Week 1 concluded with the Falcons having reason for cautious optimism as they defeated the Bears at Soldier Field. Their offense looked potent, shaking off concerns of a post-Super Bowl loss “hangover.” Their defense looked stout and fast, with several of young guns having another year in the system. However, there were also some soft spots that might signal trouble down the road.
If you had to summarize the Falcons pass defense in one word, it would probably be “fast.” The secondary has young guys flying all over the field, and the pass rushers are quick and imposing. They held Mike Glennon to an anemic 5.3 yards/pass and racked up 4 sacks, smothering the receivers and getting in Glennon’s face all night. Part of that could be attributed to QB and OL play, but a large part was tight coverage on the Bears WRs. The Falcons have had more trouble with receiving TEs and RBs, but more on that later.
Packers WRs have had difficulty getting open against fast CBs in the past, and the Falcons will look to exploit that. If the coverage holds up, Vic Beasley and company have a chance to dominate a Packers offensive line that could be missing three tackles. The Seahawks shut out Aaron Rodgers in the first half at Lambeau, and things won’t get any easier for him in Mercedez-Benz Stadium.
As unstoppable as the passing attack looked, the Falcons running backs both underwhelmed on the ground. Part of that was on the o-line, particularly RG Wes Schweitzer, a 6th round pick in 2016 who started his first game against the Bears. Facing the likes of Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, Schweitzer will be lucky if he comes away allowing just a couple tackles for loss of yards.
Dan Quinn is dedicated to running the football to open up play action, and the two RBs split 20 carries despite a lack of success from either. The Packers run defense bottled up Seattle’s RBs in week 1, if they can stuff Coleman and Freeman then they’ll be a more one-dimensional team that’s easier to defend. They tend to find a way to get the ball to their receivers, but stopping the run is the first step for the Packers defense to slow down the Falcons.
Matt + Julio
Matt Ryan, an “elite” QB in the words of Aaron Rodgers, almost always posts at least 200 passing yards a game. In his arsenal is a top 3 WR in Julio Jones, who terrorized the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. He’ll look to repeat his destruction against a secondary banking on potential and expected improvement.
Jones won’t be facing LaDarius Gunter on Sunday, as Gunter was just waived and is now with the Panthers, ostensibly a sign of improvement for the Packers secondary. However, with the Packers also having to worry about both Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, and both running backs, the Packers defense will get a far more difficult test than the Seahawks.
Bonus Opportunity – New Stadium
Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be rocking. We all know the Falcons are no strangers to funneling in fake fan noise. The Falcons, who struggled to beat the Bears in Chicago will have more than enough motivation in this game, and they won’t make it easy on the Packers Sunday night.
Similar to the offense, the main weakness of the Falcons defense centers around the run. Running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen had little trouble pounding the rock against the Falcons. As a team, the Bears averaged 6.6 yards per carry, aided by a long run of 46 yards by Cohen. The defense was even worse when the RBs caught passes out of the backfield, with Cohen and Howard combining for 11 receptions on 17 targets, nearly half of all receptions and targets. Zach Miller and Dion Sims, two tight ends, added 6 receptions on 9 targets, meaning almost all Chicago’s passing production came from RBs and TEs.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, the Packers have plenty of weapons if their WRs falter. While Cobb had a featured role against Seattle, players like Lance Kendricks and Aaron Jones (who was inactive week 1) might see more action. All the Packers 3 tight ends and 4 running backs (and even Ripkowski) have all displayed at least some receiving ability. Ty Montgomery and Martellus Bennett will be the biggest threats, and Rodgers will likely look at Bennett first when in the end zone. If the Packers WRs can’t get any separation from Falcons defenders, then expect more 1-2 and 2-1 personnel sets than against Seattle.