In week 8, the Atlanta Falcons leaned on veteran QB Matt Ryan for yet another 4th quarter comeback in which they beat the Packers 33-32. It was an important victory, as it followed two consecutive losses and proved the Falcons weren’t going to go on the same “slide” that they did in 2015. This time, though, the stakes are even higher. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, how does Atlanta’s offense stack up to the Packers defense? Here’s how it shakes out.
* Note: these evaluations are reflective of 2016 PFF scores
In the trenches
This game will feature two very good offensive lines. The Falcons line is anchored by All-Pro center Alex Mack, who has easily been one of the best free agent signings of the year. At tackle, Jake Matthews has been ok, but has not taken the big step forward many hoped he would this year. Next to him, Andy Levitre has had a bit of career resurgence this year, no doubt the influence of the stability at center. Chris Chester is in the twilight of his career and is the weakest link on this line, while Ryan Schraeder has developed into one of the top right tackles in the league. This is not a dominating offensive line, but they are good in both run blocking and pass protection. They can be overpowered at times, but it’s rare to see it happen for an entire game.
On the other side, the Packers have some quality in their defensive front. DE Mike Daniels is a great player who is good against the run and the pass. In the middle, first round pick Kenny Clark has gotten better as the season has progressed. On the other side, Dean Lowery is a decent player though not particularly dominating. Nick Perry is a quality pass rusher coming off the edge in the 3-4, while Datone Jones is merely average on the other side. Veteran Clay Matthews is not having a great season, due in large part to injuries. Julius Peppers can still get after the QB, but is definitely on the backside of his career. The weakest link in this defense lies with the inside linebackers. Blake Martinez is having a poor season while Jake Ryan is about average, but is better against the run than in coverage.
Not a lot has changed for the Packers since week 8, save for the continued development of Clark and the return of Matthews. This is a good match-up, but being in the Dome has to give the advantage to the Falcons here. This offensive line has gotten better as the season has progressed, and they’ll get the nod here.
The skill positions
Last week against a very good secondary, All-Pro QB Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards and a passer rating above 120 while connecting on 3 TDs and 0 INTs. He completed passes to either different receivers en route to 36 points, and that’s with Julio only contributing 6 catches for less than 70 yards. Whether it’s Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy or Aldrick Robinson, this wide receiver corps just has depth that few other teams possess. At tight end, Levine Toilolo is not a great player, but seems to do enough. Rookie TE Austin Hooper is growing into his role, and he actually had a very good game against Green Bay in week 8. Oh, I also forgot to mention one of the best running back duos in the league. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both capable runners and pass catchers who collectively put up over 100 yards rushing against a stout Seattle DL. Put simply: this is arguably the most talented and deep skill position unit in the NFL.
The Packers are injury riddled in their secondary. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a quality safety and has been healthy, but may be the only healthy player at this point. Fellow safety Morgan Burnett is very good when he’s out there, but he may not even play on Sunday due to injuries. Corner Ladarius Gunter is not a premiere corner, but has done a fairly good job when asked to cover the other teams top WR. Damarious Randall (if healthy) is not very good at all, while Micah Hyde may be the best of the group while still being average overall.
Put simply, this is not a good match-up for the Packers. The Falcons simply have too many weapons, even if Julio is not fully healthy. If Burnett does miss the game, this secondary could be in big trouble against one of the deepest units in the league.
This Falcons team seems different from the one that beat the Packers in week 8. The dismantling of the Seahawks was a bit unexpected, as the offense really had its way against one of the better defenses in the league. No one will mistake this Packers defense for the Seahawks, though they could cause some issues with their pass rush. However, if the Falcons can get their running game going, this has the potential to be an even more dominant performance. The Packers are banged up in some key spots and this was already a match-up they weren’t going to be favored in. The Falcons are mostly healthy at home, making this a clear nod to the home team.