In case you are not aware, I happen to be married to a lifelong Packers fan. My husband, Matt, was born in Wisconsin and lived there until he was twelve, and he is a born and bred Cheesehead. Because he is extremely familiar with both the Packers and the Falcons, I took the opportunity to ask him to share his thoughts with us about tomorrow’s game against Green Bay. Hit the jump for a Packers fan's perspective on strengths, weaknesses, and what the Falcons can do to win this game.
Matt Thomas: Well, it has to be the offense. The offense has been clicking fully this year and they have not slowed down from the playoffs. The fact that they can spread a defense wide and that they have so many receivers of such variety out there just means that they have the opportunity to score at any time on you, short or deep. Their yards after carry are great; they always have been.
JT: As far as the Falcons, what advantages do you see them having coming into this game, as somebody who is very familiar with both teams?
MT: The biggest advantage they have is playing at home. Their defense has not been good enough this year to put up much of a fight, so that is the area they will really have to improve to have a chance against the Packers.
JT: If I had to highlight one specific weakness on this Green Bay Packers team, I would say it is the defense. They have given up an average of just 77 rushing yards per game, but they let Willis McGahee run all over them last week. Do you feel that the Falcons could be able to exploit that with Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers? How do you think their pass defense, ranked 31st in the league, will contend with Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez?
MT: The biggest weakness of the Packers is their defense this year--they have yet to gel--but my guess is that [Packers defensive coordinator] Dom Capers will stack the box against Turner. They may allow Clay Matthews to have less of a pass rush and he will be more in a situation where he’ll spy the running back and then shoot the A or B gap because that is traditionally how Mike Mularkey runs Turner. The Packers have enough speed to run him down if he tries to bounce it out, so the Falcons will have to try to make enough holes in the middle of the field, especially since the Packers run a non-traditional 3-4.
That is the Falcons best shot on offense--establish the running game, ball control and clock management. The problem is that the deep threat for the Falcons offense has not shown itself very consistently, so, until they prove that they can run with eight in the box or can stretch the field with a long pass, the Packers will just wait for Turner and expect that the pass rush can get to Ryan based on the state of the Falcons’ offensive line this season. I don’t think the Falcons have really figured out the best way to use Jacquizz Rodgers, so I do not think he will be very effective. Until they develop an effective scheme for Jacquizz, I don’t think he will have much of an impact.
I think that Matt Ryan has the opportunity to make some long passes downfield against this pass defense. There is no doubt there will be that deep pass attempt to Julio Jones a few times. The problem is going to be the pass rush pressure on Ryan, and an aggressive defense that goes for turnovers. If the Falcons can keep Ryan upright, he has a chance to pick on the secondary. They have not been as successful in creating turnovers this year. Yes, Willis McGahee ran all over them and Kyle Orton put up pretty good stats against them last week, but Green Bay still destroyed Denver.
JT: As a Falcons fan, I am encouraged by the fact that the Packers’ right tackle, Brian Bulaga, is out this week. Do you feel this creates an opportunity for the Falcons defensive line to bring more pressure? The offensive line was a big concern for Green Bay a couple of years ago, when Aaron Rodgers was just getting beaten nearly to death because their offensive line was not effective.
MT: Well, yeah. The fact that the Packers only kept a handful of offensive linemen for the entire season is a big issue now that they have one injured, and Chad Clifton was hurt in the last game with a knee so he may have less mobility. I think the biggest benefit for the Falcons is that they have Babineaux coming back, because he is really the missing piece to bring that DT pressure, and if the tackles are taking up space and the offensive line’s attention, there is a better shot for Edwards, Abraham or Biermann to be able to come off of the edge. The problem is, if you don’t get Rodgers down, he is going to kill you. In the playoff game, they got hands on his jersey but were unable to bring him down, and that is part of the reason the Falcons could not win.
JT: Hmmm. What was my next question? I’m drawing a blank now.
MT: (in kind of a sarcastic voice) I would imagine...what are the key matchups in tomorrow’s game?
JT: Yes. What do you see as the key matchups?
MT: I think it will be the Falcons cornerbacks against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay receivers. The Falcons cornerbacks need to create some turnovers and convert them into points, because that is still the main pressure that they can bring to bear. That was the thing that pulled them out of some trouble last season, and the cornerbacks have had no picks in the regular season, unless I’m mistaken.
JT: Kelvin Hayden did have one interception, but other than that, it’s been DeCoud, Moore, Lofton and Biermann--safeties, linebacker and defensive end.
MT: So, the safeties and other guys have interceptions, and the corners have had some good defended balls, but it doesn’t mean that it has led to anything positive. They’re going to have to be able to cause some turnovers and convert them to points. The Falcons offense has not shown that they can score enough points to hang with the Packers, so the defense is going to have to create some 7-point swings with a pick-six or something of that nature.
JT: Let me quote something that you said about Mike McCarthy, the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, a few weeks ago. I believe you said, "McCarthy couldn’t coach his way out of his own pants." So, do you feel like Green Bay’s coaching is a concern at this point? Obviously they have been very successful in recent memory, but do you still have some trepidation about McCarthy’s coaching?
