TiVo Time: Atlanta Falcons
Since our damn TiVo broke this week and we didn’t get the St. Louis Rams game on tape, we thought we’d go back and review the Green Bay Packers win over the Atlanta Falcons the week before.
It’s time for Total Packers’ weekly dissection of the game film from another Green Bay Packers victory. I have toiled over the replay to analyze for you all the big plays and key moments, but since it’s a win over the Atlanta Falcons, let’s consider it a labor of love.
15:00, 1st quarter — Atlanta won the toss and elects to receive, which ends up being the right move. Matt Ryan is beet red for some reason. Dude, mix in some sun block. Like they have all year, the Packers start out in their base defense. It pays off, as the Falcons run Michael Turner up the middle for just two yards on the first play of the game.
8:15, 1st quarter — The Falcons open with an 80-yard TD drive that takes up nearly half the 1st quarter, ending with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White.
The Packers defense actually doesn’t look that bad on this drive; it’s just a couple plays, and a couple players, that do them in. Ryan picked up a 3rd and 10 to Harry Douglas when Tramon Williams lined up six yards off him with Charles Woodson playing bump-and-run coverage in the slot. This is a terrible defensive alignment. When Douglas cuts inside, Williams has no choice but to go over the top of Woodson and his receiver. This puts him well behind Douglas when he cuts back outside on a dig route.
The Falcons should have faced two more 3rd and longs, but Woodson failed to slow Turner down on outside runs twice, allowing him to get big gains.
The Falcons also burned the Pack on an end-around to Julio Jones when Erik Walden failed to hold the edge. Atlanta is pulling out everything on this first drive. Walden is a step away from a sack on 1st and goal, but as has been common so far this season, the QB delivers the ball at the last moment and finds a wide open receiver. White got open on Woodson after Jones rubbed Woodson off on a crossing route. Rough start for Woodson.
3:31, 1st quarter — The Packers’ offense was its versatile self on the opening drive. Good runs by Ryan Grant and James Starks and accurate passes by Aaron Rodgers moved the Packers to the Falcons’ 40-yard line. On the cusp of field goal range already, Grant fumbled the ball to end the Packers’ only offensive possession in the 1st quarter.
If there was a formula to beat the Packers, this is it.
12:26, 2nd quarter — Turner goes in from one yard out and the Falcons get the 14-0 lead. The Packers hadn’t trailed by 14 points since the infamous playoff game against Arizona.
The Packers went with their nickel defense until the goal line, and the Falcons wisely battered them on the ground, mixing in a screen to Jason Snelling that went 19 yards, when A.J. Hawk lost track of him, and a quick slant to Julio Jones for 15.
Turner pretty much did the rest. On the goal line, Howard Green and Ryan Pickett collapsed the middle of the Falcons line. This allowed Hawk and Morgan Burnett to meet Turner at the line of scrimmage. Neither come close to wrapping up, and Turner merely bounces off and into the end zone.
The recording for Falcons fans should stop right here.
12:15, 2nd quarter — For the second time in the game, Randall Cobb returns the kick out of the end zone and fails to get to the 20. The Packers have to start on their 16. Their drive doesn’t start well, as a straight lead play to Starks gets nothing on 1st down.
I don’t know what Starks is doing here. The play appears designed to go straight ahead. John Kuhn gets a good block on the middle LB. If Starks follows him, as designed, he might have a big run because Sitton and Newhouse both have their guys sealed. Instead, for some unknown reason, Starks runs to his left, where the only person blocking is T.J. Lang. Ray Edwards easily gets off Chad Clifton’s block, and Scott Wells loses linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Both meet Starks at the line of scrimmage.
9:38, 2nd quarter — Nice play by D.J. Williams, who knocks defensive end Lawrence Sidbury on his ass, and then slips out to the flat to catch a 7-yard pass. Unfortunately, on the same play, Clifton hurt his hamstring on what was a fairly benign looking play.
This puts Marshall Newhouse in at left tackle and Derrek Sherrod in at right tackle. Who saw that one coming?
On the first play without Clifton, Starks gets the ball running right behind Newhouse and picks up the first down.
The Packers faced a 3rd and 8 from the Falcons’ 43. New linemen? Whatever. Rodgers runs out of the pocket to his right and throws a 39-yard dart to a crossing Greg Jennings.
5:29, 2nd quarter — The Packers only get a field goal after sacks on 2nd and 3rd down, after getting a 1st and goal. On 2nd down, it’s a replay from the preseason, where a linebacker runs right past D.J. Williams to sack Rodgers from behind. On 3rd down, the Falcons only rush three. Sidbury falls to the ground after being pushed by Sherrod and Sitton; however, neither covers him and he gets up and sacks Rodgers before he can get out of the pocket.
4:32, 2nd quarter — The Falcons get a taste of what the rest of the game is going to be like, going backwards and three and out. Their 1st down pass over the middle is deflected by Hawk and lucky to not be picked. On 2nd down, B.J. Raji pushes his blocker into Ryan’s face, and Ryan throws it away at Tony Gonzalez’s feet, who is well-covered by Charlie Peprah.
