Everything's a big deal in the playoffs. Recognizing that, we're doing away with the traditional Four Critical Matchups post in favor of four individual, more detailed looks at what lies ahead in the Falcons-Packers game. Joins us through Friday to catch them all.
I don't know if it will catch on, but it seems to me that in his third season, Matty Ice deserves a nickname that mirrors the way he's grown up over the course of his short career. Enter Iceman.
Matt Ryan's going to need to have ice in his veins for this one, because the Packers are not pushovers. I've seen a lot of Packers fans scoffing at the Falcons and a lot of Falcons fans doing the same, but the truth of the matter is that these are two very evenly matched teams. Anyone expecting a blowout is crazy.
That comes back to the quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is the better of the two right now, in my humble opinion, but Ice is gaining on him with every passing season. There's also something to be said for the fact that Ryan rarely makes mistakes, making him a perfect fit for Mike Mularkey's conscientiously conservative scheming. As the team cracks the playbook open a little bit more each year, Ryan proves himself to bet the master of the short passing game, as well.
Needless to say, he's going to be a huge part of any potential win against the Packers.
Iceman doesn't do it alone. It takes quality pass blocking to get keep him on his feet, something that will continue to be a factor against sack-powered automaton Clay Matthews. Sam Baker better put on his big boy pants for this one. He also needs Turner to do well, as we covered in the last critical matchup on Wednesday.
Even more importantly, however, Ryan needs his wide receivers and tight ends to get the job done. Roddy White is about as reliable as a sunset and twice as enchanting, but the Packers have one of the best young secondaries in the game of football and won't make it easy on him. That means Tony Gonzalez will have to get himself open, Michael Jenkins will have to not drop any passes so help me Bartkowski and Brian Finneran and Harry Douglas will have to chip in. That's a long list, but Ryan's at his best when he can spread the ball around and force the defense not to key in on one guy.
He'll also have to continue to avoid mistakes. Last time, Ryan kept the Falcons in line for a win by completing 80% of his passes, avoiding any boneheaded plays and just generally not giving the Packers' secondary a chance to make a back breaking play. Ryan will be under constant pressure even if the line is doing its job exceedingly well, so this is another excellent test of his ability to stand tall in the pocket and make passes. Just don't expect him to have a transcendent game again, not with the Packers defense capable of being a huge headache.
Aside from his low YPA in 2010, Ryan's taking steps forward in nearly every significant statistic category. With a healthy team around him and a good grasp of what the Packers are going to throw at him, Ryan's in a position to succeed. Let's hope he does.