Dave Choate: Aaron Rodgers has had a bit of an up and down year, which seems to date back to last season. How much of that is supporting cast, how much of it is overblown, and how much of it has Packers fans legitimately concerned?
Jason Hirschhorn: I wrote about this at length last week. In short, Aaron Rodgers has seemingly misplaced his ability to place the ball on a dime, and that has influenced his low (for him) completion percentage and diminished his receivers' chances of gaining sizeable yards after the catch. Granted, the Packers 2016 receiving corps won't confuse anyone for the embarrassment of riches the team had between 2009-'14, but the Rodgers of old most likely would have found a way to play efficient, productive football with this lot.
Rodgers' record-setting 39 completions in last week's game against the Bears has assuaged some of those concerns for fans. However, when a quarterback has to pass as frequently as he did last Thursday night (56 attempts), it reflects more problems with the offense than positives. That the team averaged less than 6 yards per pass further underscores those issues. Until Green Bay finds a way to more regularly move the ball down the field in large chunks, don't expect the unit to resemble version that led the league in scoring two years ago.
Dave Choate: The Packers are down to some unfamiliar names and faces at running back. Who will start, and what should the Falcons look out for from the ground game?
Jason Hirschhorn: The Packers may lean towards Don Jackson as the nominal starter if he suits up, but versatile wideout Ty Montgomery seems likely to get the largest share of the backfield work as long as he continues to run effectively. The Packers have used Montgomery out of the backfield as early as Week 4 of the 2015 season, so it shouldn't surprise too many people that the former third-round pick has received more work there in the absence of Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
Montgomery doesn't play like a traditional running back, but he also catches the ball and creates mismatches in the passing game unlike a traditional running back as well. The Packers may use him in that capacity to force the Falcons linebackers into coverage, a matchup that favors the offense.
Dave Choate: The Falcons have struggled, once again, to cover the middle of the field, and they were terrible against Philip Rivers throwing short crossing routes last Sunday. How will the Packers take advantage of that?
Jason Hirschhorn: With tight end Jared Cook all but guaranteed to miss this weekend's game, the Packers could look to move Jordy Nelson into the slot as well as lean on shifty wideout Randall Cobb to take advantage of Atlanta's defensive deficiencies over the middle. Nelson may not possess his pre-injury speed, but his size -- 6-foot-3, 217 pounds -- and crisp routes could prove lethal when matched on a linebacker. Conversely, Cobb's quickness allows him to find the seam between linebackers and exploit them, something he has done with frequency over the course of his career.
As discussed above, Montgomery could factor into this discussion as well. The Packers have utilized him as a pass catcher out of the backfield on wheel routes and over the middle. They may also try to motion him into the slot as well to force the defense into an awkward adjustment.
Dave Choate: Green Bay's secondary looks pretty decimated. Is that the case, and can the team's front seven make up for that, if so? Bonus: How are the Packers gonna stop Julio Jones?
Jason Hirschhorn: Yes, Green Bay's secondary enters Sunday's game severely undermanned with top cover man Sam Shields on injured reserve, Damarious Randall likewise unavailable after undergoing groin surgery, and Quinten Rollins looking like a coin-flip proposition to play at this stage of the week. That leaves second-year man LaDarius Gunter, Micah Hyde, Josh Hawkins, Demetri Goodson, and the newly signed Jermaine Whitehead to handle cornerback duty. It doesn't look pretty.
However, the Packers possess one of the league's top pass rushes, which should mitigate at least some of those issues. Nick Perry has played about as well as any edge rusher in the game this season, racking up a team-best 5 1/2 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and an interception. He should spent most of his evening in Atlanta's backfield. Green Bay also expects reasonable production from veteran stalwarts Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, and Julius Peppers. They can't totally hide the team's banged up secondary, but if they can significantly reduce the time the corners have to hold up in coverage, it could make a sizeable difference.
Your bonus question is a trick. No opponent can stop Julio Jones, only his health can hold him back.
Dave Choate: Who wins this game, and how does the Green Bay season end up looking?
Jason Hirschhorn: Despite last week's loss, the Falcons look like the better team and have the home-field advantage. The Packers have surprised in this situations before, but that came before the offense found itself stuck in the quagmire that has held it back over the last season and change.
As for the Packers' prospects, they still have a relatively winnable schedule remaining. Even in their current state, they should at least remain in playoff contention through November and into December. That may not match their preseason expectations, but unless they find a way to reconfigure their offense, that appears to be their destiny.