G’day Falcons fans, and welcome back to the contribution I, in collaboration with fellow Aussie Falcons fan dunlagh, hope to be making to the Falcoholic. I’ll analyse the best case scenario for the Falcons, with what are, in my opinion, a few keys to victory, while dunlagh will play devil’s advocate and look at how the game will turn out if we play at our true worst.
Well, here it is; playoff football in Atlanta. It’s what we’ve been waiting all year for. I’m so excited about this matchup that I’m posting four days early. We could have had the Seahawks, but Michael Vick just loves to screw us over (I kid, the Packers dominated their game and deserved to win), so instead we get to welcome Green Bay into the Georgia Dome for the second time this season. Whilst we won the last game, Aaron Rodgers fumbled at the 1 yard line, so we can’t dismiss them based on past results. After a week to rest up, the Falcons hope to avoid any rust and get back to their strong form of the past 3 weeks. I was at first ok with getting the Packers (although I’d much rather have faced the ‘Hawks), but I think the stakes of the game are what has me worried rather than any one particular matchup itself. If we do what we do, the Falcons have a very good shot at going to the NFC Championship game. In the last Best Case Scenario vs Packers post, I talked mainly about the offense, but this week I think it’s all on our defense. As such, the best case scenario against the Packers comes if we win the battle inside, neutralise Kuhn and defend the deep ball.
Win the battle inside: Something which helped us no end last time around was the fact that Green Bay had
zero run game zero success at running back. The Packers’ backs carried only 11 times for a mere 26 yards, and no scores. Aaron Rodgers, however, carried 12 times for 51 yards and a goal line QB draw for a TD. Rodgers is one of the best passing QBs in the league, but is also one of the best scrambling threats. It’s up to Brian VanGorder how he chooses to stop Rodgers from scrambling, but if the Falcons take in the same gameplan as they did last time around, we could be one and done. Our defensive front got moved to the outside on countless plays, which gave Rodgers a scrambling lane up the middle. We rarely kept anybody out of coverage to stop Rodgers going outside. We need to key in on Rodgers, and a win up front gives us the edge there. If our DTs can get through the O-line, it also allows us to generate pressure against both the run and the pass, something we struggled with last time (generating only one sack and allowing numerous middle scrambles).
However, the Packers’ Chicago and Philadelphia games also revealed something; this James Starks kid can run. From 23 carries, Starks racked up 123 yards against Philadelphia. Against Chicago he got very few carries, but watching the game it was clear he is the far better running option that Brandon Jackson.While the Philadelphia defense is hardly elite, and definitely helped inflate his numbers, it's the willingness to run, rather than the actual yards gained from the running, that worries me. More telling than the yards is the fact that the pass oriented Packers are willing to feed Starks on first and second down. He carried 18 times against San Francisco and 23 times in the wildcard game. Aaron Rodgers dominated us through the air last time, even when it was evident that they were going to pass; 46 out of 58 plays were designed through the air (assuming the QB runs were intentional pass plays, with the exception of the QB draw). Can you imagine how difficult it will be to protect the airspace of the Dome if we have to defend against a running threat? So much of the Packers pass game comes out of shotgun play action, so stopping the newly found Green Bay run game should be priority number 1 for BVG and co. Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Vance Walker, Jamaal Anderson and Peria Jerry need to have good games on running downs to give John Abraham and Kroy Biermann a shot at introducing Rodgers to the turf.
Neutralise Kuhn: John Kuhn, in his fifth year out of Brent Grimes U (aka Shippensburg), is becoming somewhat of a fan favourite in Green Bay, and is undoubtedly one of the most efficient third and short runners in the game. If you were unlucky enough to be reading my rants on the Philadelphia/Green Bay game thread, I was pretty adamant that the Pack would use Kuhn on every third and one, and went on a little tangent about how BVG had better realise and account for that. His presence also allows for much more success for Green bay out of play action, as he is an excellent pass blocker also. However, John Kuhn offers the Packers more than his 3.3 yards per carry. Kuhn is a great check down option and, much like our own Ovie Mughelli, is an excellent run blocker both at the line and getting up the field to help out the RBs. In case you missed it in the subtle as gunfire commentary of the Philadelphia game, Green Bay lined up in a wishbone formation quite frequently, and used Kuhn and right guard Daryn Colledge to lead block for Starks. Beating Kuhn when he is in blocking mode will require a special effort from Curtis Lofton, or a Chauncey Davis/Vance Walker type to beat their assignment quickly and occupy a second block to allow our linebackers to make a stop. I think Stephen Nicholas is best suited to covering Kuhn when he is playing as a receiver, which he has shown he can do with some key catches on Sunday and over the year. The fullback averages 6.5 yards per reception which, as he is primarily a third down receiver, is a pretty impressive stat. If we can remove Kuhn from the game, we have a far better chance of holding defensively on third down in both running and short passing situations.
Defend the deep ball: Aaron Rodgers lit us up last time; gaining 344 yards through the air and successfully executing a 5 minute game tying drive which left Matt Ryan less than 1 minute to win the game. He did, and we celebrated. However, even when discounting the garbage time 35 yard gain on the final play of the game, Rodgers could have won that game himself if not for some last minute Matty Ice magic. Last time, there were no real deep balls through the air, but rather just plenty of YAC. In the weeks since, highlighted in the Chicago game, Rodgers has lit it up vertically. In week 17, Rodgers threw a huge pass through the air, to Greg Jennings along the sideline. The pass went for 38 yards through the air, however the coverage was pretty poor and the throw was perfect. With the Donald Driver injured against the Eagles, the Packers will likely turn to Jordy Nelson to pick up the slack. Nelson is far more of a speed threat than Driver, and as such Rodgers now has two deep threats. If we can cover the deep sideline ball, with Dunta Robinson on one side and the double of William Moore and Brent Grimes on the other, our defensive ends will have more time to beat an offensive line which has allowed 40 sacks all season and get in the backfield to take down Rodgers.
This is what we’ve waited all year for. A win here will put the Falcons into their first NFC Championship game since 2004, and puts us in the best position possible to represent the NFC in Superbowl 45. I know I’ve talked defense here, but offensively we still have a challenge on our hands. If we play how we’ve been playing in recent weeks, or manage to put together the fabled ‘complete game’, the points should go to us. I know that I’m going to be more excited and nervous throughout this game than I’ve been for any Falcons game I can remember, as this year we’ve got the real feeling we can go all the way. Don’t expect this one to be a blowout for either side; this game will likely go down to the final drive yet again. I’ve got a feeling that whoever is the most aggressive, or whoever hits the first huge play, will advance. I’m looking forward to watching this one with you guys. Be sure to check out dunlagh’s article here and finally, Go Falcons!