Pack Eases Into December with a Visit by the Fraudulent FalconsPosted:Dec 5th, 2014 10:06 pm
I know, I know, they torched the Cardinals last week. But c'mon, who wouldn't take a falcon over a cardinal in a fight. Besides, the Cards are in free fall mode, desperately needing a home win over the Chiefs to hold off the Seahawks and Niners.
Atlanta is the de facto leader of the wretched NFC South, but they come to Lambeau as two touchdown underdogs for all the obvious reasons. They haven't been a team you can trust on the road in the Matty Ice era and while they still have a couple of nice offensive weapons, their defense is offensive.
The Packers should have little trouble keeping their roll on, despite the extra weight on the bandwagon by much of the country: the Packers are now the Super Bowl favorites--a fun place to be, but pretty meaningless since we have a long way to go from here to there.
What opened the eyes of many was the stout play of the defense last week; able to contain the bruising run game and keep Brady in check when it really mattered. The Falcons are far less dynamic and versatile, relying on the ancient legs of Steven Jackson and the young, now-healthy legs of Julio Jones. Jackson finally cracked the century mark for the first time as a Falcon last week against the Cards, but he's on the back end and can't run away from anyone.
Matt Ryan will look often in the direction of Jones, who had a career day last week, with the absence of Roddy White. It looks like White will be back from the ankle injury, so if Sam Shields misses this game (still going through the concussion protocol...I just threw that in because I love writing 'concussion protocol'). Tramon Williams and Davon House will be charged with keeping tabs on them. With Casey Hayward keeping an eye on slot guy Harry Douglass, the Pack should be able to devote a lot of attention to applying a furious pass rush on Ryan. He no longer has reliable Tony Gonzalez to dump balls off to.
Mike Daniels, the most improved player on the defense, has missed practice all week with a back injury. If he misses this game, the unit takes a hit. It looks like Josh Boyd will return, but no one provides the burst up front that Daniels does. Look for the Falcons to test it with Jackson early and often.
Of course, the biggest talker this week has been the demotion of AJ Hawk, who was on the sidelines in the nickel for the first time in his career last week. Sam Barrington looked fresh and capable in his spot and looks like he will get a chance to take over. Though a team like Atlanta, without a dangerous tight end, might present the kind of matchup where Dom Capers will trot Hawk out there a bit more. Big picture, it looks like the end of the road for the Hawk era in Green Bay after the season.
Where the Pack really has the edge is when they have the ball. Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFC player of the month, makes his 100th start and needs 293 yards to break the record for the most yards in his first 100. Facing the 32nd ranked passing defense should help him get there. It's hard to see a way that the Falcons keep the Pack out of the end zone, even if they have improved a bit over the past month.
Mike Nolan's unit has 24 takeaways (third in the league), but they get very little pass rush unless they blitz and Rodgers feasts on the blitz. There's no one in the front seven who scares you--since DE John Abraham moved on linebacker Sean Witherspoon suffered a season-ending injury. Former Gopher Rashede Hageman has shown some ability, but has been inconsistent and is likely not ready for a matchup like this one.
The Pack is completely healthy offensively and we all now how prolific they've been at home this season. The Falcons are 31st in sack percentage. Their leading sacker has 2.5. Rodgers will have time to survey the field and find the matchup he likes. And Eddie Lacy should find enough holes to cross the century mark.
If the Pack can contain Jackson and the Falcons' ground game, they should be able to keep the tempo of the game to their liking and coast at home. Keep an eye on Packer killer Devin Hester, too. He always seems to save a little magic for his matchup with the Pack.
The Falcons are sick and tired of hearing that their division is no good and that whoever wins it won't deserve to be in the playoffs. They're likely to be focused and primed to show the nation they're not as bad as their record (which would be better if their coach's brain didn't freeze up like the Lambeau beer taps in January).
Packers 38 Falcons 24