Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 10/8/11

           One-fourth of the way into the 2011 season with a disappointing 2-2 record, the Atlanta Falcons face what looks like their biggest test of the entire season this Sunday as they try and defend their home turf against the Green Bay Packers, the defending Super Bowl champions. While the Falcons have looked like imposters of themselves, the Packers look just as good as they did last season on their way to Super Bowl XLV, putting themselves in an excellent spot to repeat their 2010 success. Atlanta really needs to make a statement to the rest of the league that they are the real deal in the NFC, but unless they get some of the basic things done, this could possibly be a repeat of the two team’s playoff game back in January (Green Bay won 48-21).

            Offensively the Atlanta Falcons need to focus in on making the most out of the Pack’s weak passing defense. Green Bay has been hurting with the loss of Nick Collins (neck injury, out for season), giving up a ridiculous 335.8 passing yards to game, next-to-last in the entire league (only ahead of New England’s 368.8), signaling to the Falcons that they need to let Matt Ryan throw the ball 40 to 45 times in this one. Coupled with the need to throw is Green Bay’s crippling rush defense, which has allowed just 71 yards per game this year. Just as Atlanta needs to work towards beating the Packers defense, the Falcons need to work on not beating themselves, particularly in the second half of the ball game. Through four games this season the Falcons have been outscored 52-13 in the third and fourth quarter, an embarrassing number one might expect one of the teams still looking for their first win to have.  

             In order for the Falcons defense to keep the team in contention, they must take Green Bay’s rushing attack completely out of the game. In Green Bay’s two closest wins this season (42-34 in the season opener against New Orleans and 30-23 over Carolina the following week), the Packers’ leading rushers combined for just 142 yards, showing defensive coordinators across the league that if you take that dimension of the the Packers’ offense out of contention, it is quite possible to keep up with them. While shutting down the running game is very important, containing quarter Aaron Rodgers is just as important. Rodgers has played as close to perfect as humanly possible this season, completing 73% of his passes for 1,325 yards with 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions and scrambling 19 times for 53 yards with 2 touchdowns. Rodgers’ ground game hurt the Falcons in last November’s regular season matchup, gaining 51 yards and scoring once in a 20-17 loss. If the Falcons can pressure Rodgers and force him to make mistakes, you can expect the Dirty Birds to have a shot in this one.

             Game Prediction: Falcons fans, shield your eyes. Atlanta’s struggles over the past few weeks show up once again, seen in their first drive sudden end on a sack by Clay Matthews that results in a fumble and recovery for the Packers at midfield. Aaron Rodgers quickly takes advantage of the Falcons’ misfortune, hitting Jordy Nelson on the second play of the drive for a 26-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Looking to respond with a score of their own, Matt Ryan and Co. appear to be in a rhythm, but a dropped pass by Roddy White on 3rd down forces punter Matt Bosher to make an unwanted appearance. Rodgers gets his teammates going again on their next drive, moving the ball 77 yards on 13 plays and taking a commanding 14-0 lead on a 6 yard run by Packers running back James Starks. The Falcons finally put together a scoring drive on their next possession, but it’s a mere 3 points via a 37-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. Rodgers leads another scoring drive for Green Bay, and the route is on. The Falcons close the gap a bit late, but it just isn’t enough. Final Score Packers 38, Falcons 24

Stats

Passing: Matt Ryan has a decent day through the air, completing 20 passes for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns
Rushing:
Michael Turner lacks the “burner” needed to make a difference in this one, racking up just 89 yards on 22 carries with 0 touchdowns.
Receiving:
Julio Jones builds off back-to-back 100+ yards receiving, making 9 receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown on a 54 yard catch.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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