Packers Periscope: Week 14 vs. Atlanta Falcons

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The Past: While the last meeting between these two teams actually occurred in week 5 of the 2011 season (which the Packers won), most fans will remember the NFC divisional game in 2010 where Aaron Rodgers played perhaps the finest game of his career, going 31 for 36, 26 yards and 3 touchdowns, which even then doesn’t show the complete dominance of the performance.  Rodgers simply could not be brought down, often scrambling from surefire sacks, and could not be slowed down, throwing pinpoint darts to receivers who were blanket covered.

On defense, a pivotal interception returned for a touchdown by Tramon Williams at the end of the 1st half was the catalyst that sparked the Packers to dominate the second half.  With Rodgers putting up points with ease, the Falcons offense played to match the Packers point for point; however the Falcons offense buckled under the pressure, most notably with quarterback Matt Ryan making several poor decisions including 2 interceptions and a fumble which sealed the game.

During the offseason, the Packers and Falcons engaged in some more gamesmanship by bidding for the services of veteran running back Steven Jackson, who was a free agent for the first time after playing for the St. Louis Rams for nearly a decade.  In the end, Ted Thompson stuck with his draft and develop and frugal free agency philosophy and let Jackson sign with the Falcons.  However, Thompson perhaps got the last laugh as the Packers drafted Alabama star running back Eddie Lacy, who plays with some Steven Jacksons in him and is a candidate for rookie of the year honors while age and injury has finally caught up with Jackson, who has only started 8 games, rushing 97 times for a paltry 339 yards.

The Present: Oh how the mighty have fallen.  While the Packers have the convenient alibi of losing their star quarterback (which would basically derail any team’s playoff hopes), the Falcons have no such luxury.  Matt Ryan has seen a significant decline in his play with a drop of touchdowns, an increase in interceptions and a drop in his yards per attempt and does not appear as dominant as he was just a year ago.  Some of that definitely has to be attributed to the loss of his top two targets; Julio Jones, whose foot injuries ultimately lead to the IR and Roddy White, who has been dealing with a multitude of injuries.  However, Aaron Rodgers can commiserate with Ryan, after losing Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley (and that wide receiver who plays for the Vikings) Rodger too has had to throw the ball to “some guy named Dave” but has managed to be quite successful with the unheralded Jarrett Boykin for example.  Steven Jackson has not made up for Michael Turner at his prime and the Falcons have field a bottom third rushing attack and while Tony Gonzales has maintained his old form, he’s found it much more difficult to find open spaces without White and Jones pressing the perimeter.

However the biggest regression has to be on the defense, which surprising has found a way to play even worse than the Packers defense.  The Falcons only rank above San Diego as the worst defense in the league, ranking 31st in total defense, 31st in passing defense and 27th in rushing defense. The Falcons have also had many the of the same problems on defense as the Packers, namely poor tackling, only 6 interceptions (tied with the Packers for 31st in the league and 22 sacks (31st in the league)

The Future: However bleak the season has turned for both of these franchises, both are actually in a prime position for a bounce back next season.  Both most importantly have a star quarterback that they are committed to and a wide array of offensive weapons that will be healthier and more experienced next year.  In particular, Matt Ryan will again have to silence his critics and prove that not only is he capable of winning in the post season (he’s only won 1 playoff game in 5 attempts), but he will now also have to prove that his regression isn’t permanent and he still is a championship-caliber quarterback.

Most of the change however will have to come from the defense, just as Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is on the hot seat for several defensive meltdowns, Mike Nolan is also in danger of losing his job.  However, both franchises are historically very conservative and it’s unlikely that any major changes will occur in the next couple of weeks, but the two franchises may well again be up for a round of gamesmanship this offseason as they vie for their new defensive coordinators.

Looking long term, there’s still a lot to like about each team, both teams can keep up with the points-fest that is the current NFL and both most importantly have the quarterback position addressed.  Neither team is going to be changing philosophies all too drastically next season and both have general managers who are regarded as some of the finest in the league.  In the end, both teams will almost certainly have forgettable season, but most fans will write it off as an anomaly and be hopeful for the 2014 season.

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Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • Savage57

    Here’s to Matty ‘Ice’ Ryan’s nickname taking on a whole new meaning come Sunday!

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I don’t think Ryan will be all that phased by the cold, he did play at Boston College and Alumni Stadium is an open air stadium

      • Savage57

        Not that kind of meaning. Like not having ice in his veins, getting rattled, blown up by the D. Something extra ordinary.

