Oct. 28, 2016
Green Bay returns to action on Sunday after its mini bye following a win over Chicago last Thursday. This is the Packers first road game since a 17-14 loss to Minnesota Sept. 18. Atlanta is 1-2 at home on the season so far, with its only win coming against the 1-5 Carolina Panthers. Without its top three cornerbacks, Green Bay will need to outscore a team that is allowing 28.4 points per game. The last matchup between the two teams was a 43-37 Packers win on Monday Night Football in 2014 in which Green Bay nearly blew a 31-7 halftime lead. The Green and Gold will need to win to stay on top of the early wild card standings.
When the Packers run the ball...
James Starks has returned to practice, but obviously will not play this week in Atlanta. That means Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb will get most of the snaps at running back, with Knile Davis being mixed in. I expect Davis to get a few more carries this week now that he knows more of the playbook. For as poor as the Atlanta defense has been, the Dirty Birds are actually ninth in both opposing rushing yards per game and yards per carry. Like they did against the Bears, the Packers will need to be creative to find ways to open up the running game for Montgomery and Cobb. That would include getting the pass game going early. Normally, with Aaron Rodgers struggling, I would say run the ball to open up the pass. However, with the running game the way it is, I think the Packers will need to put the ball in Rodgers’ hands and let him take over and the run game will open up.
When the Packers pass the ball...
People say that Rodgers went back to form against Chicago. I disagree since the Bears secondary is just as banged up as Green Bay and the Packers quarterback did not torch Chicago’s defense like he should have. Yes, he threw for more than 300 yards, but he passed the ball 56 times to get his 326 yards. Rodgers is still a very un-Rodgers like 19th in passing yards. However, he is tied for sixth in passing touchdowns. He will need to carry the offense once again with Green Bay not having healthy running backs. Atlanta comes into the game 31st against the pass, giving up 294 passing yards per game and is No. 29 in passing touchdowns allowed with 15. The Packers will need to protect their quarterback and the wide receivers will need to get open. Normally, I would think this would be a slam dunk 300-yard passing performance with four touchdowns, but I am not sure any more. I will still give Green Bay the edge due to Atlanta’s poor pass defense, but Rodgers will still need to prove to me he is back before I get more confidence in him and the pass offense moving forward.
When Atlanta runs the ball...
Atlanta is in the middle of the pack running the football. Devonta Freeman is having another solid season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and is averaging just under 73 yards per game. However, Tevin Coleman, who is averaging 33 yards per game and has five touchdowns on the season, is out for the game. Green Bay will need to contain Freeman or else the Falcons could score 40+. The Packers still come in at No. 1 in rush defense, but in the biggest test of the year so far, Ezekiel Elliott shredded the top-ranked Green Bay run defense for 157 yards. The Falcons will try to run the ball to open up the pass, but they may not need to with the fact that Atlanta will be able to pass the ball on Green Bay all day long.
When Atlanta passes the ball...
Matt Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards and is second in pass yards per game. Green Bay is middle of the pack in terms of pass defense, but will once again be without its top three cornerbacks against one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Julio Jones. Ryan also ranks second in passing touchdowns and second in quarterback rating so far. Second-year cornerback LaDarius Gunter had a nice game against Alshon Jeffery last Thursday, but for as good as Jeffery is, he is no Jones. And Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley are nowhere near as good as Ryan. Shields is on injured reserve and Damarious Randall is out 4-6 weeks. Quinten Rollins should be ready for Indianapolis next Sunday, but he will be out this week. Mohamed Sanu could also have a big day going up against Demetri Goodson, who is in over his head as a starting cornerback in this league. The Packers need to get a pass rush on the Falcons quarterback to make him feel uncomfortable and force him into poor decisions to set the Green Bay offense up with a short field.
Like always, Green Bay will be at a disadvantage when it comes to special teams. The Packers have one of the worst special teams units in the league with the exception of Mason Crosby, who is one of the most reliable kickers in the league. Atlanta has a big edge in punting and kick coverage, while the Packers have a small edge in kick returning. In a game that could come down to which offense has the shorter field to work with, punting could be a major factor and the Falcons have a huge edge in that department.
This is an uphill battle for the Packers. Ryan and Jones will get their fair share of points. It will be up to Rodgers and his receivers, as well as the defense to try to create a few turnovers to set up the Packers with a short field. Rodgers will need to revert back to old form and throw for 300-350 yards with four or five touchdowns. This Atlanta defense is not good, but the Green Bay defense is even worse, considering the injuries. That is a tall order on the road against a good team. I think this game may be close for a half, but the Falcons pull away in the second.
Prediction: Falcons 41, Packers 24