Thursday, January 13, 2011

Packers Need to Sharpen Up to Beat Falcons

NFL Network is a grand thing. As if the "Top Ten" shows, follies shows, and other magnificent NFL Films productions weren't enough, the network has been re-airing regular-season games that are being revisited in the playoffs.

One of those is the Week 12 game between Green Bay and Atlanta. In re-watching that game, a few things stood out. For the Packers to pull the upset Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, many of those things will have to change.

(Note: I'm a Packer fan. Don't look here for intricate analysis of what the Falcons have to do to win, because I'm not giving you that. I don't want the Falcons to win.)

That game ended 20-17 in Atlanta's favor after Matt "Matty Ice" Ryan ably and bravely drove the Falcons about 20 yards into field goal range following a long kickoff return and a stupid facemask penalty on the Packers. The game was tied on an Aaron Rodgers dart to Jordy Nelson along the left sideline about six yards deep in the end zone. That fourth-down play was made by Rodgers, who had no one initially, and scrambled to his left to buy time. He then zipped a pass to Nelson and couldn't have thrown it any better.

However, the Packers were beaten by inconsistent execution in all phases, as they were in many of their five other losses this season.

They couldn't run the ball at all in this game, and it hurt them in goal-line and short-yardage situations. Eventually, coach Mike McCarthy just gave up on the run, and that left Rodgers to make plays with his feet and arm, sometimes when those types of plays weren't there to be made.

This makes James Starks a big player in Saturday's game. His ability to run against the Philly front seven Sunday made a huge difference in Green Bay's ability to win the game, even if he was held out of the end zone. It'll be even bigger Saturday, because Rodgers -- despite the nearly-complete lack of a running game -- was able to keep Green Bay in the Week 12 tilt. If he has more help, it greatly benefits McCarthy's play-calling acumen and the Packers offense in general.

Over the course of the season, receivers James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and Greg Jennings were all guilty of critical drops. Jones' drop in Sunday's game -- a sure touchdown and a 21-3 halftime lead if he catches it -- probably made the difference between the Packers winning going away and having to hold on for dear life. Rodgers has missed a few big plays, and in general, this offense has left way too many points on the field for anyone's liking.

McCarthy gets too conservative at times, not giving his offense a chance to really clamp down and take control of a game. At the same time, his conservatism helped a great deal on Sunday. Between his insistence on calling run plays late and Dom Capers' ability to keep the Eagles from making a big play for a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, they held Philly at bay, and made it so the last drive didn't come with too much time on the clock. Instead, the Eagles had to burn their timeouts and run their hurry-up offense on the last series, which contributed to the game-clinching interception by Tramon Williams.

So there's good and bad there, but speaking generally, it would be nice if McCarthy would put his foot on the gas and go for the throat more often when the opponent is reeling. It would also be nice if players like Jones would execute when given the opportunity. That blame goes both ways, as you can see.

On defense, the tackling in Atlanta was as bad as it's been all season. So was the pass rush. Ryan was protected very well, and the quarterback missed only four times all afternoon. Smart money is on Capers finding a way to get heat on him, and if that doesn't work, they'll mix up coverages enough that Ryan will miss many more than just those four passes this week. Capers might not be long for Green Bay, but the Packers and their fans should consider themselves fortunate as long as he is around. Not many guys in the league know how to run a defense better than he does, and his game-planning has been nothing short of brilliant at times this year ... along with it being rarely subpar.

Michael Turner might not have the speed of a gazelle, but he will burn this defense if they don't get in the holes and make good hits on him. Atlanta won't give up on running the ball unless the score or game situation dictate it must, so expect a steady diet of Turner Saturday night.

Atlanta is a rock-solid team. They're not flashy in any area. The Falcons just make first downs, move the chains, get the occasional big play, and play very good defense. This team is easy to pick against because it doesn't have any overwhelming strengths, but at the same time, you're hard-pressed to find serious weaknesses.

That means it's a dangerous team to pick -- and play -- against. The Falcons won't beat themselves, and they're playing a team that has done just that more than once this season.

Green Bay is capable of executing at Atlanta's level, but there can be no letdown in that execution if the Packers are to move into the NFC Championship.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go Falcons!!!