  • http://allgbp.com duhawks

    playoffs will not happen this year so it is time to check everyone else who would like to stay in Green Bay. They should show up or maybe pack it up.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I’d be surprise if there were whole sale changes to the team, especially when it comes to the players; there’s just too much money involved with a lot of players to really justify cutting them outright. I bet we will see a ton of Packers restructure their contracts like AJ Hawk did this year, but the same can’t be said about the coaching staff.

  • Razer

    I find it ironic that both the Packers and Falcons boasted two of the best offenses in the league. Both these teams had the firepower to go toe-to-toe with anyone. Ultimately, it is the defense that has kept each team from advancing. I think that we are in a better place than the Falcons but there is still a lot of work to be done on the defense and in the trenches.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I don’t think it’s the defense that’s keeping them from advancing; before Rodgers got hurt, the team was still winning pretty easily and the defense was still terrible. Good defense certainly helps, but it’s basically only once in a decade that a defense carries a team to the Super Bowl.

  • Big T

    I will have to give credit where credit is due. I wanted Jackson badly and thought TT was a jackwagon for not getting him. Lacy is freakin amazing, thank you Teddy.

    • Dobber

      I liked Jackson, too. I thought he would flourish in a system like ATL or GB where the passing attack would open up the box for him. Some players get old fast…same is true for Gonzo. He’s not the same player he was even a year ago.

      • Thomas Hobbes

        Running backs are the poster boys for “falling off a cliff” careers, just look at Shaun Alexander, super star one year, complete dumpster fire the next. Really Gonzales is the exception rather than the norm, and the Falcons guessed wrong on Jackson.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Add to that a ton of people though Johnathan Franklin was going to supplant Lacy by the middle of the season and everyone was surprised why Franklin lasted so long. Well so far Thompson was right on both, Lacy was a steal in the second and Franklin in the 4th mitigated the damage should he not be able to contribute.

      • http://allpackers.com Nick Perry

        Still think Franklin can be special. I know you didn’t say he would’t Thomas but I think next year with a season under his belt, he could be really be a asset in this offense.I also think Atlanta is a totally different team on grass outdoors, much like the Saints. Atlanta doesn’t have close to the front the Lions have. They also lost half their secondary to Free Agency from last year. The Packers just need Flynn to manage the game, complete some throws and not hang onto the ball so long and expect that much time to

        • Big T

          Franklin has to have neck surgery and probably will never play again. Sad…

  • Dobber

    Major point is that both lines on both of these teams have either been hit by injuries or regressed/underperformed. That’s allowed the Packers and Falcons to both be “get healthy” match-ups for opponents to look forward to of late.

    The key on Sunday will be the QB position: ATL will have theirs and the Packers likely will not. Matt Flynn will have to make a monumental leap over Thursday’s performance for the Packers to win.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I’d be more worried about the Packers O-line at this point, it doesn’t matter if Rodgers was behind center, but if Newhouse has to play left tackle and Sherrod maybe gets a shot at right, things are probably gonna get worse before they get better.

      • Dobber

        Imperative that the Packers find a way to run the football this week. If they do, they give Flynn a fighting chance. If not? He’ll get plowed under just like he did against the Lions.

        Atlanta is almost dead last in rushing the passer, but the Lions and the Vikings were right there with them until they played the Packers.

        • Stroh

          Atlanta’s DL and pass rush isn’t anything like Detroits. Detroits front 4 is the most talented in the NFL. Hell it better be, they’ve used 3 top 12 picks on it. Atlanta cant bring nearly the kinda heat as Detroits DL.

          In general you right they need to run better but either way Flynn will have a much easier time vs Atl than Det.

  • http://grizzlymitch@bresnan.net grizzlymitch

    The defense is relatively healthy. Absolutely no excuses. It is the worn out system that ails the Packer D. If you have six rushers and no one is close to a quarterback for three years, you have to make a change. It is predictable to me so how easy is it for Offensive Coordinator.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      The Packers currently ranked 3rd in the league with sacks so I’m not really sure what your point is there. Also, if it were really that easy, all coordinators would be coming from “Madden 25 U”; there’s a lot more to being a coordinator than just calling plays, have you considered that Capers might be doing the most efficient play calling he can given the lack of player performance? It’s not like Capers is calling for guys to miss tackles or drift away from coverage, that’s all on the players.

      • Stroh

        Capers certainly doesn’t have guys playing to their potential either. That’s also part of his job description. Not sure what it is, but his trend is glaringly obvious by now. Turn a D around in a hurry and have a great D yr 1-3 and become terrible yrs 3+. IMO it must a lack of leadership or accountability from him. He’s got to go!

