Week 8 saw the Green Bay Packers travel to Georgia to face the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome for the last time – Mercedes-Benz stadium set to open its doors next season. The 32-33 loss featured a resurgent Packers offense looking more like the juggernaut we are accustomed to seeing. However, this could not ultimately temper the nigh-on biblical plague of injuries seeping through the Packers defense as it fought a though battle against the leagues number 1 ranked offense.

Key Moments & Themes

The Injury Plague Continues

As a medical scientist in my non-football life, I am unsure precisely what pox has been brought down upon the Packers house, but it has become disheartening. The Packers took to the field without Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Ty Montgomery, James Starks and Jared Cook. This game at moments had LaDarius Gunter and Jordy Nelson leave with injuries before returning. It’s tough to run an effective football game when the injury list alone puts the word count of a postgame recap article in jeopardy.

Every aspect of this game was impacted by injuries. The running backs, for example, were never able to get into the flow of the game. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the team in rushing with 6 rushes for 60 yards – next best was Aaron Ripkowski who rushed 6 times for 34 yards. The Packers, with their bye-week in the rear view mirror, are stacking up injuries faster that we can count, and, unless the luck of this team starts to change and some of the inactive players heal up, this could prove to be a long second half of the season.

Impotent Pass Rush

With Clay Matthews among the injured and the secondary depleted to its current state (can you sense a theme here?), getting pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was they key to slowing down the Atlanta offense. This pressure, however, never materialized. Mike Daniels and Julius Peppers had a sack a piece, but they both came on the same drive and the pressure did not translate across the game as a whole.

Per ProFootballFocus, Matt Ryan was pressured on under 25% of his dropbacks, which resulted in a 134.3 passer rating on the remaining 75%. Ryan completed 28/35 (80%) of his passes despite, for the most part, being without football’s best wide receiver Julio Jones, who was dealing with an ankle injury for most of the day. We all knew going in this would be a difficult game if the Packers pass rush could not get home, and that is precisely what we saw.

Rip Up The Run Game

With Montgomery out with a kidney issue, which we all hope is not too serious, the Packers bag of tricks for manufacturing a run game was seemingly empty. That is until the greatness of the one they call ‘The Ripper’, fullback Aaron Ripkowski to those uninitiated in his excellent and folksy gloriousness, was made apparent. He carried 6 times for 34 yards, a respectable 5.7 yards per carry for a true fullback, with more touches and yards than either of the running backs on the roster – Knile Davis (3 carries 4 yards) & Don Jackson (4 carries, 10 yards).

The only Packer with more yards along the ground was quarterback Aaron Rodgers who took advantage of running lanes open in the zone defense of the falcons to the tune of 6 rushes for 60 yards. Hopefully moving forward Knile Davis is able to assume a larger role more in the Lacy-Starks vein of things. Until then, prepare to hear many a ‘RIIIIIIIIIP’ chant as we appreciate our surrogate Kuhn.

Resurgent Rodgers

28/38 passing (73%). 246 yards. 4 TDs. 0 INT. Those are finally some numbers we are used to seeing from Rodgers. Over the last two weeks, he has begun to look more like himself. This week he spread the ball around, completing passes to 7 different receivers in the absence of Cobb and Montgomery. Even Jeff Janis caught a touchdown!

The moment I am choosing as my turning point, although it didn’t lead to a win in this game, is more a turning point I believe for the season, is the final drive of the first half. With only 27 seconds remaining on the half, it was a drive with big plays that whisper a suggestion of a return to the offense we all yearn to see. A 23 yard scramble by Rodgers began the drive, reminiscent of his nimbler days, and was followed with a beautiful pass down the middle to Jordy that offered some hope that the two are reconnecting with their old ways.

A Ripkowski run and an unnecessary roughness penalty on Falcons safety Keanu Neal later capped off a 27 second, length of the field, scoring drive with a field goal. This display of offensive efficiency, accompanied by some uncharacteristically competent Mike McCarthy clock management, could mark the turning point of this offense for the season.

Ty Montgomery Player of the Week Award

As Montgomery himself isn’t available to collect his award for being the GOAT, this week it goes to second year cornerback Ladarius Gunter. While he had his moments of weakness, the inexperienced corner performed admirably lining up across from the game’s best receiver. For the second week in a row, Gunter was tasked with stepping up and playing the role of #1 defensive back, and both times, he answered the call.

While the game was eventually lost on the defense’s late-fourth quarter meltdown, the Falcons were kept 50 yards under their current average receiving yards per game. Gunter also found himself fingertips away from what could have been a game-winning interception.

Gunter’s performance inspired some confidence in a secondary which (yep, I’m gonna talk about this again) has been depleted by injuries. Gunter is currently the only player standing between us and Demetri Goodson covering #1 receivers, and I believe that warrants a player of the game award for Ladarius Gunter.

Totally-Not-Knee-Jerk Reactions

1. Last week, I warned cautious optimism after the win over the Chicago Bears. I believe the loss this week is more encouraging than that win (granted, not as much as a win this week would have been). To come within 1 point of  legitimate NFC contender, on the road, missing the x-factor of last week’s game in Montgomery, lends some real weight to the theory that this team may be finding its footing again. Perhaps most importantly, Rodgers seems to be having fun. In his post game presser, he seemed upbeat and confident despite the loss, an attitude I believe will lead to continued success for the Packers as the roster restocks itself as people regain healthy game status.

2. This is a spectacularly talented roster. Managing to be sitting at 4-3 with the current state of injuries on this roster and how they have piled up at specific and crucial positions – RB & CB – is impressive. I feel that there’s a legitimate argument to be made that had the Packers not been bit so horribly by the injury bug, they would be out there fielding one of, if not the singular, best starting 22 in all of football. With that in mind as we look forward through the second half of this season, and maybe with a small thought towards the next one, I would say fear not my fellow cheeseheads! In an uncharacteristically optimistic spirit I say, Green Bay will right this ship!

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