odds Shark, after the line opened at +4.5, Atlanta is now a touchdown underdog against Green Bay.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the defending Super Bowl champion Packers have looked like the NFL's best team. Led by QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay has the league's highest-scoring offense, averaging 37.0 points per game.
Rodgers exposed the Falcons defense in last-season's divisional round playoff game, throwing for 366 yards as Green Bay rolled to a 48-21 victory. While this game will be billed as a good barometer for how far Atlanta has come, especially in the wake of their massive draft day trade to acquire WR Julio Jones, the Falcons have more immediate concerns.
At 2-2, they are currently in third place in the tough NFC South, and a loss here will give them as many as they had all last season.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith addressed Roddy White's status during today's post practice interview. Atlanta's Pro-Bowl wide receiver was limited during practice on Wednesday but Smith expects him to fully participate on Thursday. White has reportedly been battling the effects of a deep thigh bruise.
"Roddy was limited participation today. He didn’t take his normal amount of reps but he did take a pretty good workload. We anticipate that he will take his normal reps tomorrow."
In four games this season, White has 26 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown. In last week's win over Seattle, White finished with six catches for 78 yards. The injury has slowed White in the early part of the season but rookie Julio Jones has picked up the slack by posting back-to-back 100 yard efforts.
It's not like Aaron Rodgers is going to be sneaking up on anybody this year but Falcons' coach Mike Smith knows the problems that Aaron Rodgers presents for his team this Sunday. Via the Atlanta Falcons' official Twitter account:
Rodgers is throwing the ball as well as anyone in the league. He's going to be a big challenge for us.
Smith might have a point after Rodgers' six touchdown performance last weekend against the Denver Broncos. Rodgers threw for four touchdowns and ran for another two in the Packers 49-23 victory. Smith is also familiar with Rodgers from the playoff game last year where Rodgers came to Atlanta and torched the Falcons secondary going 31-36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers then went on to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory.
The Falcons are sitting at 2-2 on the season and are hoping for a better outcome this time around.
Injuries are something the Atlanta Falcons have become accustomed to during the 2011 season. Thus far starting center Todd McClure has missed games, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux has been banged up, and last week Jason Snelling was out with a concussion. This Wednesday's injury report was no different as a variety of players missed practice today.
PLAYER 10/5/11 10/6/11 10/7/11
LB Stephen Nicholas (calf)
DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee)
C Todd McClure (knee)
WR Roddy White (thigh)
RB Jason Snelling (concussion)
S William Moore (neck)
CB Chris Owens (ankle)
DE Cliff Matthews (knee)
TE Michael Palmer (ankle)
Roddy White is making his typical Wednesday appearance on the injury report, but again it's Todd McClure who represents the biggest loss for the Falcons. Thus far replacement Joe Hawley has been mediocre at best, and with the prospect of facing the Packers defense is around the corner they'll need to ensure everyone is ready to play. Hopefully later this week we'll see McClure's condition improve.
Meanwhile Green Bay are really hurting following their win over Denver.
PLAYER 10/5/11 10/6/11 10/7/11
T Bryan Bulaga (knee)
T Chad Clifton (knee)
S Nick Collins (neck)
WR Donald Driver (shin)
RB Ryan Grant (kidney)
LB Brad Jones (hamstring)
LB Jamari Lattimore (shoulder)
CB Pat Lee (back)
LB Clay Matthews (quadricep)
DE Mike Neal (knee)
TE Andrew Quarless (knee)
TE Ryan Taylor (shoulder)
CB Tramon Williams (shoulder)
CB Charles Woodson (foot/knee)
LB Frank Zombo (shoulder)
We're not just talking players here, we're talking big name superstars. Reports are saying Donald Driver will be out this weekend after struggling with a chronic knee injury, and Nick Collins won't play either after sustaining a neck injury week two vs. Carolina. The offensive line looks to be much weaker without Bryan Bulaga who looks to be out, however arguably the two most important names on this list Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson both appear to be playing on Sunday, but if they are still missing practice this could be a concern.
