If I was guilty of underrating the Bears a week ago, I was guilty of overrating a Packers team that wound up being without its two starting tackles, top receiver Jordy Nelson, and stellar defensive tackle Mike Daniels. To be fair to me, I didn’t know they’d be missing those players, but that plus a stellar Falcons performance meant Green Bay was more or less blown off the field.
This one looked like it’d be tight early, but Atlanta’s offense got going pretty quickly to tear apart a Packers defense that just doesn’t have the manpower to keep up with a stellar offense, particularly without Daniels. Couple that with a swarming, potent defense that got better as the game wore on and you have the recipe for a blowout, and that’s more or less what we got. The Falcons just keep beating Green Bay, and I’m as amazed by that as I am grateful, no matter how large of a role injuries had in the outcome.
The way the team generally kept Aaron Rodgers in check was made slightly less impressive by the injuries along that Packers line, but it was still a genuine feat to make him look so generally pedestrian. With that accomplished, the offense just needed to be good, and instead they looked about as dynamic as they did in 2016, racking up points and yardage and finding a way to spring Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and even Justin Hardy along the way. The balance here was impressive, and if I don’t sound incredibly jazzed about the outcome it’s only because I am at peace and content, which is a feeling I’ll take about my favorite football team any day.
The sour notes, but of course there were some, had a lot to do with the way the Falcons made everyone nervous again in the fourth quarter. They scored 34 points in the first three quarters, allowing only 10 to Green Bay, before they either ran out of gas or let off it to let the Packers pick up 13 in the first 10 minutes or so of the quarter. Minus Ryan Schraeder and Vic Beasley, in particular, the Falcons certainly did look more tentative and less effective as the game wore on. The other major concern is that the Falcons lost Ryan Schraeder, Courtney Upshaw, and Vic Beasley in this one, and we don’t yet know that they’ll be okay for the next game. The team is going to need Schraeder and Beasley in particular sooner rather than later to keep the good times going.
Critically, Atlanta is 2-0 and just beat an NFC contender handily, erasing some of the doubts that followed them post-Super Bowl—and god, did NBC bring that game up enough?—and putting them in an excellent position to stay relevant in the NFC South during the early, easier portion of their 2017 schedule. The Packers had major injury issues that will mean some will still doubt this Falcons team, but I personally We saw enough from both the offense and defense in this one to feel good about this team going forward, and there’s no question they have a legitimate shot at being 4-0 going into their bye week.
Let’s get to the full recap.
- Matt Ryan displayed some shaky accuracy early and was harried often behind a bit of a makeshift line, particularly on the right side, but he played his usual smooth game against Green Bay. He hit his open players, escaped pressure often, and generally kept the offense moving down the field crisply and easily. He’s not putting up gaudy numbers, but he hasn’t thrown a pick yet and keeps
- Devonta Freeman just makes it look so easy. From the first drive, where he ran effectively and with power en route to a touchdown, to the second touchdown, to his many big gains, Free helped Atlanta control the tempo and move the ball. He’s one of the league’s better backs, but you knew that.
- Tevin Coleman is a bit of an inconsistent runner, but when he’s on, he’s electric. His second quarter run saw him stay patient and bounce the ball outside, picking up 35 yards with his fantastic speed.
- Julio Jones started eating early, picking up two receptions for 52 yards on the very first drive, and as anticipated he ate the Packers secondary alive all game long. He had 95 yards on four receptions in the first half, and while he only added one in the second half, he averaged 21 yards for the day and went over 100 yards, drawing attention away from other guys even when he wasn’t targeted. A fine game.
- Mohamed Sanu has looked really good thus far in 2017, continuing to win over the middle and display remarkably sure hands even in the face of contact. His first half output was three receptions and 69 yards, which would have been his fourth-highest output in the entire 2016 season. He finished the day with 85 yards, his best regular season game in a Falcons jersey, and is on his way to a pretty excellent second season in Atlanta.
