TiVo Time: Atlanta Falcons
It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 48-21 divisional victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Here’s a comprehensive analysis of the Packers’ dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons.
14:52, 1st quarter — After the Packers deferred, the Falcons get the first break of the game when Roddy White very alertly tackles Charles Woodson on the first play from scrimmage. The referees at least gave us the explanation that there was no interference because the ball was uncatchable. Wrong. For everyone who thought Woodson might have had a pick six on the first play of the game, the replay supports your belief. Woodson might have had to dive to get to the ball, but we’ve seen him make that play before.
14:02, 1st quarter — On third-and-6, the Packers send four. Matt Ryan steps to his right and finds White wide open in the middle of the field. This was a blown coverage by Tramon Williams, who played zone when everyone else was in man-to-man.
12:05, 1st quarter — Ryan makes maybe his best play of the game to pick up a third-and-5. The Packers sent five rushers, with Desmond Bishop coming on a delayed blitz and nearly getting to Ryan before he released the ball. Ryan still managed to get the ball to White, who ran a crossing route against zone coverage.
10:01, 1st quarter — The Falcons have to punt from the 44 after failing to convert a third-and-10. No surprise, Ryan dumped to Jason Snelling on the play. Woodson was all over it and hit Snelling before he could turn upfield. Deferring works for the Packers again, but the Falcons did take up the first five minutes of the game.
10:00, 1st quarter — Ugly start as the Packers’ first play from scrimmage is a run to James Starks over left tackle that loses three yards. There is a lot happening on this play — the Packers fake a wide receiver screen out top, which looks like it would have worked. The Falcons have six guys to defend against six Packers blockers. Everyone does their job except for Scott Wells and Bryan Bulaga. Falcons defensive tackle Cory Peters drives Wells four yards into the backfield and blows up the play. Defensive end Kroy Biermann gets by Bulaga and finishes Starks off after he gets away from Peters.
9:12, 1st quarter — The first big play of the game goes for Atlanta. The Packers can’t get out of the first quarter without a receiver fumbling the football. On third-and-13 from the Packers’ 8, Aaron Rodgers burned Atlanta with a quick seam route to Greg Jennings. Jennings dodges defenders and has a shot at an electric 92-yard play when Stephen Nicholas tomahawk chops him from behind and forces a fumble. Atlanta ball at the Packers’ 48. Ironically, it was poor coverage at the line by Nicholas that allowed Jennings to be wide open in the first place. Though I was fuming at Jennings initially, it’s hard to blame him now. The play was a combination of bad luck and great hustle by Nicholas.
5:00, 1st quarter — Atlanta capitalizes on the fumble with a 12-yard TD run by Michael Turner. First of all, replay never confirms the Falcons picked up the fourth-and-a foot on the prior play, but the referee who marked the ball had the best view of it, so whatever. On the TD run, Clay Matthews and Bishop had the play stuffed at the line, but Matthews dove inside the fullback instead of holding the edge. Bishop, who was inside, then had to jump outside and overran the play. Turner cut back and got two good blocks on his way to the end zone.
2:20, 1st quarter — In what would become a familiar sight, the Packers are on the move. This drive is mostly the work of the running game, so far. On second-and-6 from midfield, the Packers line up in the inverted wishbone for the first time; except there’s a wrinkle. The Packers have receivers to each side instead of a tight end and one receiver. The Packers go play action and John Kuhn is wide open in the flat for a first down. Three plays later, the Falcons come within a half second of stopping the drive when Biermann hits Rodgers as he’s releasing the ball on third-and-6. Rodgers gets just enough on the ball to get it out to a diving Greg Jennings for a first down.
12:04, 2nd quarter — The Packers cap off a 13-play, 81-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson on second-and-goal. On the third-and-3 prior to that, the Packers went five wide and the Falcons showed poor preparation by leaving a linebacker on Nelson. Nelson ran a simple out to pick up the first down and put the Packers in position to score. On the scoring play, Rodgers showed the patience he didn’t have the previous two weeks and stood in the pocket to survey the entire field even with both tackles backed right up to him. Nelson made a good effort to put the ball to the pylon for the score.
