The Falcons are 0-3, drowning in injuries, with no realistic possibility at optimism on the horizon. The Green Bay Packers could not be facing much more of a different outlook. It is year two of Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers is playing some of the best ball in his career, and the Packers are typically one of the best, if not the best, ranked offenses in many categories.
LaFleur, of course, was the quarterback coach during Matt Ryan’s MVP season. The long-time Kyle Shanahan disciple was never interviewed to replace his boss, with the “brain trust” reportedly unimpressed in one of the now-hottest coaches in the NFL. Steve Sarkisian returned to college football.
Oh well, lets ask questions about the Packers and ignore this team’s unprecedented ability to choke. We talked to Jon Meerdink of Acme Packing Company which I have just realized relates to the Packers. Is this team named after a moving service? That would have been a good question because what all could Packers even mean? We may have to wait for the next matchup and five questions to find out.
1. Aaron Rodgers has been on a tear this year after the Packers spent a 1st-round selection on a quarterback. Is he motivated purely by spite?
You can never really rule out spite when it comes to Aaron Rodgers, so I can’t entirely say no. But I think the biggest thing motivating him this year seems to be the opposite of spite: he’s happy and comfortable. He’s talked at length this year about just being at peace with where he’s at, especially after making some, ahem, changes in his personal life. Couple that with the increased comfort that comes from being in the second year in Matt LaFleur’s system, and you get a quarterback who’s showing the league he can still play at a very high level.
2. The Packers seem pretty good. How much is due to former Falcons quarterback coach Matt LaFleur? Would you consider yourself “impressed” with his work?
I’d say I’m very impressed with LaFleur so far. He’s shown visible growth as a playcaller over his year-plus on the job so far, and the culture change he’s initiated in Green Bay has been nothing short of remarkable. I’m probably kinder to Mike McCarthy than most, but it’s hard to deny things got a little stale during the latter stages of the McCarthy era. LaFleur has been a breath of fresh air, cleaning out some institutional rot and making football in Green Bay fun again. I will admit to being a little bit skeptical at first; he seemed to be very much a “well, he knows Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay” type hire initially. But both general manager Brian Gutekunst and team president Mark Murphy spoke at length about how impressive LaFleur was as a person and how impressive his vision seemed for the organization as a whole, and the results have borne that out.
3. Behind Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, what offensive weapon should the Falcons be most worried about?
Brush up on Allen Lazard, the big-bodied wide receiver who’s making a frankly inexplicable number of plays deep down the field. Lazard presents as a pretty prototypical possession receiver. He’s 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, and offers a 40-yard dash time that’d be good but not great for a tight end. But through three games, he’s regularly made big-time catches down the field, including 48- and 72-yard catches against the Saints last week. LaFleur has done an amazing job of scheming him open with play-action passes from tight formations, and that’s something Falcons fans should be watching for on Monday.
And just as a bonus, Lazard will also throw his body around as a blocker, too. How many other wide receivers can boast they’ve taken on Cam Jordan one-on-one?
4. Is it snowing yet in Green Bay? I’m still wearing flip flops.
Not yet, but it’s not far away, either. I grew up about an hour south of Green Bay, and we got snow in October more than a few times. I love the weather in Wisconsin this time of year, though. Lots of gray skies and cold winds, broken up with a few days of absolutely cloudless skies and crisp temperatures. As of right now, the forecast for Monday looks like a pretty archetypal day for Wisconsin in October, too. Low 50s during the day cooling to the mid-40s by kickoff. Football as it’s meant to be played.
5. Green Bay’s defense looks more problematic than the league’s top offense. Imagine for an instance that Atlanta’s offense focused on matchups — how would you attack Green Bay’s defense?
I would probe the middle at every level until I found something that worked, then hammer it relentlessly. The Packers’ main weaknesses on defense are right up the middle. With Kenny Clark looking doubtful for this week, the Packers are weak on the interior of their defensive line, so I’d try some power running there. The Packers were already weak at inside linebacker, and with Christian Kirksey hurt, they’re relying on a trio of inexperience players including 2018 third-round disappointment Oren Burks, 2019 seventh-round pick Ty Summers, and 2020 UDFA Khrys Barnes — I’d attack them with backs and tight ends in the passing game. In the secondary, second-year safety Darnell Savage is by far the weakest link. I’d find ways to get him isolated however I could and target him. Once I found something that worked, I’d hammer it relentlessly. Mike Pettine is a lot of things as a defensive coordinator, but overly flexible is not among them. If something works for an offense, he’s not quick to counter it. The Saints exploited that tendency, and if the Falcons can find a similar exploit, they should pound it until the defense shatters.