Feeling a sense of deja vu as the unbeaten Pack gets set for their Monday night game against the Falcons. Last year the Pack also entered Week 4 at 3-0 and welcomed an NFC opponent to Lambeau in prime time. It was the Eagles and they upset the Pack when Aaron Rodgers’ final pass was picked off in the end zone (where was the PI call?). I was there and remember it well.
I presume that Matt LaFleur and company haven’t forgotten and will be laser focused when they greet a desperate, winless Atlanta team that should be 2-1, losing second half leads of 19 and 16 in their past two games. It seems like they find a different way to lose each week and some believe head coach Dan Quinn will be coaching for his job on Monday night.
For the Pack, with their bye week looming, a 4-0 start would be an unexpected quick starts, with road tests in Minnesota and New Orleans in the rearview mirror. The health of both teams is a primary storyline heading into this one. There’s not a lot of clarity on some of the big names, but let’s read the tea leaves.
First, the Falcons: four players are out: both starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, DT Takk McKinley and kicker Younghoe Koo. The uncertainty comes at wide receiver, where Atlanta has an outstanding trio in notorious Packer-killer Julio Jones, emerging star Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. All three have been limited in practice this week, but all three appear to be on track to play. Jones (hamstring) missed the Bears game, and likely won’t be 100%, but he’d be tough to keep off the field; he’s averaged six catches for 100 yards and a TD in his six games against the Pack. Ridley’s dealing with an ankle and Gage has cleared the concussion protocol.
It will be interesting to see if the Packers keep the corners on their sides of the field, no matter where the receivers line up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has Jaire Alexander shadow Ridley, whose led the way with 21 catches, 349 yards and four TDs. That’s assuming Jaire plays…
Which brings us to the Pack’s injury situation. We know that Allen Lazard and Christian Kirksey are out at least until Week 8–both were placed on IR on Saturday, a really tough break for the passing game, following Lazard’s career game in New Orleans. Kirksey continues his injury trend–the team’s leading tackler has a shoulder injury. Marcedes Lewis is also unlikely to play, listed as doubtful with a knee.
Where the uncertainty bubbles up is the list of questionable players. There are nine of them. Nine. And they’re all key players. Let’s start with the two who missed last week. You might assume that with Davante Adams (hamstring) and Kenny Clark (groin) dealing with muscle injuries–and a bye next week–that the team might hold them out. Last year, they played guys in that situation. I think both end up playing in this one, but we probably won’t know for sure until the inactive list comes out.
Also on the list: Alexander (knee), Rashan Gary (ankle), Corey Linsley (groin) and punter JK Scott (illness). They all had the ‘did not participate’ for Saturday’s designation. Alexander and Linsley weren’t even on the injury report until Saturday. It’s hard to know how many of these guys would be listed as probable if they still used that designation. Obviously, there’s not another punter on the roster, so hopefully Scott feels better by Monday.
Rounding out the Questionable Nine: Za’Darius Smith (ankle), Josiah Deguara (ankle) and Tyler Ervin (wrist). Ervin popped up on Saturday, but practiced fully, so he should be good to go. Smith and Deguara were both limited–I think they both play. With Gary and Lewis out, they’re both needed or the team will be forced to alter the game plan.
The Falcons’ defense ranks 31st and really struggle on the back end. They’ve given up nearly 1,100 yards through the air through three weeks and nine touchdowns. They’ve struggled to rush the passer and are very thin in the secondary. Both safeties are injured, as are two of their top three corners. They do get CB Kendall Sheffield; he’ll make his season debut after dealing with a foot injury.
Rodgers should find little resistance through the air. It was so refreshing to see him target the tight ends on Sunday night. The trio combined for nine catches for 104 yards and two TDs. With Lewis out, Deguara would have an opportunity in the passing game, if he’s able to go. I think it’s a big night for Robert Tonyan, who caught all five passes thrown his way last week. Atlanta’s D gives up the second most yard to tight ends in the league.
Maybe this is the night MVS breaks through. There will be chances for deep shots all night, especially with backups at safety. If Adams is out, he’s the de facto #1 receiver. Darrius Shepherd and Malik Taylor should also see plenty of action. Maybe the Pack elevates former Bill receiver Robert Foster for this one as well.
Atlanta is middle of the road against the run. Their best player, Grady Jarrett, missed some time this week with a hi, but he’s good to go. The Pack’s O-line is healthy and should be able to keep him at bay, but he’s notched two and a half sacks and four tackles for loss. Aaron Jones and Jamal Williams should both be productive both in the running and passing game. Just can’t see the Falcons slowing down Green Bay.
The problem is, I’m not sure the Pack can slow Matt Ryan, who LaFleur coached to his MVP season in 2016. We’ve already talked about his excellent trip of receivers, tight end Hayden Hurst was brought in to replace Austin Hooper and he’s already scored twice. Todd Gurley was brought in to replace Devonta Freeman, and so far he’s been solid and more importantly, has stayed healthy.
With Kirksey out, Ty Summers will be called on to replace him. He led the team with nine tackles after being forced into action when Kirksey went down. But that was his first game and his lack of experience against this high powered offense is concerning. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pack brought in a couple of linebackers during the bye week. They are wafer thin at that spot.
This has all the makings of a shoot out. Assuming most of the Pack’s questionable guys are good to go, I say Rodgers outduels Ryan. But I don’t think it’s going to be easy. The Falcons have jumped out to big leads the last two weeks and I think the Pack gets their best effort as they try to save Dan Quinn’s job and show the world they’re much better than their record indicates.
But in the end, they’re the Falcons and they’ll do Falcon things in the fourth quarter.
Packers 38 Falcons 34