Packers fans’ wounds from a demoralizing 44-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in January’s NFC Championship are still fresh for the many who were brimming with confidence off an inspiring eight-game winning streak that propelled the boys from Packers News to fall one game short of competing for an elusive fifth Super Bowl title.
Quite a few things have changed over the past eight months, but many of the same characters remain, as both teams still project as elite contenders that feature explosive and multi-faceted offenses capable of lighting up the scoreboard on a weekly basis.
On the Falcons’ side, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian stands out as the most notable new addition in taking over for play-calling mastermind Kyle Shanahan.
Sark’s pro debut wasn’t exactly one for the time capsule with his team struggling to generate points versus a far-from-stifling Bears’ defense that ranked fifteenth overall and twenty-seventh versus the pass in 2016.
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The most damning indictment against the former Pac-12 head coach was his implementation of a conservative plan of attack that saw Matt Ryan continually fail to push the ball downfield.
The inordinate number of underneath throws resulted in Chicago loading up the box and neutralizing what many believe is the NFL’s most electrifying running back tandem in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
In total, Ryan and company produced a single touchdown in four quarters, an 88-yard Ryan-to-Austin Hooper hook-up.
That long-distance connection, though, was hardly the product of sound play calling. Instead, the score was all due to the second-year tight end maximizing a desperation toss by stiff arming Quintin Demps and running about 50 yards to daylight.
In all fairness, it wasn’t as if the Packers’ offense was firing on all cylinders in their Week 1 contest either, but squaring off against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense is never a stroll in the park.
Considering their level of opponent, Green Bay earned a passing grade in their ability to consistently move the chains. However, the same couldn’t be said for their blocking.
A paper-thin offensive line enters Week 2 with starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga looking more and more like a game-time decision.
And as for Jahri Evans, his first public showing as the team’s starting right guard didn’t transmit any positive vibes with Atlanta’s menacing pass rush on the docket.
Though Aaron Rodgers’ artistry in evading the rush is sure to cover the warts of his pass protection, forcing the 33-year-old field general to continually use his legs to keep drives alive isn’t the best way to keep the league’s No. 1 quarterback in one piece over the balance of the regular season.
Further complicating matters is Jason Spriggs’ hamstring injury, which will reportedly require multiple weeks of recovery time. Though the 2016 second-round pick hasn’t impressed this summer, both he and Kyle Murphy are the only reserve linemen with any starting experience under their belts.
This Sunday night spotlight affair has all the makings of a prolific late-night thriller. Let’s examine the ways the Packers can win or lose this highly-anticipated rematch in the interest of rendering a somewhat accurate prediction.
So, fire up the tea kettle and lean back while we dive in to this Week 2 donnybrook.