- Vic Beasley’s destruction of Aaron Rodgers in the third quarter led directly to another touchdown for Atlanta, and you saw the difference in the pass rush once he exited the game.
- Brian Poole is a damned man. He made multiple tough, physical tackles in the first half and nearly had a pick late in the second quarter, and he’s become a vital player in this terrific young Falcons secondary.
- De’Vondre Campbell got a nice takedown and sack on Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter, getting an arm wrapped around Rodgers and dragging him down as the cavalry arrived. His closing speed was terrifying all evening, and he continues to look very good.
- Desmond Trufant got a beautiful, rolling interception in the second quarter that led to a great opportunity for Atlanta on the other end. He followed that up with a heads-up play on a backwards pass by Aaron Rodgers in the third quarter, taking it to the house
- Matt Bryant always makes it work In the second quarter, he hit a 51 yarder to put the Falcons up by two scores, and he remains one of the NFL’s great ageless wonders.
- Green Bay not having Mike Daniels helped, sure, but I thought Steve Sarkisian did a masterful job of attacking this suddenly-vaunted “Nitro” defense, establishing the run, and getting guys open. That plus his willingness to concentrate on running the clock out in the fourth quarter earned him a lot of goodwill Sunday. Ditto Marquand Manuel, who despite the obvious limitations Green Bay was facing managed to hold an Aaron Rodgers-led offense to just 23 points.
- Atlanta was already up big in the fourth quarter, but Matt Ryan’s egregious, out-of-bounds overthrow of an open Julio Jones was an objectively bad throw. Can’t say I enjoyed watching that.
- The Falcons figured to struggle a little bit against the Packers’ offense, even without their starting tackles, and we saw it on the very first drive. Atlanta continued to shoot themselves in the foot with questionable pressure (against two backup tackles!), penalties, and sloppy play, and while they ironed that out pretty well the rest of the way, it’s safe to say they won’t get away with that all year long if they continue to do it.
- With Ryan Schraeder out, we got a glimpse of what the right side of the line might look like, and it was not a pretty picture. Ty Sambrailo and Wes Schweitzer had moments of competence or better, but Ryan also found himself under pressure quite frequently and took a pair of sacks that appeared to be on Schweitzer and Sambrailo in the first half. If Schraeder has to miss any length of time, the Falcons are probably going to have to deal with some growing pains, though it was encouraging that Atlanta settled in a bit in the second half.
- The Falcons really should have been able to keep a larger lead intact given how banged up the Packers were by the fourth quarter, but I’ll give them a little benefit of the doubt and say they were probably trying to keep plays in front of them and run off the clock. At some point, to prevent Falcons fans from getting nervous late, they’ll hopefully keep the pedal down, but give the team credit for running the clock down effectively late, either way.
- Robert Alford is an underrated player, but people who knock him for picking up too many penalties really aren’t necessarily wrong. This time, it was a costly third down hold in the second quarter on a play the Packers would otherwise not have converted. It’s always going to be part of his game, but it can be frustrating.
- Special teams are still a little bit of a struggle for Atlanta, and to be more specific, it’s on returns. Keith Armstrong and company need to get the flags and dumb plays ironed out before that swings a close game.
Going to give this one to Steve Sarkisian, who relieved a lot of Falcons fans last night by calling a clean, smart game that catered to the Falcons’ considerable firepower. There were a lot of deserving choices, but given the doubt swirling around him heading into Sunday Night Football, he certainly qualifies.
Honorable mention to the great Devonta Freeman and the equally great Desmond Trufant, though.
The Falcons are capable of looking just as good as they did a year ago against a contender, albeit one with some injury issues, and clearly are not going to morph back into a timid, incapable squad like they were for large stretches of 2015. That’s great news.
You’ll be seeing the Detroit Lions on the road, which should be another interesting test for this Falcons team, albeit not their most challenging one yet. Go check out Pride of Detroit to learn more about the next opponent.