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The top matchups to watch in Falcons - Packers Week 8

Aaron Rodgers versus the soft underbelly of the defense, Julio Jones versus a decimated secondary, and Devonta Freeman versus the league’s “best” run defense.

Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If you’re feeling jittery about this upcoming Falcons-Packers game, you’re hardly alone. After the Chargers game, many are justifiably wary of another team capable of putting up points through the air, especially one that also boasts a solid defense.

If the Falcons are going to win this one, they won’t be able to play an entire half where they only score three points. They also won’t be able to sit back and let Aaron Rodgers pick them part underneath the way Philip Rivers did, which is either going to require better play or tightening things up schematically...or both!

Here’s three matchups you should care about this Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers versus the middle of the field

Not every quality pass Rivers threw a week ago was over the middle of the field, but enough of them were completed to cause major problems for the Falcons. There’s little doubt that Keanu Neal has been impressive and the Falcons have gotten a lot out of their rookie linebackers, particularly Deion Jones, but the Chargers game was a reminder that this defense is far from a finished product.

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have Melvin Gordon, Antonio Gates, or Hunter Henry, but he has receivers who excel at getting open on crossing routes, and he’ll try to make the Falcons pay with with the likes of Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. The Falcons should make every effort not to have De’Vondre Campbell or Ricardo Allen matched up on those guys when that happens, but Campbell, Deion Jones, Allen, and Neal will have to handle that underwhelming cast of RBs and TEs, particularly running back/wide receiver hybrid Ty Montgomery, who could be problematic. If Rodgers has time in the pocket and an open man available over the middle, Green Bay is going to score quite a few points.

Julio Jones versus the Packers secondary

The Falcons lost a week even with Julio Jones going nuts, but when Julio goes for 150-plus yards, you’re going to put some serious points on the board. Even with a quality group of safeties on Green bay, there’s nobody here that’s going to seriously slow Julio down by themselves. That means the Falcons should be able to gain chunk yardage so long as Julio is rolling, and that means 30 points is pretty likely, particularly if Julio doesn’t have to do it himself.

I feel like I mention this matchup every week, but it’s to underline how challenging it is to stop #11, and how ill-equipped most NFL teams are to do so. Green Bay is no different, because they’re not at full strength and don’t have a truly elite option regardless. The one wild card is that Green Bay can probably afford to give Julio more attention because their front seven is so good at stopping the run, which means guys like Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy may get more opportunities than usual. Pencil Julio in for 100 yards, regardless.

Devonta Freeman versus the Green Bay front seven

You’ve got Julio rolling, but you still need to have some balance. Devonta Freeman will thankfully play this week with Tevin Coleman out, and with volume, he typically puts up some nice numbers. This is a good, physical front seven, however, and it’ll be a legitimate challenge for Freeman, particularly if the Falcons passing game struggles at all and Green Bay is allowed to stack up.

The good thing, then, is that Freeman remains a pain in the ass to deal with. He doesn’t always manage positive plays, but his vision and physicality remain extremely potent, and all it takes is one or two decent-sized holes for him to chew up 20-plus yards in the blink of an eye. If the offensive line is up to the task, expect Freeman to have one of the best games any back has had against the Packers this season. He’ll certainly get the carries.