I’m not actually sure that anyone thought the Atlanta Falcons would have the same record as the Packers going into this game. Due to a rough stretch hit by the Packers, they do. Losses to the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have set the Packers back to .500, tied for first place in the NFC South with the Chicago Bears. The season is now a quarter of the way done with the Packers on pace for an 8-8 record, which will not make the playoffs. They need to step up now and win to gain some momentum going into two tough games against the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. This brings us to the three keys to Sunday’s game:
Packers rush defense vs. Falcons rush offense
This centers around the Falcons young running back Michael Turner. Turner has been nearly unstoppable in the first weeks of 2008, leading the league with 422 yards on the ground. In Week 1, Turner rushed for 220 yards on 22 carries, an astounding 10.0 yards per carry. The Packers defensive line and linebackers will need to be on their game for this, but it is hard to tell whether or not they actually will. Versatile lineman Cullen Jenkins is out for the year with a chest injury, while two other defensive linemen are listed on the injury report: Jason Hunter is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury, while Ryan Pickett is probable with a knee injury. In the linebacking corps, A.J. Hawk is questionable with a groin injury. The pressure is on this group after the tandems of Marion Barber and Felix Jones from Dallas and Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn in Tampa absolutely shredded the Packers run defense. The Packers will now look to stop Turner and Jerious Norwood. Aaron Kampman and the rest of the defensive line will be keys to this game, while Nick Barnett and the linebackers will have to step it up to make plays and help out the defensive line.
Packers pass defense vs. Falcons pass offense
So far in his pro career, Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan has surpassed expectations. He hasn’t appeared to be totally overwhelmed except for a few occasions and has been good with his decision making. Having Turner in the backfield helps him along in his development, but he has shown poise. The Packers will need to get to him in order to win this game. Kampman and Barnett will need to harass him all game and force him into bad decisions. Ryan does not have the best wide receivers in Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, although White has been developing into a decent wideout in recent games. The Packers secondary is depleted, with five players listed on the injury report. Al Harris is out, while Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse are not expected to play. Charles Woodson and Nick Collins are probable. The pressure falls to backups Jarrett Bush and Charlie Peprah in this one, both of him will most likely be seeing their first major action of the season. Collins is emerging as a playmaker, while Woodson has been clutch this year, so they are players to watch for the big play in the Packers secondary.
Packers quarterbacks vs. Falcons defense
Aaron Rodgers is a game-time decision. If he can’t go, Matt Flynn gets his first career start, four games into his career. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is considering resting Rodgers so he will be ready for the games against Seattle and Indianapolis, but if the Packers fall to 2-3 here, it will be hard to dig out of the hole. Flynn showed some poise against the Bucs defense, but the Packers chances to win decrease greatly with Flynn at the helm. Rodgers is tough by playing through this injury and wanting to play through it, but he may have to sit this one out so he can be ready for the tough slate of games coming up. The Falcons have a decent defense, but the Packers offense may be too much for it.
The Verdict: Packers 24, Falcons 14
Tags: A.J. Hawk Aaron Kampman Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rouse Al Harris Atari Bigby Atlanta Falcons Charles Woodson Charlie Peprah Chicago Bears Cullen Jenkins Dallas Cowboys Earnest Graham Felix Jones Indianapolis Colts Jarrett Bush Jason Hunter Jerious Norwood Marion Barber Matt Flynn Matt Ryan Michael Jenkins Michael Turner Mike McCarthy Nick Barnett Nick Collins Roddy White Ryan Pickett Seattle Seahawks Tampa Bay Buccaneers Warrick Dunn