This will not be an easy game for the Atlanta Falcons.
No mountain is too tall to climb. The Falcons have taught us that again and again, through the magical 2008 season, the tough but ultimately successful 2009 season and the whirlwind few months in 2010. Through those years, despite some heartbreaking losses in the playoffs and the regular season, the Falcons seemed able to triumph over any opponent.
It's fair to say that the Packers are the Falcons' Everest, though. Equipped with one of the best passing offenses in the league, a solid ground game and a relentless pass rush, the Packers are scary for any team. To a Falcons squad that has stumbled out of the gate and has struggled to get its offense going for an entire game behind a leaky offensive line, this is a many-toothed dragon of an opponent.
Thankfully, this is still a winnable game, albeit an extremely difficult one.
After the jump, find my biggest question, three smaller ones and a prediction for the game.
The Biggest Question
Can the Falcons stop Aaron Rodgers?
It's the biggest question for a reason. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the game today, a disciplined gunslinger with a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Behind a decent offensive line, which he has, Rodgers is about as dangerous a player as there is the NFL.
The Falcons will have to pull out all the stops to beat Rodgers. That means a more effective pass rush, for starters. It will definitely help to have Jonathan Babineaux back in the middle, and John Abraham will be amped to play the Packers again. You follow that up by clamping down hard on defense, not letting him beat you underneath, and by having a linebacker keep an eye on Rodgers whenever possible. That dude knows how to scramble.
In short, the Falcons will have to play aggressively, force mistakes when they can and never let up. If Rodgers has time, he's more than capable of winning this game for the Packers.
Get Rodgers, is what I'm saying. I don't want to see that damn title belt.
Three Smaller Questions
Question 1: How will Michael Turner perform against the Packers?
Thanks in large part to the line and Seattle stacking the box, we saw last weekend just how badly Turner's day can go sometimes. Without a little bit of space to get him started, Turner goes down quickly.
The Falcons could really use him here. If he could even have a handful of truly effective carries, it will force the Packers to account for him. The Falcons can then land some body blows against the Green Bay secondary. If Turner does extremely well, of course, he can more or less win the game and chew up valuable time. The Falcons will have to get him going in this one.
Question 2: How are the Falcons going to match up against the Packers' receivers?
This is sort of a corollary to the larger question above, but it's an important one. The Packers present a host of matchup problems with Jordy Nelson at the slot, Jermichael Finley at tight end and the blazing fast Greg Jennings outside. The Falcons are going to have to do some mixing and matching to get everyone covered properly, and Nelson is an especially big concern.
My guess is that the Falcons will do nothing of the sort, and put Kelvin Hayden on Nelson with occasional safety help. We'll have to hope that's good enough.
Question 3: How will the line perform?
Todd McClure is probably out, if my intuition serves me right. The Packers can offer up a pretty good pass rush, led by Clay Matthews and his aerodynamic hair. If the line isn't up to the task, it makes Matt Ryan's day difficult. We really don't want that, especially because the Packers are not the strongest secondary the Falcons will face this year. Not even close.
So I hope that the improvements we saw last week hold up and continue. The alternative is a little bit gruesome.
I can see a very clear path to a win for the Falcons here, but whether they can execute it remains an open question. I have this down as perhaps the toughest game on the schedule, even though it's at home, and I'll go with what I hope is a reverse jinx pick.