11:51, 2nd quarter — Exactly what the Packers didn’t need. Their coverage unit gives up a 102-yard touchdown return to Eric Weems. The Packers were too aggressive at the 20 and missed, and Mason Crosby turned it into a TD when he dove inside and took Nick Collins out instead of just staying where he was and letting Collins make the tackle. The Falcons don’t have a scoring drive over 48 yards, but lead 14-7.
9:32, 2nd quarter — Wow, on second-and-10, one play after misfiring on a wide open screen, Rodgers dodges the blitzing William Moore in the backfield and finds James Jones on the sideline. Jones manages to stay in bounds and head upfield to the Falcons’ 16. Once again, the Falcons blitzed from the slot and no one picked it up, but Rodgers turned the blunder into a positive play.
6:06, 2nd quarter — John Kuhn spins in from one foot out to tie the game at 14. Props to Mike McCarthy who put nose tackle B.J. Raji in the backfield to lead the way; Kuhn wisely followed the 340-pounder. Right after an 81-yard touchdown drive comes this 92-yard touchdown drive. The offense has made up for the horrendous special teams play, so far.
2:22, 2nd quarter — Ryan goes Jay Cutler and throws an interception in the end zone to Tramon Williams on third-and-21. Idiotic play. Instead of picking up 10 yards and kicking a short field goal to take the lead back, Ryan thought he could beat Williams with a shot to the end zone. Williams momentarily looked beat, but Ryan’s mediocre arm strength and Tramon’s great leaping ability easily made up the difference. The Falcon drive was greatly aided by a start at the 35 and then a weak 15-yard roughing the passer call, where Cullen Jenkins had the audacity to touch Ryan’s precious helmet.
00:42, 2nd quarter — Another 80-yard drive is finished off with a 20-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. Call this redemption for Jones, who has caught everything thrown his way in this first half. The drive was all Rodgers and three 20-yard-plus passes to Jennings, Driver and Jones. Great catch by Jones against good coverage by Brent Grimes on the touchdown. In their first meeting, the Packers had four 80-yard drives; in this first half alone, the Packers have three drives of 80 yards or more.
00:10, 2nd quarter — It’s a close call what was more unbelievable in this game: the supernatural performance by Rodgers or this inexplicable mistake by the Falcons, who got the No. 1 seed by not making mistakes. The Falcons got into scoring position before the half with the help of two pass interference calls on the Packers. After a sack by Matthews put the ball on the Packers’ 35 and forced the Falcons to use their last timeout, the Falcons had the simple option of trotting out their kicker for a 53-yard field goal try. That is well within Matt Bryant’s range, and unlike Mason Crosby, Bryant has proven he can make a big kick under pressure. Instead of taking the kick and facing a 21-14 deficit at worst, coach Mike Smith decides to take a shot at a meager eight more yards. Somewhat hilariously after the fact, the Packers defense doesn’t even seem ready for the play at the snap. Even Williams looks half-alert as the play starts, but he jumps the quick out to White, picks off the forced pass, and goes the distance after a smooth cutback left Ryan and Tony Gonzalez in the dust — 28-14, Packers. Complimenting this beautiful play is a fantastic call by Fox play-by-play man, Joe Buck, who called the play “a bit of a risk” at the snap, and then shouted, “Pass is picked off! Tramon Williams! He may go! They tried to bite off more yardage, and they JUST GOT BURNED!”
13:39, 3rd quarter — Probably his best play in a game full of great plays, Rodgers finds Jones on the sideline for 14 yards on third-and-13. The Falcons got what they needed with a sack by John Abraham on the first play of the second half. On third-and-13, Stephen Nicholas came free on the blitz. Rodgers stepped forward and then spun to his left, leaving Nicholas on the ground. Rodgers threw a back shoulder ball to a covered Jones, who used a push-off of Dunta Robinson to spin and catch the ball. Just another huge first down.
8:28, 3rd quarter — Rodgers does it all, scoring on an eight-yard run on first-and-goal to make it 35-14, Packers. He also gets his championship belt back. It’s another 80-yard touchdown drive. The Packers offense is the kind of juggernaut Atlanta hasn’t seen since Sherman rolled through in 1864. The drive was highlighted by runs by James Starks and passes to Jordy Nelson. On the touchdown scramble, Rodgers somewhat comically used a pump fake to get past Atlanta middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
6:00, 3rd quarter — More of the same for Abraham and the Atlanta fans. On third-and-5 from the Falcons’ 45, Abraham comes clean on a stunt to the inside. Rodgers sheds his tackle, rolls to his right, and finds Jordy Nelson for another first down.
