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What to know about Falcons - Packers heading into Week 4

A banged up, 0-3 Falcons team desperately needs to get right, but their next primetime challenge is a difficult one.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Atlanta is 5-5 against the Packers in the Matt Ryan era, and they’ve won three of the last four matchups against Green Bay. This team has as much success against Aaron Rodgers in recent memory as anyone, in other words, and no one should doubt their ability to pull off a win against a team they have had recent success against.

With that note out of the way, though, this is obviously a tough draw. The Falcons can point to a handful of mistakes that swung all three games they’ve played in thus far, but they have also been overwhelmed and outplayed for significant stretches of all of those games. The Packers are on their home turf and are firing on all cylinders right now, meaning we need the A game the Falcons are capable of but haven’t brought for four quarters just yet.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup ahead.

Falcons - Packers head-to-head

This comparison looked manageable against the Bears, and the Falcons got a huge lead and narrowly lost against Chicago, so maybe it was manageable. It’s a bad sign that they lost probably the easiest matchup they’ve had this year, especially because the Green Bay game looks so daunting on paper. Here are the team’s respective league rankings.

Falcons - Packers Comparison

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Allowed
Falcons 0-3 6 7 3 18 32 31 31 13 9 9
Packers 3-0 1 2 6 2 21 14 18 14 14 1

Yes, that Green Bay team is leading the league in points scored and is top 10 in yardage across the board. Yes, that defense isn’t great, but it’s light years better than Atlanta, and the Packers have done a tremendous job taking care of the football.

There’s no truly elite pass defense here, which means Atlanta at the top of its passing game can certainly do what they’ve done all season and keep themselves in the game through the air. Green Bay has a stout but not elite run defense, meaning Todd Gurley and Brian Hill can thrive if used smartly, and Green Bay’s actually been pretty susceptible in the red zone, as evinced by their bottom-half-of-the-league points allowed ranking.

It’s just that the rest of the news isn’t so great. Atlanta’s defense has been comically inconsistent thus far, mixing in one good quarter or even good half here with a disappearing act in another half there. They can’t afford to be off their game for very long against this Matt LaFleur-schemed offense. LaFleur was a coach with bright ideas who needed some seasoning, and the time he spent learning from Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta and Sean McVay with the Rams, plus a couple of years of taking his lumps as an offensive coordinator in Tennessee and a first-year head coach struggling with a strong personality at quarterback clearly made a difference for him. He’s doing a great job and he’ll know very well how to attack this Falcons defense.

It doesn’t help that Aaron Rodgers simply doesn’t throw interceptions. Matt Ryan is a terrific player, but Rodgers threw the same number of interceptions from 2017-2019 that #2 threw just last season, and that care with the football means it’ll be that much harder for the Falcons to make a tide-turning play.

Atlanta’s going to have to be at the top of their game in every phase all game long, in other words, to stand a chance of going into Lambeau Field and winning this one.

How the Packers have changed since the last time

The last time these two teams faced off, it was 2018 and Mike McCarthy was done in Green Bay. It was pretty clear the team had some re-tooling to do, even if they dispatched the Falcons 34-20 with relative ease in December.

As is typical, this team does not have a ton of gaudy free agent additions. They’ve added key contributors through the draft (Darnell Savage at safety and Elgton Jenkins on the offensive line being the two most notable additions), free agency (Christian Kirksey, Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, the excellent Za’Darius Smith), but are still heavily reliant on players that were here before LaFleur arrived. The new coach has set about revitalizing a stodgy offense and the team has added enough pieces to a solid defense to make it quality, but this is not a dramatically transformed team. The Packers are nonetheless good again.

What you need to know

There is not a single thing the Packers or Falcons have done over the first three weeks of the season that suggest anything but a decisive Green Bay win. These being the Falcons, they’ll likely make it closer than we would’ve thought possible, but it’s difficult to figure out how Atlanta might pull off a victory.

The Falcons annihilated Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs back in 2017—and again during the regular season, though less decisively—by forcing him into uncharacteristic mistakes under duress. This season, Rodgers appears rejuvenated and has yet to throw a single interception, and he’s spreading the ball around effectively enough that you can’t lock in on a single target. To make things worse, Aaron Jones is one of the best backs in football this year, and Jamaal Williams is playing very well too. This is a juggernaut offense putting up top 5 numbers, and Atlanta’s now been destroyed twice by great passing attacks (and once by the Bears).

Defensively, the Packers are less threatening, but they have managed 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions on the young season, and they’ll be looking to force the Falcons into mistakes with a banged up supporting cast. Atlanta’s capable of putting up 30+ points against this team even if they’re missing several key players, because Dirk Koetter has the offense humming early in recent games and they’ve still got Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and an improving ground game. If Atlanta wilts late like they did against the Cowboys and Bears, however, Green Bay is ever more well-positioned to take advantage of that. Atlanta can’t afford to let up.

Atlanta’s path to victory lies in getting a lot healthier between now and Monday night and, as simple and unsatisfying as it ultimately sounds, playing as well as they have early against Dallas and Chicago for a full four quarters. If you think that sounds unlikely, well, you’re not alone. This one will get ugly fast if the Falcons haven’t figured out an awful lot by Monday night, but their recent history with Green Bay and still maddening potential ensures we can’t count them out entirely.