MT: Oh, yeah. I always have concerns about his coaching, because he is incredibly conservative once he gets the lead, and he gets the lead most games, especially the way the Packers are playing. Here is the problem for the Falcons, though: traditionally the Packers get off to a quick start, start slowing down with conservative coaching in the third quarter, and then may have to scramble in the fourth to win. If the Falcons don’t stay close to the Packers’ score, and if they follow the same pattern as last week’s game against Seattle, which was their traditional pattern last season--start well, have a horrible third quarter, have to scramble in the fourth--the fact that McCarthy will get conservative in the time frame that the Falcons usually weaken after the half, it may not be as beneficial for the Falcons. The Falcons are going to have to be more aggressive throughout the game to have a shot. They’re going to have to just risk balls that could get picked. They’re going to have to somehow create turnovers through aggressive play on defense, and probably more press coverage than they are used to, but I just don’t know that Brian Van Gorder will be willing to pull the trigger on that.
JT: I think that Falcons fans everywhere will agree with you on the need for more aggression, and skepticism about Van Gorder actually doing anything to tighten up coverage.
MT: The Packers have consistently destroyed the zone, and the Falcons have not switched out of the zone for any significant amount of time. I don’t think the Packers are going to do anything different than they did in the playoff game. They’re going to spread them wide, and they’re going to just look for the gaps and the dump off, and Green Bay this time has two healthy running backs, so they can look to them.
JT: And, the Falcons are also looking at having to defend Jermichael Finley at tight end, who is 6’5", I think, and is ridiculously good.
MT: The Falcons linebacking corps is not particularly speedy in coverage, so Finley is just going to shoot right up the field. The greatest strength of the Packers is their ability to run a successful screen. Because of that, even if there is good coverage downfield, they can just do a screen or a traditional dump off. The Packers now run screens much more frequently, especially with Brandon Jackson now on injured reserve, and it will allow for Starks or Grant to take some passes.
The Packers offense just has a lot of depth. The only way that the Falcons can win this game will be to create turnovers.
JT: I did want to ask you, just so I can be prepared: when the Falcons do win this game tomorrow night, how cranky are you going to be with me?
MT: I won’t be that cranky.
JT: You know the Falcons need this win more than the Packers do.
MT: Yeah, but there is no way the Falcons are going to win this game.
JT: (laughs) Alright.
MT: There is just no way. The Falcons have to do something well, and the Falcons have not done anything well this year consistently enough to put any fear into the Packers’ for game planning purposes. The problem is, when you look at the Falcons film, there is nothing that would challenge an elite team, and because of that, they are going to just be able to game plan for weaknesses. The Packers will not have to change their game plan to come into the Dome. The only thing they have to worry about is the sound, because there is nothing on the Falcons defense this year that would cause you to change what you usually do, because the strengths of the Packers works well against the weaknesses of the Falcons. The Falcons have not had much of a pass rush this year, and without a pass rush, Rodgers just has to let five guys run out there until one gets open, and with his quick release and his ability to be elusive in the pocket, there is always going to be someone who can get open. And, unless the Falcons have some miraculous way to all of a sudden bring a lot of pressure on Rodgers, or have press coverage that actually effectively covers Green Bay’s receivers, Rodgers has five seconds in the pocket on every down, and he’ll always find an open receiver.
JT: What do you think about Aaron Rodgers crying like a little girl about Roddy White saying last January after the playoff game, "We were a better team than those guys. We went out there, and we didn’t perform at our highest level."
MT: I think that the main issue with the Packers now is that they have been playing so well for so long. When you look at the playoffs, they had that run and they never blinked, and it has been almost too easy this year even with a sub-standard defense. I think Rodgers has become Belichickian in his need to try to keep everyone focused. I think that every game he is attempting to try to have some reason that they should get out there and have a chip on their shoulder. He’s probably worried about complacency, and any Packers fan should be worried about complacency, because the only team that seems up to the challenge of beating the Packers to this point would be the Packers. Belichick will make you think that the worst team in league is able to beat you every week, and that is why they have been so successful, and his former players always say that. It might seem a little bit whiny...
JT: Or, super-whiny...
MT: I think he always plays with a chip on his shoulder, and even for himself, it gets hard to have a chip on your shoulder when things have been falling into place so well. I also think that, if you are the leader of a team, you need to try to focus everyone’s attention, so bringing up the fact that maybe something was said that was insulting would just mean that they might be more prepared and come out stronger against a team that, on paper, does not seem to have a chance against them, this year at least.
JT: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share your opinions with The Falcoholic, and I sincerely hope you won’t be crying like Aaron Rodgers on the way home from the Dome tomorrow night after my team disrespects yours with a big win at home.
MT: I will say this: in the time that this conversation took, the Packers will have scored 14 points tomorrow.
I will acknowledge that the Packers are a very good football team, and seem to really be on a roll. However, it is my opinion that the Packers are overconfident. I also think that in the "chip on one’s shoulder" department, the Falcons should be a great deal more motivated than the Packers to win this game at home. The offensive line situation for the Packers is a real advantage for the Falcons' defensive line, and our receivers should be able to exploit some match ups against the Packers' defense.
Nobody thought we would beat the Eagles. We beat the Eagles. I’m just saying.
Do you have questions for Matt? Post them in the comments, and I will
make him ask him nicely to answer them. Be nice, though. He is a Packers fan, but he’s MY Packers fan.