The Atlanta Falcons could be described as the antithesis of the Packer’s last opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles are often described as “explosive”; they have perhaps the greatest mobile quarterback ever in Micheal Vick and maybe the greatest “home run” threat in the league at the moment with wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Running back LeSean McCoy boasts a 5+ yards per carry and the rest of the Eagle’s skill position players are filled with speedsters.
To this end, this year’s Eagles ranked as one of the best at big plays of over 20 yards and Vick’s ability to buy time in the pocket and scramble often lead to more opportunities down the field.
On the other side of the spectrum are the Atlanta Falcons, lead by quarterback Matt Ryan who is about as pure of a pocket passer as there is.
At his disposable, running back Micheal Turner is known as a bowling ball and not as a speed demon and wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, aren’t speedsters either but manage very good production with crisp route running and steady hands.
While the Eagles are a high-risk/high reward team, the Falcons are unspectacular, but they are efficient and error adverse and that plays into perhaps their greatest advantage for Saturday’s game: the no huddle offense.
The premise is pretty simple, by not huddling up you give the opponent’s defense less time to substitute players and get setup which hopefully leads to a lapse in personnel which will lead to either a mismatch or a blown coverage. The caveat to the no huddle offense is that it requires a smart quarterback who can call plays and read defenses and a team which is fundamentally sound. The Falcons have both.
And it will be a tough challenge particularly for the Packers defense. The Capers’ 3-4 defense is predicated on its complexity; blitzes can come from everywhere and from anyone, coverages can be rolled the moment before the snap.
But complexity has its disadvantages, one being that it takes a lot of time to set up. The other big factor is that communication is very important. One prime example of this was against the Indianapolis Colts during the pre-season; on the Colts first drive, the last play started with the Colts in the no huddle, they snapped the ball quick while the Packers defense was still in the process of calling coverages and adjusting assignments. The result? A ridiculously easy 17 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon who blew by the confused secondary.
In the Packer-Falcons game in the regular season also featured the no huddle, ironically by both teams while the no huddle didn’t result in any blown plays like the Colts game, it still was very effective. The Falcons used it to control the clock and give Micheal Turner more tired lineman while the Packers used it to confuse the secondary. Since it was so effective in their last game, it would not be surprising to see a lot of no huddle being employed again.
The second aspect that makes the no huddle offense particularly effective against the Packers is the defenses’ propensity to stay with 3 or 2 down lineman when in the nickle packages.
In particular, the biggest factor will be the stamina of nose tackle BJ Raji, he will almost certainly be double teamed the entire game and with the no huddle he might not be able to sub out much. Will he still be able to collapse the pocket consistently? Will he be able to contain Micheal Turner as the game wears on?
In Raji’s favor is that with the string of injuries to the defensive line during the early part of the season, he’s been in the majority of snaps so presumably his snap count for this upcoming game isn’t going to be that much different from what he’s experienced before.
The other defensive linemen to keep an eye for would be defensive end Cullen Jenkins who managed to return for the Eagles game after missing 4 games to a calf injury. After the game Jenkins mentioned to reporters that he felt gassed, and not surprising since not many would be in football shape after sitting out for an entire month.
Jenkins is also the other down lineman next to Raji in the nickel package so in a perfect world scenario Jenkins would come in on the nickle defense on obvious passing downs while subbing out for DE/NT Howard Green on more obvious running plays.
Of course the no huddle throws a wrench into this arrangement since the Falcons might start with a passing formation on the first down and then run it twice on second and third down in the no huddle, thus forcing Jenkins to be in for the entire series. Add to the fact that he is also likely to be double teamed any time he’s on the field since he’s the Packers leading pass rusher on the defensive line and a good run stuffer.
The flip side of this is using the no huddle to keep Jenkins off the field, if the Falcons start with a run and then go no huddle and pass on the next two downs, DE/NT Howard Green would be forced to pass rush which isn’t his strong point.
The Packers-Eagles game was all about match-ups, could the Packers line contain Micheal Vick? Could the secondary contain DeSean Jackson and company? This game will be more about scheme; will the Capers’ 3-4 defense manage to limit mistakes due to the no huddle and perhaps most importantly, will the defensive line manage to keep up with the Atlanta’s steady offense?——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.