  • Palmer Cottrell

    Sound like the battle of the losers? Maybe we can hope for another tie like Minnesota. The packer weak points are the same. Poor play calling, poor offensive line blocking, poor pass rush, poor special team coverage, poor blocking all around. terrible secondary coverage. Lack of desire to win. A coach that makes excuses and just says we have to get better every week. Except for those few things there ok. Oh I forgot poor player personal acquisitions, unwilling to shop for good players.

    • Archie

      What an indictment of the GM and the entire Packers organization.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Wow, is the sky falling down around you as well? I think the Packers will be fine; they might not be able to salvage this season but are you really concerned about the next? Would you rather be a Jacksonville Jaguar fan?

      • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

        Thomas – don’t try to reason with him. He’s made up his mind to be mad about this season. Someone’s got to take blame, and the almighty Archie has decided that our GM and HC shouldn’t even be running a Pop Warner team.

  • J204

    Can they please leave Newhouse on the sideline!! I mean Sherrod can’t be any worse can he?

    • Big T

      Newhouse wouldn’t make 2nd string on a High School team. Everyone knows this. What does that say about management? 1. we don’t give a rats azz. 2. we are really really assanine. 3. they like his back door. 4. trying to get qb’s killed. 5. they like watching a monkey f**k a football.

    • Razer

      I hear your pain on Newhouse but you gotta wonder about Sherrod’s ability to step-in. I doubt that Campen or MM want to keep a better player on the sideline while another struggles. I can only surmise that Sherrod is not ready or not healthy enough to step-in. Heck they even put UDFA Lane Taylor in before Sherrod – what does that say.

      • Thomas Hobbes

        Not all that much, Sherrod was a complete disaster at guard as a rookie; which is fine cause he was drafted to be a tackle and if he has no versatility but is a good tackle I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that. What’s more important is that Sherrod hasn’t played in 2 years basically and a couple of weeks of practice isn’t going to be enough to get ready.

        • Stroh

          It freaking amazes me that people think Sherrod should walk onto the field after 2 years and a devastating injury and expect him to start immediately. Just boggles my mind! Especially at a position like OL where technique is very important! Not to mention that Sherrod has never had a training camp or offseason program to work on his technique. Yet they think he’s a bust??? Just plain idiotic!

    • Thomas Hobbes

      Well Newhouse thankfully can only play one position at a time and with Bakhtiari maybe out, you could see both Newhouse and Sherrod out on the field at the same time.

  • Archie

    Even if we can win again behind AROD, does that mean we should stay with this GM? I think not.

    • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

      WHEN the Packers start winning again (in the very near future – under TT/MM) I will take EVERY opportunity to remind you of your propensity to jump ship and criticize what you don’t understand.

      That is, IF you have the courage to show up. I’ll say this for Cow, at least he’s been consistent(ly wrong) for 5 years.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      So if the Packers go 16-0 with Rodgers next year you want to fire Thompson? Why would that help anything? Thompson went all in with Rodgers multiple times (during the draft, with the Favre thing, etc), you have to give him credit that Rodgers is in Green Bay at all.

      • Barutan Seijin

        And if they don’t? What are you going to say?

        The pollyanna-ish position doesn’t have any more evidence or reasoning behind it than gloom-n-doom scenarios. It’s all speculation at this point.

        • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

          Yes it does Barutan: The last 20 years! Name me ONE time when the Packers have had back to back losing seasons since 1990-1991!

          (Here’s a hint: You can’t)

  • Dobber

    People were commenting on the pass rush, and I seemed to feel the same way, so I did a little digging.

    Say what you want about the pass rush, but the Packers 38 sacks on the season is currently tied for third in the league (with the Saints), and in terms of sack percentage (sacks/dropbacks) the Packers are fifth (8.6), which says the rush is actually getting to the opposing QB.

    I think this is more an indictment of…
    A. an inability to stop the run (near the bottom at 4.5 yd/rush and 126 yd/gm)
    B. an inability to cover by the DBs resulting in open receivers when opposing QBs actually get passes off.

    http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/team-stats/

    • Big T

      Do they count taking a knee at the end of the game as a sack?

      • Dobber

        The explanation of the stat specifically says passing plays.

    • Thomas Hobbes

      I agree, I think fans assume that since the defense is bad, all phases of the defense must therefore be bad. The Packers are actually one of the best at getting to the quarterback this year and that’s with a hobbled Matthews, Neal and Perry.