From an injury perspective the stars are aligning for Atlanta. While they have a few injuries themselves they're nothing compared to the players the Packers could be without on Sunday. If there was a time to capitalize on a weakened opponent this is it.
Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) and outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas (calf), who have been out in recent weeks, returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.
Babineaux, a defensive tackle or sees plenty of time in the Falcons' line rotation, suffered a partially torn MCL in his left knee in the season opener versus the Chicago Bears. Since Babineaux has been out, the Falcons have yet to record a sack. Starting outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas suffered a calf injury during practice Sept. 23 and has missed the past two games.
Other injury updates on the Falcons:
Noted as limited on Wednesday: Running Back Jason Snelling (concussion), Safety William Moore (neck) and cornerback Christopher Owens (ankle).
Players who did not practice: Center Todd McClure (knee), wide receiver Roddy White (thigh), tight end Michael Palmer (left ankle) and Cliff Matthews (knee).
For more coverage and insights check out SBNation Atlanta Falcons blog The Falcoholic.
As we've seen on a few occasions this season the betting community don't have a lot of faith in the Atlanta Falcons. Following their close win over Seattle (which failed to cover the spread) pundits aren't willing to put much faith in Atlanta to beat the defending champion Green Bay Packers this weekend.
Despite being at home in the Georgia Dome the Falcons are getting seven points in this game. Aaron Rodgers has the Packers offense clicking, and is on pace for a legendary season as he's thrown for 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions through four games. However, that doesn't mean the Packers are infallible, thus far they've struggled at reliably covering the tight end position and with Tony Gonzalez that could be a prelude to a big game from the veteran.
Neither team has had trouble scoring so the over/under of 53.5 could easily be met. With the quarterbacks and receivers slated to start this week there's little doubt this game could become a shootout. I expect rookie WR Julio Jones to have a big day.
This is a very curious game to try and predict. Thus far the Atlanta Falcons have been a team to rise and fall to their opponent's skill level. When the chips were down they lifted their game for a big win over Philadelphia, but last week they had an unusually hard time dealing with the Seattle Seahawks. Similarly, the Packers' 4-0 record is definitely encouraging for Green Bay fans, but there are occasions the Packers have had some issues on defense. Look no further than week two's game against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in which the Packers gave up over 500 yards of total offense and only managed to win by seven points.
Ultimately I'm not sure the Falcons get the win outright this week, but I definitely think they cover the spread. I don't think the Packers will come to Atlanta and win by more than a touchdown.
With Aaron Rodgers looming, it's OK to fret about the Atlanta Falcons defense.
Bad memories. That's what I get when I think of this team. I vividly remember watching in disgust as the Packers blew out the Falcons at home 48-21 on January 15th. I especially remember feeling my gut drop as Tramon Williams picked an ill-advised Ryan pass and took it the other way for a touchdown. With so much hype surrounding the Eagles, people often forget about Green Bay and how much they accomplished last season with some very injured ranks.
The defending Superbowl champs will be the team to beat in 2011, and the Falcons will get their shot to face with the Pack week five, at home on Sunday Night Football.
Record: Finished 10-6, Superbowl XLV Champions
Last Meeting: NFC Divisional Round, 2010 (Falcons won... on the inside)
Notable Additions: OT Derek Sherrod (draft pick), WR Randall Cobb (draft pick), RB Alex Green (draft pick)
Notable Losses: LB Nick Barnett, DT Cullen Jenkins, OG Daryn Colledge
With the Packers being one of those unfortunate teams over the new salary cap as the offseason began, they weren't very active at all during free agency. They did manage to keep a few important vets- AJ Hawk, James Jones, and John Kuhn to name a few- but their only new additions were through the draft.
Still, this team is very similar to the one that won a championship last year. Actually, they're more like a healthier version of the 2010 team. Barring any catastrophic injuries, this Packers team will be tough if not tougher than the one that stomped the Falcons in the playoffs.
For Atlanta, they only need to look to their 20-17 regular season win over Green Bay find the keys to success. Pressuring Aaron Rodgers, keeping him in the pocket, and maintaining ball control will all be huge in this one. Too many times I've seen Rodgers slip away from a would-be lineman, only to scramble downfield for a 20-yard gain.
