24-0. That was the score of the 2016 NFC Championship game at halftime. As we all know, the Packers traveled to Atlanta for that game, but none of us foresaw the blowout that was this game. A missed field goal and a fumble near the goal line left the Packers in the worst of situations early on. Unlike they did in Superbowl 51, the Falcons did a good job of protecting their lead resulting in at 44-21 win. The Falcons also took another game at home against the Packers earlier in the 2016 season by just 1 point. Needless to say, Green Bay does not want to get beaten 3 games in a row.
The glaring deficiency in the Packers performance in the NFC Championship game was obviously the cornerback position. The position has since been revamped with non-hobbled versions of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, in addition to rookie Kevin King, and the familiar veteran Davon House. The defense looked to be much improved against Seattle. The defense will face a much bigger challenge, in an attempt to stop an offense which features Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, when they travel to Atlanta.
As I do each week during the season, I will outline 5 players to watch in this post. Two will be offensive players, two will be defensive players, and one will play for the other team. I will also declare an X-factor, and give you my prediction for the game against the Falcons.
Players To Watch
1. WR Randall Cobb
Randall Cobb came alive last weekend with a performance that featured 9 receptions for 85 yards. Someone asked me for a bold prediction for this season last week, and I told them that I thought Cobb would lead the team in receptions this season barring injury. So far, so good. Throughout the offseason, I saw fans suggesting the Packers should trade Cobb to the highest bidder. There’s two problems with that. First of all no team is going to want to trade for Cobb’s contract, and secondly he is a valuable piece in the Packers offense. The man is very much due for a bounce back year after two tough seasons, and this could be that year.
Cobb got plenty of touches last Sunday, and made the most of his opportunities. While he was not as involved last season, the game film showed him getting open plenty. I think the coaching staff as well as Aaron Rodgers may have taken notice of this, which may have been why he played a bigger role against Seattle. The interesting story line to watch with Cobb this week will be if he continues to get more touches. His health is another item to watch this season. With Atlanta’s defense being a step down from what they saw in Seattle week 1, Randall Cobb could be in for another big day.
2. RB Ty Montgomery
When you think about Ty Montgomery, one thing that has to be said is that he truly looks like an NFL starting running back. He looked a lot better last week than his 2.84 yards per carry average would indicate. He really made the most out of the what he could get against Seattle’s stout defense. Montgomery also added 39 receiving yards on 4 catches, leaving him with 93 total yards and a rushing touchdown.
Ty Montgomery will play an important role this Sunday night in helping to establish the run against Atlanta’s defense. Last week at Chicago, the Falcons surrendered 125 yards on just 19 carries for an average yards per carry of 6.57. With everything factored in, Monty could be in for a big day running and receiving the football.
3. DL Mike Daniels
Dirty Mike Daniels, Big Mike Daniels…Whatever you like to call him there is no denying number 76 had a monster game against the Seahawks. His stat line included 7 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, and a forced fumble which set the Packers up for a touchdown on the next play. Personally, I have little doubt that was the best game I’ve seen him play. His play brought back good memories of his dominant performance at Minnesota last season, but he played even better in this game than he did in that one. It is performances like that one that will help propel Daniels to his first Pro Bowl, something that is long overdue in my eyes.
Daniels play this past week begs the question “Can he do it again”. He will face a much better offensive line this week, so this will be a real test for him. Lets be honest, no team is going to completely shut down Mike D, however they can try their absolute hardest to contain him. Atlanta hopes to be up to that task this Sunday night, as they are a team with a potent running attack which helps their passing attack flow. If Mike Daniels and company stop the run like we know they’re capable of, the Packers will have much better odds to head back home to Green Bay with a 2 in the win column.
4. S Haha Clinton-Dix *X-Factor*
HHCD is your X-Factor of the week. The reason why? Simple, Clinton-Dix will be tasked with helping out in coverage of Julio Jones overtop. We all know how bad Jones torched this secondary in the NFC championship game. I think a combination of Davon House at cornerback and HHCD over the top of Jones will cause him to be much less effective than he was in their last meeting.
The production of Julio Jones in this game will be a major factor in the outcome. The man is the best wideout in the league and it is not close. He did only have four catches for 66 yards and zero scores last week against the Bears, so it is possible to contain the guy somewhat. Haha Clinton-Dix had a quiet game against Seattle, but as we know a quiet game isn’t always a bad thing when you’re playing defensive back. Watch for HHCD giving a lot of help to whomever draws coverage on Julio Jones.
5. WR Mohamed Sanu
What? Not Julio Jones or Matt Ryan? That’s right. Mohamed Sanu had a huge game against us in the first meeting last season. He totaled 9 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, while Jones only accumulated 29 yards. Sanu benefits from playing with such a dominant force at wide receiver, because coverage often shifts towards Jones leaving Sanu 1 on 1.
I expect Sanu to draw Damarious Randall in coverage primarily. With Randall being healthy this time around, I expect Sanu to have a much harder time getting open. As we have seen before, the Falcons need Sanu and their running game to take off in order to get Julio Jones in more favorable coverage. When it’s all said and done, Mohamed Sanu’s stat line could probably tell you a lot about the outcome of the game.
This will be a bit of a high scoring affair. The Packers pass defense has certainly improved, and their run defense continues to be stout. With that in mind, I think Atlanta will have a hard time marching up and down the field on us. The Falcons had a bit of a rough start, beating the Bears by a close margin with a score of 23 to 17. Certainly the Falcons will be in a better environment this week at home opening their new stadium. Rodgers and the Packers head into Atlanta and win a close game 31 to 27 after losing the last two meetings.