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