Packers Take Down Cowboys In Instant Classic
The Packer defense, hardly a strong unit to begin with, entered the game without Quinten Rollins, and proceeded to lose player after player as the day wore on. Morgan Burnett, the ever dependable safety, was the last straw at which point it became clear to everyone watching that this was going to be the offense’s game to win or lose, because the defense wasn’t going to help. Mason Crosby, Jared Cook and Aaron Rodgers made sure that Green Bay did not let it slip away.
The Packers played an all-time classic, first amassing a huge 18 point lead, slowly letting it slip away, and finally, rallying for a breathtaking game-winning drive culminating in a deep sideline out to Jared Cook, who managed to drag his toes and stay in bounds on 3rd and 20, and get Mason Crosby into field goal range. There were five or six jaw-dropping plays in this game from both sides including Orlando Scandrick’s flying knee sack of Aaron Rodgers, Dez Bryant’s near total domination of Ladarius Gunter, and Rodgers miraculous non-fumble late in the game on a crushing blind-side hit from Jeff Heath. I still have no idea how he managed to hang on, other than simply declaring “it’s Aaron Rodgers, and he is magic.” The amazing 3rd and 20 sideline route to Jared Cook with three seconds left will go down in Packer history forever, especially given that Rodgers apparently drew up the play on the fly, but I would like to point out another jaw-dropper that happened earlier.
Some big plays happen on Wednesday in the film room, and this was one of them. Micah Hyde is not the most physically gifted defensive back, but he’s a hard worker with a nose for the ball, and as he made clear, does excellent work in the film room. Hyde obviously saw something as he immediately diagnosed this play as a quick screen.
Usually if a screen is intercepted it’s off a ricochet, and I am not sure I have ever seen any player simply break on a quick throw behind the line of scrimmage and catch it in stride. It was a brilliant combination of preparation, trust in that preparation, and athleticism. Hyde has stepped up his play recently, and has saved the defense from being even worse in the wake of countless injuries in the secondary. His knack for the interception has helped the Packers immensely, and he will need to keep it up going forward as he and Ladarius Gunter will be severely tested again on Sunday against the league’s top passing offense.
Atlanta - The Best Offense In The League
As with the Dallas game, you can basically ignore the first matchup between these two teams. On the Atlanta side, Julio Jones played injured, and running back Tevin Coleman missed the game entirely. On the Green Bay side Ty Montgomery, Jared Cook, and Randall Cobb all missed the game with injuries and Knile Davis, Don Jackson, and Jeff Janis all saw significant minutes. While the Packer defense is likely coming in banged up as usual, they were also banged up in the first meeting, where Demetri Goodson played 97% of defensive snaps. Clay Matthews also sat this one out, though some would argue that Matthews has been sitting out most games of late. In any case, this early shootout almost certainly will bear no resemblance to whatever happens on Sunday as these are basically two different teams. Unfortunately for Green Bay, there is a lot working in Atlanta’s favor.
Atlanta is a very smart team and Kyle Shanahan has done an excellent job picking on an opponent’s weaknesses. Julio Jones, the NFL’s best receiver, has had a few down weeks this season, but they can all be attributed either to injury, or more frequently, opponent’s being extremely weak against other offensive options. The Falcons know what they are, they know that their defense is vulnerable, and they run up the score as a result. You will not find them getting conservative late (with one exception), and they have eclipsed 40 points five times this season. The Packers have done so zero times.
When Atlanta has lost it has generally not been to offense-heavy teams like the Packers. Their last two defeats came at the hands of Kansas City (7th against the pass) and Philadelphia (2nd against the pass), as well as a week 6 loss to the Seahawks. Seattle finished just 16th against the pass and had problems with outside receivers, but before Earl Thomas was lost for the year they were a very formidable overall unit. The only team to really outduel the Falcons was San Diego, however this was a very odd overtime loss in which the Falcons blew a 17-point lead, partially aided by a 6 penalty, 56 penalty yard differential in favor of the Chargers. Despite a ton of factors breaking for the Chargers late, Atlanta still had a field goal try to win it at the end of regulation. It was the one time they failed to put someone away, it cost them, and they did not repeat it. In their two subsequent losses, good defenses slowed them down. They were never again outgunned.
The Saints, another “good offense, bad defense” team similar to the Packers, came up short in both of their shootout attempts with the Falcons, but it’s also true that Atlanta hasn’t faced a team as good, or as hot as the Packers all season. Green Bay is more than capable of winning a shoot-out, but they have to avoid a few traps that they regularly fall into.
1. Never Let Up.
Against Dallas, Mason Crosby attempted a 56-yard field goal because of some truly ridiculous play-calling by Mike McCarthy. McCarthy essentially settled for a long field goal by telegraphing two runs from Ty Montgomery, one of which was blown up in the backfield, nearly knocking them out of range. A first down in this situation gets Crosby closer and may end the game without the need for Cook’s heroics, and instead it almost blew up on them. The Packers need to realize that any offensive miscue may cost them the game. This is not some rookie quarterback they are facing, and the Falcons scored 108 more points than the Packers during the regular season. They should shoot for 60 in this game.
2. It is better to be killed quickly than slowly and painfully.
One of the scariest things about the Falcons is their flexibility. Ryan and Julio Jones are some of the best players in the league in the passing game, but Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are no slouches in the running game. While the Falcons haven’t really lost a shootout this season, a shootout is probably the best chance the Packers have because the alternative is simple domination. In their last game against the Seahawks, Seattle opened the game with a slow, balanced touchdown drive that ate up slightly more than half of the first quarter. It was a nice mix of run and pass that had the Atlanta defense on their heals. It did not phase Atlanta one bit as they went on their own carbon copy, eating up the entire rest of the quarter and a small chunk of the second quarter on a touchdown drive of their own made up of power runs to freeman and short passes to Jones, Austin Hooper, and Tevin Coleman.
Then, they blew Seattle out of the water. Seattle's defense, even in their weakened state, is better than Green Bay's defense. The Packers should not allow themselves to be slowly cut to death. As I recommended against Dallas, they should sell out with pressure, accept that Jones and Gabriel will beat them deep a few times, and try to generate turnovers. The Packers are unlikely to make the Falcons punt very much and they should plan accordingly, and trust their offense.
3. Do not fall in love with the run.
Dom Capers’ defenses often dare you to run one the Packers are ahead. The Falcons are similarly built this year, as they are abysmal against the run, ranking 29th, but running too much against them will get you in trouble. Running simply isn’t as consistently efficient and, when you have Aaron Rodgers, it’s downright stupid to run too much. While Atlanta is flat out terrible against the run, they are still bad against the pass ranking 19th. They are especially weak against slot receivers and pass-catching running backs, and only average against everyone else.
If you put this all together, you get a clear recipe on what you need to do if you are Green Bay. You need to play like no lead is safe, because against Atlanta no lead is safe. You need to hit Matt Ryan again and again and force a turnover or 2. And most importantly, you can’t play this like it is a conventional football game. Every possession will be important, and wasting them on establishing balance, or using an odd-but-ineffective sub package will get you beat.