Ty Montgomery holds the key for the Green Bay Packers to defeat the Atlanta Falcons this week.
Piece by piece, Falcons coach Dan Quinn is attempting to replicate the defense he coached in Seattle. Quinn’s philosophy starts and ends with the football and playing “fast and physical”.
A year after registering just 19 team sacks, an NFL-low, Quinn’s defense already has 15 in its first seven games. With an improving pass rush, a solid run defense and one of the league’s premier cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant, it’s easy to see Atlanta’s upward trajectory on defense.
Quinn’s opportunistic defense has thrived on turnovers, currently tied for seventh in the league with six interceptions on the season.
Despite that, Atlanta sits No. 31 in passing defense, and there is one clear route for the Packers to find success this week. Aaron Rodgers will need to throw early and often, primarily attacking the middle of the field.
Stopping tight ends and running backs catching passes has been problematic for Atlanta over the past two seasons. It’s no surprise they underwent a facelift at linebacker over the summer, including spending a second-round draft pick on speedy Deion Jones.
Atlanta Falcons: Receiving yards allowed to running backs in 2016
Week 1 (TB): 5-66-1
Week 2 (at OAK): 10-88
Week 3 (at NO): 10-62-1
Week 4 (CAR): 10-84
Week 5 (at DEN): 7-57
Week 6 (at SEA): 7-66
Week 7 (SD): 6-53-1
No team gives up more receiving yards to running backs than Atlanta. Given the Packers are without both Eddie Lacy and James Starks, Montgomery and Cobb will continue to take over the role as versatile weapons out of the backfield.
The Falcons have allowed the second-most yards to tight ends. It may be a stretch for Jared Cook to return from his ankle injury in time for this game, but it could spell a bigger role for Richard Rodgers, a proven red zone threat.
Atlanta Falcons: Receiving yards allowed to tight ends in 2016
Week 1 (TB): 5-64-2
Week 2 (at OAK): 10-74-1
Week 3 (at NO): 7-109-1
Week 4 (CAR): 8-93-1
Week 5 (at DEN): 0-0-0
Week 6 (at SEA): 7-98-0
Week 7 (SD): 6-54
San Diego found success when they got the ball to Melvin Gordon and Antonio Gates. Ty Montgomery can be the X-factor for Green Bay, used out of the backfield to exploit favorable matchups with the Atlanta linebackers.
Stopping Julio only half the battle
Dom Capers knows all too well how dangerous Julio Jones is. The last time his Packers defense lined up across from the Falcons star, he burned his secondary for 259 yards and a touchdown.
Jones leads the NFL in receiving with 830 yards and four touchdowns. He’s on pace for an incredible 1,897 yards and nine touchdowns.
Slowing down Jones will require a healthy Quinten Rollins, but doing so successfully is only half the battle. Sam Shields (injured reserve) and Damarious Randall (groin) are unavailable for Sunday’s game.
Unlike the last time these two teams met in 2014, the Falcons now boast a legitimate run game. Along with the league’s No. 1 passing offense, Atlanta sits No. 8 in rushing offense thanks to the talented 1-2 punch of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Both backs are as talented catching the football as they are taking handoffs. Freeman is the better between-the-tackles back, while Coleman uses his lightning speed to hit the home run, as he did on a 30-yard touchdown run against San Diego last week.
Coleman exited Sunday’s loss to the Chargers with a hamstring injury, and his status is worth tracking this week. With or without their second-year back, Freeman demands more than enough attention from Coach Capers and the league’s No. 1 ranked run defense.
The Packers will need to win up front with four in order to flood the secondary and minimize the threat of the Falcons’ passing game. Matt Ryan has spread the ball around more often this season, with Mohamed Sanu, Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper all offering help.
Preventing Julio Jones from replicating his dazzling night at Lambeau two years ago is the top priority, but slowing him down is only half the battle.
Pass rush can win the day
As a result of a stronger supporting cast, Matt Ryan’s play has improved in 2016, but he is still prone to mental errors. When under consistent pressure, Ryan can make mistakes. Last year, he was tied for third in interceptions with 16, four of which came in the red zone. He also fumbled 12 times, second-most in the league.
Ryan has gone a long way to cleaning up this part of his game in 2016, throwing four picks in seven games and fumbling just once.
The Packers will need to turn up the heat and force the league passing-leader into quick decisions. Nick Perry and Clay Matthews are key to this, and consistent pressure on Ryan will lead to opportunities for the secondary to come away with a turnover.
This may be what it takes to win.