Five questions with Acme Packing Company.
Dave Choate: With the loss of Aaron Rodgers, things have gone south in Green Bay. We know that Rodgers is perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL, but is he this integral to the team, or are there deeper issues at work?
Jason Hirschorn: Only in rare situations does a loss of a starting quarterback not cripple a team. The Packers clearly are not one of those lucky few. When Aaron Rodgers went down with a fractured collarbone November 4, it signaled the end of a long streak of stability at the quarterback position. From Brett Favre's first start in 1992 up until this season, the Packers had started only three quarterbacks. In the four weeks since Rodgers went down, they've matched that total.
What Rodgers' absence has done is expose the defense, which had only performed at a middle of the road level prior. The time of possession the last four weeks has skewed heavily towards Green Bay opponents, placing even more stress on an unimpressive defensive unit. Now, even as the defense gets a little healthier, it still struggles against weak opponents.
Dave: It seems like the Packers have been trying to find that elusive feature back since Ahmad Green left town. Do you think Eddie Lacy can be that back, and what have you thought of his performance thus far?
Jason: Eddie Lacy has already demonstrated himself as the best runner the Packers have had since Ahman Green's 2000-2006 tenure. He's not only one of the strongest and most physical backs the Packers have had in recent memory, but he's been the one of the few players to have big games since Rodgers went down. The only thing that gives you pause about Lacy is his health. It was well known heading into the draft that Lacy fought through injuries at Alabama, not to mention more serious issues with his foot. Since arriving in Green Bay, he's missed time with a sore hamstring and missed several weeks with a concussion. The question with Lacy will always be health, but when he's on the field he's a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Dave: Everyone knows Clay Matthews, but there's some intriguing young talent on board for this defense. Who would you identify as current or potential stars, and what's driving the struggles of the defense thus far?
Jason: Heading into the season, I would have highlighted cornerback Casey Hayward or linebacker Nick Perry. Unfortunately, the former is on injured reserve and the latter has missed almost half the games so far. As on offense, injuries have decimated the Packers' defensive unit.
The only healthy player that stands out, though, is Mike Daniels. He's a second-year defensive lineman in the mold of Geno Atkins. He's been Green Bay's most consistent pass rushing lineman, currently sitting just behind Clay Matthews for most sacks on the team with 5.5. Daniels is one of the few bright spots on the defense this year.
Dave: The Falcons are no stranger to offensive line woes this season, but looking at your starters, it seems like injuries have been a factor for you guys. Tell me a little bit about who the Falcons should plan to attack on the line.
Jason: Prior to Rodgers' injury, the offensive line was actually having one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Packers had received reliable play at left tackle from rookie David Bakhtiari, and even the unheralded Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay had performed acceptably overall.
However, just as it has all year, injuries hit. The Packers lost their starting center and right tackle in the same game and were forced to MacGyver a line on the fly. Replacement lineman Marshall Newhouse was a disaster, and heading into the Falcons game Dietrich-Smith's availability is once again in the air. Especially if he doesn't suit up, expect the Falcons to bring extra pressure on most passing downs.
Dave: Predictions for this game and your season?
Jason: As it doesn't appear Rodgers is returning this week, I don't know how I can pick the Packers to overtake Atlanta. The Falcons aren't a strong team by any means, but they still have their starting quarterback, and that should be enough to seal the win this weekend.
As for the season, the Packers may miss the playoffs even if they were to win out. Accordingly, a loss to Atlanta would end any playoff hope they still have.