As the hours drew closer to Green Bay’s Week-8 road matchup with Atlanta, there was a growing sense of gloom and doom among their legions of fans with the news of Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery and Clay Matthews all making the list of inactives, which prompted even some of the most optimistic of Cheesehead apologists to expect the worst versus a high-octane Matt Ryan-led offense.
While the undermanned Green Bay Packers ultimately didn’t have enough from a personnel standpoint to keep the Falcons from charging back and scoring a game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Mike McCarthy’s crew balled out and demonstrated lots of character in aggressively forcing the issue and nearly coming away with a hard-fought victory.
The offense, in particular, kept its feet on the gas pedal all afternoon as Aaron Rodgers formed instant chemistry with a group of inexperienced wide receivers, including Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison, that were suddenly thrust into the spotlight with the Packers often lining up in five-wide sets with empty backfields.
Yes, Rodgers and company went blow-for-blow with the home team and turned this contest into an entertaining affair which—at the very least—can supply team supporters with a modicum of hope once a number of key contributors make their way back onto the active roster.
The defense put up a spirited effort, but ultimately couldn’t make up for the myriad of injuries suffered at the cornerback position.
The Packers realize they can’t stop anybody and, as a result, they’ve come to accept the fact that they will need to be a pass-based offense until they can find some semblance of consistency at running back as they sort out what each of their new and unproven backfield options can deliver.
Before we move forward to assess and analyze next week’s opponent—the Indianapolis Colts—let’s look back at their 33-32 loss and identify which players are on the ascent as well singling out those that are performing below expectations.
Here is your weekly Stock Up, Stock Down report.
Aaron Rodgers: The Packers’ signal caller was unfazed by the absence of Cobb and Montgomery and made great use of younger targets (Allison, Davis and Janis) that all stepped up and played bigger roles in the offense.
Outside of a handful of times that saw him overthrow the intended receiver, Rodgers was pin-point accurate on a variety of passes including back-shoulder fades, deep out routes and crossing routes down the middle of the field.
But most importantly, he executed a number of quick-hitting plays where he didn’t need to spin, scramble and struggle to find open receivers. In fact, Rodgers and Davante Adams, in particular, displayed great chemistry on a number of connections where the quarterback hit his teammate with screens that were, in essence, extended handoffs that typically went for anywhere between three to 10 yards.
The Chico, California native was especially effective with his legs as demonstrated on a 3rd-and-3 play in the fourth quarter that saw Rodgers reach the perimeter and run past Falcons’ defenders for 12 yards on a drive that resulted in a touchdown that put Green Bay up by a 32-26 score.
Overall, the Packers’ triggerman was efficient in completing 28 of 38 passes for 246 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions despite some pass-protection breakdowns on the part of his offensive line.
Aaron Ripkowski: Green Bay doesn’t have much of a running attack right now, but Ripkowski showcased an ability to push the pile and gain tough yards. His 12-yard scamper on the first drive of the third quarter was particularly remarkable as he powered through De’Vondre Campbell and then dragged Deion Jones for a few extra yards.
In all, “Rip” outsnapped all other Packers’ running backs (32) and was second only to Rodgers in rushing yards by gaining 34 on only six carries.
Jordy Nelson: The veteran receiver wasted no time in making his presence felt by delivering key plays during the first drive, including a 58-yard hook-up with Rodgers on a deep crossing route with a helpless Keanu Neal in pursuit and a five-yard touchdown catch in which Nelson find an open spot in the zone.
Later on at the end of the half, the Kansas State product juggled the ball three times before coming down with a 21-yard catch over the middle that helped put his team in position for a field goal going into halftime. Nelson led the team with 94 receiving yards on only four grabs.
Davante Adams: If Nelson was the big-play target, then Adams was the go-to guy who used his toughness and elusiveness to gain valuable yards after the catch on many underneath routes.
No. 17 occasionally played the Ty Montgomery role by lining up in the backfield as well.
Unlike what we’ve seen in the past, Adams has really cut down on the mistakes over his past two games by becoming a better route runner, making defenders miss and hauling in the catchable balls thrown his way.
Rodgers is leaning on the third-year veteran with increasing frequency and there’s no doubt that Green Bay’s offensive production will very much rest on his shoulders.
Trevor Davis: The rookie made an impact by returning a second-quarter punt 55 yards to the Atlanta 15 yard line by breaking to the outside and accelerating past a gaggle of special-team cover men.
