Packers vs. Falcons: Preview & Prediction
These four plays, claim the Atlanta critics, are why the Falcons are lucky to be 13-3 and playing at home.
• San Francisco defensive back Nate Clements intercepts a Matt Ryan pass with about 1:28 to play and all he has to do is slide down and the 49ers win, 14-13. He tries to score instead, and the ball is stripped by Atlanta receiver Roddy White. The Falcons take the ball down and score and win on a Matt Bryant field goal, 16-14.
• Atlanta trails Baltimore, 21-20, with 55 seconds to play. It is third-and-10 from the Atlanta 20. Ryan throws a bench route, a deep out to Michael Jenkins. It goes for 24 yards, but TV guys talk for days that Jenkins did not have possession going out of bounds. They got a call. Atlanta goes down and wins on a touchdown pass from Ryan to White.
• Green Bay is at the Atlanta 1-yard line inside the Georgia Dome -- again. Rodgers is going to score and put the Packers ahead. He is hit and fumbles. It is the only turnover of the game. Packers lose 20-17.
• Tampa Bay is at the Atlanta 2-yard line, again inside the Georgia Dome. It's fourth-and-1 and a dive play is called for Tampa rookie running back LeGarrette Blount. The hole is there for a score with 2:44 to play to give the Bucs a 28-27 lead. Instead he bounces outside and is dropped. Bucs lose 27-21.
Are the Falcons lucky or clutch?
Luck does not happen over and over. The Falcons have that extra layer of resourcefulness and poise to keep making plays. The statistical analysis insists Green Bay will win this game Saturday night.
Something else suggests Atlanta wins and advances.
Five things to Watch
1. The leverage. The tackling. The mixing. The Falcons have stressed tackling all week, which could mean they are coming after Aaron Rodgers. He will make quick throws to his wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings on slants to get the ball out because there is going to be some pressure. The Falcons have to tackle quickly and not let quick throws turn into long runs.
Corners Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes are going to play at times inside the shoulders of Driver and Jennings and take away the slants with leverage. We'll know pretty early how the Falcons are going to deal with Rodgers, but that is the first thought. He is also going to get some unscouted looks from the Falcons, a Blitz of the Day that has been cooked up for a week.
The Falcons are going to mix it up. Safety blitz, linebacker blitz, corners pressing, corners back. The Packers' pass game, just from the statistics, should blow up Atlanta, but there are plays to be made.
2. Ovie Mughelli vs. Clay Matthews. The Falcons' Pro Bowl fullback is lead Turner to the edge and get him revved up for a shot at the second level of the defense. Matthews will be in the neighborhood on some of those plays in the 3-4 and Mughelli is supposed to get him out of the way. The Falcons have seen a lot of 3-4 defenses this season; they know how to attack that outside backer. Mughelli is also going to catch a pass or two out of the backfield to keep a drive going.
The better Atlanta runs the ball, the better chance it has to win because Rodgers will sit in a stew on the sideline and not lead the offense.
3. Chad Clifton, the Packers' left tackle, vs. John Abraham, the Falcons' defensive end. Abraham leads Atlanta with 13 sacks. It is hard to get at Rodgers, but Abraham needs to at least make him step up where tackle Jonathan Babineaux can make a play on the quarterback.
4. Red zone. The Packers have been the better team in the red zone this season because Rodgers can make plays with his feet. He is more mobile than Ryan, which is why the Packers have the edge at this position (even if Ryan wins a lot of games at home). If the Packers get inside the 20 four times, Atlanta has to force a couple of field goals. That's going to be a big deal in this game.
5. Turnovers. Penalties. The Packers have the better quarterback. They have better wide receivers. When they throw the ball their completions are longer. But it is all about turnovers and penalties. This is why the Falcons will win. I know, Green Bay plays in Minnesota every year, which is inside and buttoned up for noise. The Packers can handle a little racket, but the season suggests Atlanta makes fewer mistakes than the Packers.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Packers 24. I'm on the fence. Logic says pick Green Bay. They have better wide receivers (except for White) and the better secondary and the better quarterback because Rodgers is a better runner than Ryan. The Falcons' offensive line allowed just 23 sacks. So....Ryan stays clean and makes a play late so Matt Bryant can win it with a field goal.
Line: Falcons by 2½