Senior writer jclombardi previews Packers vs Falcons
Packers-Falcons preview: Teams: Packers (7-3) vs. Falcons (8-2). Time: Sunday at noon CST. Place: Georgia Dome, Atlanta. TV: FOX. The rankings: The Packers’ 13th-ranked offense is No. 19 in rushing and is No. 11 in passing. Their 12th-ranked defense is No. 18 against the run and No. 11 against the pass. The Falcons’ sixth-ranked offense is No. 7 in rushing and No. 13 in passing. Their 17th-ranked defense is No. 6 against the run and No. 24 against the pass. The injury report: Packers – S Atari Bigby (hamstring) is out. S Anthony Smith (ankle) is doubtful. LT Chad Clifton (knee), WR Donald Driver (quadriceps), DE Cullen Jenkins (calf), LB Clay Matthews (shin), DE Ryan Pickett (ankle), C Scott Wells (arch) and CB Charles Woodson (toe) are probable. Falcons – RB Antone Smith (hamstring) is doubtful. .DE John Abraham (groin) and S Shann Schillinger (head) are questionable. LB Curtis Lofton (knee), DT Corey Peters (rib), WR Eric Weems (pectoral) and WR Roddy White (knee) are probable. The line: The Falcons are favored by 2 points. THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH–The White stuff: Tramon Williams’ has emerged as one of the NFL’s top cover cornerbacks this season and he’ll have a chance to prove it against Atlanta’s Roddy White. White leads the NFL with 79 catches and ranks second in the league in receiving yards with 1,017. White uses his strength and leverage to muscle defenders. While the Packers aren’t afraid to match Williams up against the opponent’s top receiver – freeing up reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson to cover the slot receiver and blitz – the Falcons are effective at lining White up in different spots and using bunched formations to prevent such match-ups. D at home on road: The Packers entered the week tied with Chicago as the league’s best scoring defenses having allowed a total of 146 points as a team. The defense has been particularly stingy on the road, where they’ve allowed just four defensive touchdowns in five road games this season. The Falcons will provide a stiff test to that road success. Not only have Ryan and White connected, but with future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner in the backfield, making up what might be the best collection of skill position players the Packers have faced this season. “This is the most efficient offense that we’ve played,” Capers said. “They’re very well coached, they run the ball well, their quarterback is an outstanding decision-maker. … They aren’t just a one-phased offense. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us.” Be quick but don’t hurry: The Falcons utilize the no-huddle offense effectively, which will present a significant challenge for the Packers’ defense. Capers likened what Ryan does to what Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning does at the line of scrimmage. “I don’t think it’s a real fast no-huddle like in 2-minute, but you have to be ready,” Capers said. “It gives a guy like Ryan an opportunity to study your defense at the line. It’s kind of like what Peyton does. He’ll study you, bait you into showing your look, and then get them into the best play against you.” No dome doom: Fresh off of their 31-3 romp over the Vikings at the Metrodome, the Packers now must face a team that is virtually unbeatable at the Georgia Dome, where coach Mike Smith is 18-3 and Ryan is 18-1. But the Packers aren’t too shabby in domes, either. The Packers are 10-3 in domes under McCarthy, which is the best road winning percentage in domes among any team with eight or more dome road games. Rodgers, meanwhile, has a 108.3 passer rating in his eight career starts in domes, where he’s completed 172 of 261 passes (65.9%) for 2,255 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. Arms race: The game pits two of the league’s top up-and-coming young quarterbacks, both of whom are in their third years as starters. Ryan became a starter after the Falcons took him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2008, while Rodgers, who is less than two years older than Ryan, took over in 2008 after three years as an understudy as the No. 24 overall pick in 2005. Both quarterbacks also came into challenging situations, with Ryan taking over after a disgraced Michael Vick was released when his dogfighting ring came to light and Rodgers took over for the iconic Favre.
Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons–3 keys to the game: 1. Gonzalez Cannot Slip Through–Though Tony Gonzalez at age 34 is no longer is the NFL’s best tight end, he remains a troublesome matchup because of his big frame and still-impressive athletic ability. If defensive coordinator Dom Capers matches cornerback Charles Woodson on White most of the time, Gonzalez probably will face linebackers A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop and Brandon Chillar, and safeties Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah. 2. No-Huddle Difficulties–This is the first time the Packers will see an offense that goes no-huddle regularly. The Packers will have to be flexible enough to stop the run with passing personnel and the pass with running personnel. 3. Turnover Battle–Packers have helped themselves immensely by winning the turnover battle, they’re No. 5 in the NFL in turnover differential (plus-8), but they can’t count on prevailing there this week. Atlanta is tied for No. 2 with a plus-10 differential, and their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has thrown only five interceptions in 10 games. Sometimes you have to keep teams off the scoreboard with stops alone, and this looks like one of those games.