The match-up this weekend is going to be a very interesting one. Based on last weeks performances, one might assume that the Packers defense will wipe the floor with the Falcons offense. However, Atlanta is at home and the first game of the year is always a bit of an outlier anyways. Football is ultimately about how individual teams match-up, which is what we’ll look at below.
Note: Assessments based on PFF Edge ratings
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line is - overall - a very solid one. They may not compare with the likes of Oakland or Dallas, but this is a group that does well in both pass blocking and run blocking most of the time. Alex Mack is an All-Pro caliber center who doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are very good on the edges, with neither allowing a single pressure last week against the Bears. Andy Levitre seems like he’s always good for one penalty per game, but he’s otherwise a very good starter at left guard. The only weak link is rookie Wes Schweitzer, whose performance against the Bears (and specifically facing Akiem Hicks) was disastrous. Let’s hope he elevates his play this week, or it could be a long day for QB Matt Ryan.
The Packers front 7 is decent, but it’s easy to see that the Bears defensive front was far more talented. In the middle, Kenny Clark is a capable DT but is no world-beater. On the edge, Dean Lowry was ok last year and is off to an okay start this year. The real demon on this line is Mike Daniels, a player who has gotten better every year he’s been in the league and one who nearly murdered Russel Wilson last week by himself. He’s the player to watch. Clay Matthews is not the player he has been in the past while Nick Perry has some pass rushing chops and has also similarly improved every year he’s been in the league. The Packers inside linebackers are a weakness, though. Jake Ryan is decent but is certainly not Jerrell Freeman. Blake Martinez had a rough rookie year and his 2017 season is off to a similarly rough start.
Again, the Falcons are facing a defensive line with a wrecking ball in Mike Daniels. Based on last weeks game against the Bears, this match-up alone could even things out. However, after Daniels, the quality drop-off (when compared to Chicago) is pretty significant. Perry is a good pass rusher but the other linebackers are not particularly inspiring. This match-up favors Atlanta, even if just slightly.
The skill positions
This is where things get really interesting. Matt Ryan may not have had the most dynamic and explosive game last week, but he was otherwise accurate and capable. However, his weapons could be a nightmare for Green Bay. Julio Jones is still the best receiver in the league while Mohamed Sanu has had super-glue hands since coming to Atlanta. Taylor Gabriel is a lightning bolt who also has fantastic elusiveness. At tight end, Austin Hooper is the only real receiving threat, but is a good one at that. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman didn’t get going last week against Chicago (on that god awful turf), but don’t expect these guys to remain quiet for long. They’re too good not to bounce back. So long as the play-calling from OC Steve Sarkisian opens up more, there’s no reason this high-powered offense can’t bounce back from an average showing in week one.
The Packers do have a very talented safety in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He’s no Earl Thomas, but he’s a quality player with decent coverage chops and the ability to help against the run. Morgan Burnett has also been a quality starter in his time in the league. After them, however, the drop-off is severe. Corner Davon House will probably match-up with Julio and he’s been pretty underwhelming the last couple of years and is off to a rough start this year. The exact same can be said for Quinten Rollins on the opposite side. In nickel packages, the story doesn’t get any better. Damarious Randall is a step down from House and Rollins. This secondary is a definite weakness for Green Bay and is certainly one the Falcons will look to exploit.
While 2016 is not an indicator of how 2017 will go, the units from both teams are mostly the same as last year. Many of the key players for both teams have returned, and we all know how well Green Bay’s defense played against us in 2016. That said, the Falcons do have legitimate questions they need to answer. Wes Schweitzer needs a bounce back game in a big way while Steve Sarkisian needs to show fans he is more creative than his first game suggested. However, this is a match-up that easily favors the Falcons regardless. Mike Daniels has the potential to mess all of this up, but on paper this easily goes to the Falcons.