He proceeded to finish off that same drive in grand style by diving in front of opposing cornerback Brian Poole and securing a hard and low delivery for a touchdown putting the Packers ahead by a 21-14 score.
The youngster also demonstrated the savvy to come back to the quarterback on another completion in which Rodgers was forced to scramble outside of the pocket.
T.J. Lang: The right guard is by far the Packers’ best run blocker as evidenced by how he paved the way for a 5-yard Ripkowski run at about the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Both Lang and Bryan Bulaga held up well on their side of the line in pass protection with most of the breakdowns coming from the center and left guard positions…more on that later.
Mike Pennel: The big man is rounding into form and made a couple of power plays that almost resulted in a goal-line stop for the Green and Gold in the third quarter.
Pennel was responsible for getting the initial push that closed off a running lane for Devonta Freeman on first and goal at the one-yard line and forced the running back to run right into the arms of Jake Ryan and Letroy Guion.
On the next play, he stood up his blocker and gave Haha Clinton Dix the opportunity to wrap up and stop Freeman.
Letroy Guion: The 30-year-old widebody was active from start to finish by outleveraging center Alex Mack on the first drive and limiting Freeman to a minimal gain.
Later in the game, Guion put his lateral skills to good use by catching up to Mohamed Sanu on a pass play that only went for five yards.
Green Bay’s run defense as a whole wasn’t impenetrable given the fact that Atlanta gained 90 yards on the ground by averaging 4.7 yards per carry, but Guion, nevertheless, offered a solid contribution and looks a lot more agile since returning from his early-season sprained MCL.
Julius Peppers: He’s no longer a dominant presence that has to constantly be accounted for by the opposition, but Peppers still finds ways to disrupt the defense whether it’s by using his long arms to perfectly time and deflect passes or power through offensive linemen to pressure the quarterback.
The 36-year-old defender did just that on a second-quarter sack where he pushed right tackle Ryan Schraeder deep into the pocket and then cut back inside to wrap up Matt Ryan on a play that prevented the Falcons from converting a two-point conversion.
Jake Ryan: The 24-year-old inside linebacker had his best game of the year by leading the team with nine solo tackles, including 1.5 that resulted in lost yardage.
He made several great reads and constantly found openings along the line of scrimmage to slip through and get to the ball carrier.
Fans will get on him for being the man closest to Sanu on his game-winning touchdown. Ryan denied responsibility, but in any event, it’s clear that pass coverage will probably never be his strong suit.
Haha Clinton Dix: HCD did well in clean-up mode by filling in on run plays as well as providing help to a depleted cornerback group in coverage as he did on a 2nd-and-11 play in the second quarter where the third-year man broke up a pass intended for Julio Jones down the seam.
Let’s also give the young safety credit for being on the field for 100-percent of the snaps on defense through seven games this season.
Knile Davis: He had five touches all game and has yet to show any of the burst or physicality he flashed as a Kansas City Chief. I know this is a small sample, but even Don Jackson has displayed some juice in between the tackles.
Richard Rodgers: The tight end was a non-factor with McCarthy often opting to go with four and five-wide formations, but on the few snaps Rodgers was playing, he did nothing to contribute to the cause on offense.
While Rodgers is typically a solid blocker, the slow-footed Packer was no match for Vic Beasley coming off the edge to disrupt a running play in which (Don) Jones was dropped for a one-yard loss.
McCarthy seems to have little use for Rodgers as a pass catcher since his snaps are being reduced in favor of more dynamic weapons.
Taylor Lane: The left guard struggled holding things down on his side and was also overpowered by Adrian Clayborn on a third-down sack in the third quarter that led to a Green Bay punt.
J.C. Tretter: The starting center failed to impose his will on the few running plays executed and he also fell victim to Clayborn on a third-down sack in which the defensive end outquicked and sidestepped him.
Datone Jones: Outside of a questionable roughing-the-passer call, Jones provided a fairly anonymous showing on a day when the Packers needed all the pressure they could muster given the state of their injury-plagued secondary. He needs to get off blocks with greater consistency.
Kyler Fackrell: Fackrell was the main culprit in allowing Terron Ward to explode to the right for a 26-yard run in the third quarter. Setting the edge is something that the rookie will need improve on moving forward.
Micah Hyde: The versatile defensive back was late on a number of plays and showed a lack of range in his futile attempt to pick up Sanu on a 12-yard pass play. The Ryan-Sanu connection occurred on 3rd-and-2 on the Falcons game-winning drive.