The Falcons need consistent pressure to stop guys like Rodgers and Brees, and hopefully this will be one of those games where Ray Edwards can step up and make a few big plays. As for the offense, two talented Packers corners in Woodson and Williams may leave Harry Douglas as the go-to guy for Ryan. Judging by his preseason performance thus far, a big performance may not be out of the question.
Regardless of who makes plays, the Packers will be the fourth playoff-caliber team on the first five weeks of the schedule. If the Falcons can make it past Green Bay, the remaining games won't be quite as brutal as the first five. For Mike Smith and company, it will be a real test of what this 2011 team is capable of doing.
Decades of bad history can't be erased by months of competence.
After a magical season that saw the Atlanta Falcons win 13 games, the NFC South and clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, the terrific ride came to an end in the Georgia Dome Saturday night. The Falcons were ambushed by the Green Bay Packers, 48-21, in the NFC divisional playoffs behind a near-perfect passing performance from Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers finished 31-of-36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He also added a rushing touchdown for good measure. The 31 completions was a Packer playoff record and the 366 yards passing was the second-highest total ever from a Green Bay passer in the playoffs. The record is 423 held by Rodgers himself.
With a career-year from Roddy White, the re-emergence of John Abraham, and the bend-but-don’t-break defense, the Falcons were in a position to write their own ending to this fairy tale season. The Packers, however, played the role of the villian.
The game started out as most Falcons games this season. Atlanta scored first by forcing an early turnover and they led 7-0. After the Packers tied the game, Eric Weems returned the ensuing kickoff to put the Falcons ahead 14-7 in the second quarter. It was all going according to plan. The Falcons, though, wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter. The Packers reeled off 35 unanswered points en route to setting a franchise record for points scored in the playoffs.
This is the bad news portion of our recap. Skip ahead if you want to forget this loss as quickly as possible. The 27-point defeat was the worst loss in Falcons playoff history and the worst overall loss since the Falcons lost 34-7 to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2009 regular season. The 194 yards gained offensively was the lowest by the Falcons in the Mike Smith era and the worst since a December 2007 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The three turnovers by the Falcons were the most they had in any game dating back to Week 17 of the 2009 season.
Up next for the Packers is the Seattle Seahawks-Chicago Bears winner. Up next for the Falcons is a long off-season where they’ll need to make tough decisions about free agents and the draft and that’s if there’s a season at all.
With the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints winning on Thanksgiving Day, the pressure was on the Atlanta Falcons to maintain their slim lead in the NFC South. Against Green Bay on Sunday, they did just that; beating the Packers on a last-second field goal, 20-17, to improve to 9-2.
Matt Ryan completed 24 of 28 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown. He was efficient working underneath as the Packers did not let the Falcons’ receivers go deep. Michael Turner was his usual dominant self gaining 110 yards on 23 carries and scoring on a fourth-and-goal from the one. Roddy White was held to five catches for only 49 yards but Tony Gonzalez picked up the slack with a touchdown and six catches.
The Packers outgained the Falcons, 418 to 294 but it was an Aaron Rodgers’ turnover at the goalline that proved to be the difference in this one. The Packers, tied at three, drove to the one-yard line and appeared in control of the game when Rodgers attempted a quarterback sneak. The ball was knocked loose and Mike Peterson recovered. It was Rodgers’ first fumble all season. The Falcons capitalized with a 14-play, 80-yard drive to go ahead 10-3. They would never relinquish the lead.
The Falcons have now won five straight games, are undefeated at home (6-0) and have the best record in the NFL. That’s the good news. The bad news is they still have to play the Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the next four weeks and they start a three-game road trip next week in Tampa Bay.
Even at 9-2, the Falcons can’t let up. They’ll likely need to finish with 12 wins to win the division and clinch homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. This is crucial for the Falcons since their 3-2 road record doesn’t instill a lot of confidence. The Falcons have enjoyed four of their last five games in the Georgia Dome but the next three weeks will be their biggest test. Can they continue their high-level of play on the road?
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