We’re approaching one of the Falcons most anticipated match-ups of the 2017 regular season: the Sunday Night Football game against the Green Bay Packers. In case you, somehow, have forgotten, the Falcons beat the Packers twice in 2016: once in a nail-biter during the regular season, and again in a blowout during the NFC Championship.
Aaron Rogers and the Packers will undoubtedly be looking for revenge, so the Falcons will need to come prepared for a very tough game. This match-up could also have far-reaching consequences for playoff seeding, as both teams are thought of as NFC contenders. A win against Green Bay on Sunday night would cement the Falcons as perhaps the favorite in the NFC, and would put them at 2-0 on the season.
With all that in mind, here are some of the most interesting players to watch going into Sunday Night Football.
RG Wes Schweitzer
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Schweitzer had a bad debut as a starting offensive lineman. He had a tough test against Bears’ DT Akiem Hicks—who is legitimately a very good player—and got abused all game. Luckily, it wasn’t bad enough to completely derail the Falcons offense, and Atlanta escaped with a narrow win in Chicago. That type of performance isn’t going to cut it against the much more dangerous Green Bay Packers.
The Packers don’t have the top-to-bottom talent of the Bears’ defense, but they do have very effective interior defensive linemen in Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark. Green Bay will be trying to attack Schweitzer early and often, and he’ll need to be prepared for the onslaught. Hopefully, with his first start behind him and in the friendly confines of the brand-spanking-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Schweitzer can put in a decent performance. The outcome of this game may well depend on it.
CB Desmond Trufant
Trufant is an exceptional CB with a long track record of success. That being said, his performance against Chicago was a bit...lackluster, at least by his standards. He seemed hesitant and a little slow at times, which led to some easy completions for Chicago. Some of that might have been the scheme, but there’s no discounting that Trufant didn’t quite look like himself last Sunday.
It’s very possible that Trufant was simply knocking off the rust against the Bears. After all, this was his first extended NFL action since mid-way through the 2016 season. I’m not concerned about Trufant going forward, but I’d like to see him really step up this week against a talented Packers’ receiving corps. The Falcons will need him to play at a high level on Sunday night to keep Green Bay’s offense from marching up and down the field.
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
Takk didn’t get a ton of playing time against the Bears—mainly because Chicago was so rarely lined up in a package that demanded nickel coverage from the Falcons. In his limited snaps, he showed flashes of what we saw in the preseason. Dan Quinn absolutely wants to get Takk more involved, and Sunday night’s game against Green Bay should give him plenty of opportunities to do so.
The Packers will likely be trying to throw the ball early and often. They’ll be attempting to avoid getting into a hole against the Falcons’ offense, which was ultimately their downfall in the NFC Championship. That will lead to the Falcons having a lot more opportunities to rush the passer than they had in Week 1. Takk will get his chance to wreak havoc against a Packers’ offensive line that might be down their starting RT Bryan Bulaga.
WR Julio Jones
Look, obviously we’re all watching Julio Jones on Sundays because he’s hard to miss. But after the events of Week 1—where Julio was only targeted a few times and was generally not very involved in the offense—Quinn made it clear that the team was committed to getting the ball to Jones going forward. I think we all remember what happened the last time Julio played against the Packers...
I swear that video never, ever, gets old. The point is: this is likely to be a very difficult game against another NFC contender. Atlanta is at their most dangerous when Julio is a focal point of the offense. Watch for Jones to make some serious noise against a pretty suspect Packers’ secondary on Sunday night.
TE Austin Hooper
Can Hooper repeat his impressive performance against the Bears? That is the big question heading into this primetime match-up. Hooper wasn’t involved much, catching only two passes against Chicago, but he was a huge factor on those plays and led the Falcons in receiving. He was also a big contributor as a blocker, and remained on the field for early downs.
There’s no doubt that Hooper has the potential to assume a big role in the Falcons offense. He’ll have more favorable match-ups against the Packers LBs, as Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez aren’t exactly studs in coverage. This is likely the week that we find out if Hooper is ready to be a primary target, or if he will merely stay a tertiary one. We know Ryan loves to target his TE, so I hope for the former.
These are the players I’ll be watching against the Packers on Sunday. I sincerely hope the Falcons can pull off the victory, as a win here gives the Falcons a great shot at entering their Week 5 bye at 4-0.
Who are some of the more intriguing players, in your mind? Any match-ups you’ll be watching closely?