Can Matt Ryan handle Clay Matthews & the Green Bay pass rush to lead Atlanta towards their first two game winning streak all season? (Credit NYMag.com)
In August, this was supposed to be the game of the week. Whenever you are placed in the Sunday night slot, it’s usually where the best play the best. Neither team is anywhere near the best, so thankfully this game was flexed to an afternoon slot. Atlanta is looking to see what young players are here to stay, while Green Bay’s playoff chances are on life support.
There is still no official announcement on the status of Aaron Rodgers. I’m going to have to flip back and forth at times, when it comes to breaking down this game. Even though I believe Rodgers is going to end up playing, a broken collarbone is a serious injury and the doctors may not be able to clear him. He is the difference maker in this game potentially being a blowout or going down to the wire.
Shockingly enough, the Falcons are actually coming off a win. They have some momentum coming into a difficult place to win at. Their two star players in Steven Jackson and Roddy White are finally healthy, which led to their most productive games this season against Buffalo.
After thinking this game would be a walk in the park, Green Bay has a challenge on their hand. Their defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone, while Atlanta’s offense may finally be starting to get into a groove. After dreading this game for weeks, I’m actually amped up to see what happens.
Running games could be the difference
How fitting is it that both teams have bruising running backs and defenses that can’t stop the run? The weather in this game could end up being a factor, which would lead to both teams heavily relying on the running game. This game could go down to, which team can run the ball more efficiently.
One major difference in this game would be if Matt Flynn were the starter. You can’t put eight men in the box on a consistent basis against Matt Ryan, especially with Roddy White looking like his old self again. Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the league against the blitz and can make you pay at any time. We saw clearly from the Detroit game that Flynn doesn’t react well to pressure. He doesn’t know how to make quick decisions or throw on the run.
If Flynn were to start, we could see Atlanta use more eight-man fronts. I’m not sure if it would make a major difference, since they’ve been so terrible against the run. Other than Marshawn Lynch, nobody is harder to bring down than Eddie Lacy. He’s an absolute nightmare in the open field and seems to get stronger, as the game goes on. That’s why if Rodgers does play, we could potentially see a repeat of the 2011 playoff game where Atlanta’s defense can’t even force a punt. Rodgers will have all day to throw, while Lacy would have space to get in the open field.
As for Steven Jackson, I’m looking forward to seeing his performance on Sunday. When this game was announced for Sunday night in December, I had it circled as a game where the addition of Jackson would be the difference maker that Atlanta needs to win on the road against the best teams in the NFC. Obviously the circumstances are different, but Jackson will still play a huge role in this game. After being under harsh criticism and fans calling for him to be released, he has been more productive and showing more explosiveness now that he’s healthy. I’m expecting to have another big game against a soft Packers front seven.
How to game plan for Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn
It seems almost impossible to game plan for Aaron Rodgers. You always want to create pressure on the quarterback in any way possible in order to frustrate his rhythm. Even if it’s by blitzing on almost every set of downs, you want to make the quarterback as uncomfortable as possible. That doesn’t apply to Aaron Rodgers, which is why he’s an absolute nightmare to play against. Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the league, when it comes to throwing against the blitz.
He knows how to make quick reads, along with using his athleticism to get him out of trouble. Since Atlanta has no pass rush to speak of, you’d think they want to blitz him more to take pressure off the young secondary. That wouldn’t be a good idea against Rodgers, who will likely tear them apart by throwing to Jarrett Boykin and Jordy Nelson on quick slant routes all game long. The best hope for them is to hopefully create some kind of pressure up front, while making sure the linebackers are there for support on short routes. Green Bay’s offensive line is one of the worst units in the league, so maybe that’ll be the spark that Atlanta’s non-existent pass rush needs.
Now if the matchup is against Matt Flynn, I’d really like to see Mike Nolan dial up some blitzes similar to 2012. One of the biggest reasons why Atlanta hasn’t blitzed as much as they did last year is due to Kroy Biermann being out for the season. He was the focal point in Atlanta’s blitz package. I’m still hoping Nolan uses some creative blitz packages if Flynn starts. We saw how he crumbled against Detroit’s pressure, while missing a few open receivers.
Despite Green Bay having an excellent group of receivers, they were a non-factor against a porous Detroit secondary. Atlanta’s secondary has a better group of corners and safeties than them, which is why I’d like to see Nolan take plenty of chances if they went up against Flynn. That would mean more blitzes, more man coverage, and constantly making Flynn rush his throws. If Atlanta’s defense can force a few turnovers like they did against Buffalo, they could end up pulling off another surprising upset.
Players to watch out for
Atlanta: Desmond Trufant- What has impressed me the most about Turfant is his resiliency. He’s always out there competing and never making the same mistake twice. He has played much better over the past two months and is tied for ninth in pass deflections with 14.
He has held his own against the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, and Marques Colston. I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays against James Jones and Jordy Nelson.
Green Bay: BJ Raji- What happened to one of the best nose tackles in the league? Raji’s play has fallen off dramatically over the past two years. He isn’t causing havoc in the backfield like he was in 2010-2011 during their Super Bowl run. Along with Tramon Williams, he was one of the biggest difference makers during that incredible run.
Williams has played better in recent weeks, while Raji has been anonymous. He has only three tackles for a loss this season, while Green Bay has the sixth worst run defense. He needs to start becoming a force like he was in 2010-2011. Green Bay is expecting him to be one of the leaders on defense and he hasn’t played up to expectations. They need him to have a big game on Sunday.
I’m going to do two predictions because of the unknown status of Aaron Rodgers. Regardless of the injury, I’m still going to pick Green Bay. Atlanta’s defense is that bad and the pass protection is still a major issue. Nick Perry and Clay Matthews could combine for five sacks going up against their woeful offensive line. Matt Ryan will still put up big numbers, but I’m expecting him to turn the ball over at least once due to facing constant pressure.
If Rodgers plays, you can expect Green Bay to score at will. Rodgers should have all day to throw and he’ll have Eddie Lacy to lean on, if Green Bay wants to play more conservative. Green Bay will win 38-24 if Rodgers suits up. If Flynn is forced to play, you can obviously expect a much closer game. I’d go with Green Bay winning 27-24. Remember this is the same Atlanta defense that made Geno Smith look like Russell Wilson. Don’t expect Flynn to play poorly, if he is forced to play.
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