4:00, 3rd quarter — Joe Buck calls it “a clinic” after Driver collects a 22-yard pass to the Falcons’ 11. On third-and-5, the desperate Falcons defense blitzed again. Great blocking by the Packers gives Rodgers plenty of time to continue his impersonation of Joe Montana. Rodgers throws a pinpoint pass to Driver who is otherwise well-covered on the out. Just two plays later, Rodgers would roll right and find Kuhn for his third passing touchdown — 42-14, Packers, and the game is essentially over.
14:21, 4th quarter — The Falcons get their last score on a short pass to White to start the fourth quarter. Problem is, there are few Falcons fans left to celebrate it. The Falcons were spared another Rodgers’ scoring drive when Brian Finnegan touched the onside kick short of 10 yards.
12:55, 4th quarter — My only point of irritation in the second half. Mason Crosby shows once again that the bigger the kick, the more likely he is to miss it, as he puts a 50-yarder off the post. Fortunately, the Packers have been amazing in the red zone so far these playoffs.
11:39, 4th quarter — Even desperate hope is lost when Ryan fumbles the snap on third-and-1 and Matthews recovers. It seems fitting, since the Packers lost their last game in Atlanta largely because of a fumble on a quarterback sneak.
6:30, 4th quarter — Crosby almost blows a 43-yard field goal after the Packers offense did well to run five minutes off the clock. Fortunately, almost doesn’t matter — 45-21, Packers. The Falcons and Packers both could have went to backups at this point. After another Falcons fumble, McCarthy would tack on another field goal to give us a final score of 48-21, Packers. This appears to be a flash of the players’ coach in McCarthy, foregoing perception to let the team set the Packers playoff scoring record.
This is probably the best performance by a quarterback I’ve ever seen. Rodgers eluded at least five sacks to make big plays. He was precise in the pocket and a nightmare for the Falcons out of it. No matter what they did, Rodgers beat them. I expected the Packers would be happy to be back in a dome, but I didn’t expect this. Rodgers threw five incomplete passes all game: one on a smart throw away on the very first pass of the game, one when Jennings fell down, one Donald Lee drop, and only two inaccurately thrown balls out of the 36 he threw.
Aaron Rodgers is the highest-rated regular-season passer of all time. He is the highest-rated playoff-passer of all time. He is the only quarterback to throw 10 touchdowns in his first three playoff games. He is the only quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in his first two seasons. I’ve dismissed these facts as quickly as anyone. After all, Phillip Rivers is the second-highest-rated passer of all time, which shows how much that stat means.
But at some point, you can’t ignore what’s happening here. At some point, it’s no longer an aberration. Matt Ryan is one of the better young quarterbacks in the league, but the difference in arm strength, athleticism, and decision-making when matched against Rodgers is glaring. Health is the only thing that can keep the Packers from having something truly special for a long time.
Rodgers was aided by the fact the Packers wide receivers finally looked like the best wide receiver corp in football. Jordy Nelson and James Jones were nearly unstoppable as third and fourth options, while Jennings and Driver performed as expected.
The Packers running game didn’t make the difference it did against Philadelphia, nor was it asked to. However, James Starks still continues to present a threat that defenses can’t ignore. With Starks and John Kuhn, the Packers have alleviated their struggles in short-yardage situations, which was one of this offense’s only weaknesses.
The Packers defense was more about big plays than it was about being a shutdown defense. The Falcons had some success when they ran, but were taken out of that game plan by the Packers offense. The pass rush looked good, mainly aided by another aggressive Dom Capers’ plan. The play of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields allows Capers to unleash Woodson at will, and Matthews and Raji continue to play at a high level.
The special teams had such an awful game it amazes how this was a blowout despite their play. If the Packers win the Super Bowl this season, they’ll likely have to do it with the worst special teams unit to ever accomplish that feat. If they don’t win the Super Bowl, then special teams may be a huge reason why.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.