Can Someone Please Call Donald Driver and Antonio Freeman?Posted:Jan 20th, 2017 1:40 pm
Those who watch the Packers like to rib us fans, constantly telling us that our team consists of Aaron Rodgers and 50 anonymous, interchangeable parts. On Sunday, we may find out whether that is actually true.
With the wide receiver corps thinner than Matt Ryan's postseason resume, the Packers may have to turn to rookie Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis to try to keep up on the scoreboard with the Falcons in Sunday's NFC title game.
Mike McCarthy admitted on Thursday that if this were a regular season game, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison would be ruled out. But we all know the Pack is 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl and the team and players will do everything they possibly can to play. My guess is that Adams and Allison will be active, though I doubt Allison plays. At best, Adams will likely be limited and serve as a decoy, rather than a threat.
Obviously, in a perfect world the team lines up Nelson and Adams in a game where you might need 35 points to win. But the way Aaron Rodgers is dialed in, he'll likely be productive no matter who joins him in the huddle. Randall Cobb and Jared Cook will probably get the most attention, but Ty Montgomery will probably be called on to split out wide a bunch, and Richard Rodgers reminded us last week that he can be counted on for a big play when called upon.
And let's not forget, in the first meeting the Pack was without Cobb, Cook and Montgomery (ironically the three healthiest guys right now) and still put of 32 points on the Falcons' average defense (more on that unit in a bit).
I'm focusing on the offense here because let's not kid ourselves. The Packers are not going to stop the Falcons on Sunday. Ryan and company finished the season as one of the league's most prolific offenses of all time. Their two headed running game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is the best 1-2 punch in the league. Julio Jones is the NFL's most athletically gifted wide receiver (though he's bothered by a toe injury) and Ryan has role players like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel who are capable of big plays at any given moment.
The key for the Packers is to disrupt Ryan; force him into mistakes. But the Falcons' rise this season has coincided with much better offensive line play, led by center Alex Mack. They're protecting the presumptive MVP and as a result, he's been comfortable in the pocket and has made less bonehead plays. Atlanta is +11 in the give take this season, better than the Pack's +8.
Getting Morgan Burnett back would be monumental, more important than the injured wide receivers, in my book. The Georgia Tech alum and Atlanta native wants desperately to play in this one and the feeling is mutual. The defense desperately needs him to try to contain the prolific Falcons offense. My guess is he plays through the quad injury.
Atlanta supporters will point to their team's rise defensively, particularly in the last six weeks. But the QBs they played in the final six games are in a different galaxy, except Drew Brees in the finale--and he put up 32 points. They've lost their second best pass rusher, Adrian Clayborn, to a torn triceps last week. Their best guy, Vic Beasley, is a beast. But in the first matchup he didn't get close to Rodgers, thanks to great play by Bryan Bulaga. Dwight Freeney can still make a play or two, but isn't as productive as fellow old-timer Julius Peppers.
Their secondary lost its leader CB Desmond Trufant earlier in the season. The Packers passing game has the decisive edge in this matchup, no matter who is lined up at wide receiver.
Special teams are always magnified at this point in the season and the Pack should have the edge. Their kickoff and punt coverage units have struggled all season. Devin Hester broke a long one last week and when Trevor Davis was asked to return punts in the first matchup, pretty much by default, he broke a 55 yard return. If the Pack can tilt field position it will help on a day where they're short-handed.
As for the other intangibles, the Packers obviously come in with a QB and coach who have won title games, the Falcons cannot say the same. The Birds have home field, but they did in 2011 as well when Rodgers came in and delivered a virtuoso performance in a 48-20 Packers upset.
After what we witnessed last Sunday and what we've seen over the past eight weeks, how can you not believe that these Packers are destined to reach the Super Bowl. It will likely come down to which team gets the ball last.
20 years after Brett Favre, Reggie White and Desmond Howard led the Pack over the Patriots, it feels like we're going to get an encore. Trailing 34-31 late, Rodgers delivers one more time to win it.
Packers 38 Falcons 34