The Falcons will host the undefeated Green Bay Packers for the third time in the past 316 days this weekend on Sunday Night football. The Falcons did beat the Packers in their first matchup last November thanks to a strong rushing attack, and some redzone miscues by the Packers. But they were thrashed in their playoff matchup last January, 48-21, with the Falcons defense forcing no punts in the game, and the game being practically over by halftime.
The Falcons are hoping to get some revenge this week, and need something to kick-start their sluggish start to the 2011 season. Their offense has been out of sync most games, and the defense has been hit and miss at times. A win over the Packers could galvanize this team to a very strong finish.
But a win won’t be easy. Many consider that the Packers are the league’s best team. Their offense has been unstoppable this year, ranking 1st in scoring offense and 5th in total offense this year. That is thanks in large part to the MVP-caliber season that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been having, sporting a passer rating of 125 through 4 games. The Falcons are going to have to find a way to slow down Rodgers if they want to have any chance to win this game.
Controlling the clock and limiting the Packers opportunities on offense might be the best method. Which requires the Falcons offense to be firing on all cylinders, something the team has yet to see for a full four quarters this year.
But anyway, here are some of the notable matchups I see this week.
Matchups I Like
Falcons WRs vs. Packers secondary
There aren’t a ton of matchups that favor the Falcons in this game. But in last year’s playoff game, the Packers put Charles Woodson in the slot often against Tony Gonzalez, effectively taking Gonzo out of the game. If they do the same thing this year, then the Falcons will get an opportunity to match up the emerging Julio Jones or Roddy White against the Packers third best corner: Sam Shields. Particularly Jones, with his size could be a tough out for a smaller corner like Shields, particularly after the catch.
And while Tramon Williams had two huge interceptions in last year’s playoff game, I think he’s also susceptible to giving up some plays. Woodson is not the player he once was, and in situations where he’s lined up on the outside against players like White, the Falcons could exploit that.
Not to mention the injury to Nick Collins is huge. While Morgan Burnett has had his share of big plays in the secondary, he’s still young and susceptible. Charlie Peprah is an OK stopgap starter, but he doesn’t bring much to the table.
The Falcons have the potential to spread the field with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Tony Gonzalez and find ways to exploit matchups in the passing game if they are willing to attack the Packers secondary, which was among the best in the league a year ago, but that is not the case this year through the first month of the season.
Ray Edwards vs. Marshall Newhouse
There seems to be a very good chance that Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga won’t start on Sunday, which will mean that Marshall Newhouse will play in his stead. Last week against the Broncos, Newhouse struggled to contain the pressure from rookie linebacker Von Miller. This is the type of game that the Falcons need Edwards to step up this year.
Edwards had a two sack outing against the Packers in each of the past two seasons. That sort of production could be instrumental to helping the Falcons get a win over the Packers as getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers will be key. The Falcons failed in that regards in both of their outings against the Packers last year, and with Newhouse starting, it should give Edwards particularly a better opportunity to do so than at any point when he was facing the likes Allen Barbre and Bryan Bulaga in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Matchups I Don’t Like
Falcons Back Seven vs. Jermichael Finley
The Packers have a lot of weapons for Aaron Rodgers to throw to in this game. Their weapons in the middle are particularly dangerous with tight end Jermichael Finley getting his first real opportunity to play the Falcons, at least as a starting tight end.
The Packers also mix in a heavy dose of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Randall Cobb in the slot, which the Falcons struggled to cover a year ago. It will be important that Falcons newcomer Kelvin Hayden lock down that spot.
Finley is likely going to be the hardest matchup for the Falcons to deal with, because there is really no option in the Falcons back seven who they can put in man coverage against him, and expect him to come out okay. Their best option is probably linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who is the speediest linebacker on the roster. Neither starting safety in Thomas DeCoud or William Moore are great in man coverage.
Likely, it will probably lead to the Falcons trying to drop 7 or 8 guys into zone coverage most snaps to try and bracket Finley. And considering how poorly the Falcons have played in zone coverage throughout this year, that does not bode well for the team on Sunday.
Dunta Robinson vs. Greg Jennings
Robinson has struggled this year, now that more opposing offense are targeting him due to the increased awareness about how good a corner Brent Grimes is. And he’ll have to step up this week against the Packers’ top wideout Greg Jennings, who primarily lines up on the left side of the field (i.e. against the right corner).
One of the issues Robinson has faced this year, is being oft used in zone coverage, which is not a strength of his game. Robinson is ideally a press man corner, and the Falcons have minimized how often he gets opportunities to showcase that strength. And if the Falcons are forced to use more zone to try and deal with players like Finley in the middle of the defense, then it’s going to mean they’ll have to use more zone to deal with the receivers on the outside, putting Robinson again at a disadvantage this week.