On 3rd and 10, the Packers only rush three, but Ryan forces a holding call when he tries to escape the pocket, unnecessarily, in Clay Matthews’ direction. On the subsequent 3rd and 20, Ryan misses the handoff on the draw, and throws the ball out of bounds. The Falcons have three offensive linemen more than five yards downfield, and there is no penalty.
0:13, 2nd quarter — The Packers have to kick another field goal after Jerimichael Finley drops a pass at the goal line on 3rd and 12. Except for a holding call on Sitton that made it 3rd and 12, this was a perfect drive until Finley’s drop. The Packers managed to take up the rest of the half and get into scoring position.
The Packers started inside the Falcons’ 45 after a short punt. Their short drive featured a 15-yard dump in the flat to Tom Crabtree, and a 9-yard screen play to James Starks.
As disappointing as the field goal is, it makes this a one-score game.
13:25, 3rd quarter — So much for the advantage of having the ball after halftime. The Packers go three and out and have to punt for the first time. That’s right. The Packers never punted in the first half, even though they only scored six points. Of course, that’s because they only had the ball three times in the entire half.
With all the talk about the two tackles, it’s T.J. Lang who blows the first play of the second half. Falcons’ defensive tackle Corey Peters runs around him at the line and sacks Rodgers for a 7-yard loss. That would lead to a 3rd and long, and Rodgers just plays it safe, dumping it to James Jones for a decent gain.
8:49, 3rd quarter — After an unimpressive 42-yard punt by Tim Masthay, the Falcons have picked up one first down and dinked and dunked in true Falcons’ fashion down to the Packers’ 30-yard line. With Atlanta threatening to add to their lead, the Packers defense comes up with two big plays that turn the game around.
On 3rd and 2 from the 30, Ryan does a lot of yelling at the line of scrimmage only to turn around and hand it to Jason Snelling. Unless it was just an attempt at deception, I’m not sure what Ryan was seeing. The Packers are in their nickel, but Burnett is lined up on the line of scrimmage, essentially turning Walden into another down lineman. When Ryan hands it off, Burnett and Raji are immediately in his backfield. Raji runs by Snelling, but C.J. Wilson and Hawk don’t.
The 4th and 1 is turned into a 3rd and 12 on an illegal hands to the face penalty on Falcons right tackle, Tyson Clabo. Replay actually shows Clabo with Matthews in a choke hold. Still needing just five yards to be in reasonable field goal range, Ryan throws the ball away when Hawk comes free on a blitz and chases him backwards.
The Falcons are forced to punt.
7:35, 3rd quarter — It’s 3rd and 12 from the Packers’ 15 when Rodgers does his Georgia Dome thing. Atlanta lines up with both their nickel linebackers on the edge. Rodgers brings Finley in to help Newhouse. The linebacker on that side drops back. The linebacker on Sherrod’s side — Weatherspoon — blitzes. The Packers have plenty of guys to block him, but there’s poor communication on the right side and Weatherspoon rushes in untouched.
Showing at least one clear difference between himself and Ryan, Rodgers spins away from Weatherspoon, runs to his right, and then finds Jones open on a simple square in against zone. Jones makes a nice reaching catch and then heads straight up field for 30 yards.
Amazingly, on the play before, Rodgers tried to force it in to Jordy Nelson, and it’s knocked down. Meanwhile, Finley is completely uncovered right in the middle of the field. Seriously, no one is within five yards of him. Fortunately, Rodgers overcame the misread.
5:28, 3rd quarter — Mason Crosby ties his own Packers record with a 56-yard field goal. It was a gutsy call by Mike McCarthy to try it, and it paid off.
The Packers were facing a 4th and 8 after a bullet from Rodgers went through Donald Driver’s hands in the middle of the field. Maybe Driver should have caught it, but wow, that ball was thrown hard. Rodgers sometimes acts like every one of his receivers are Sterling Sharpe.
3:42, 3rd quarter — If you took a bathroom break during commercial break, you luckily missed the ice-pick-in-the-ear, horrific Miller Lite commercial, but you might have also missed the Falcons having the ball. On 1st down, Julio Jones showed his understanding of the rules of football by lining up incorrectly and putting his teammates in a 1st and 15. After an 11-yard dump to White, Ryan finally tried Jones over the top against Shields. Except the go route is what the fastest Packer covers best, and Shields is there to knock the ball away. On 3rd and 4, the Packers went with their basic four-man rush from the nickel. Ryan has all day to throw the ball, but he throws inaccurately and misses an open Douglas.
After a good punt makes the Packers start from their 30, they take one play to go 70 yards and claim the lead.
The Falcons decide to blitz from the right slot, a play that worked well against the Packers last year, sending the man covering James Jones. This leaves the safety to run up and cover Jones, with the linebacker on that side coming over to defend against the quick slant. Jones runs the slant and looks for the ball, but Rodgers waits for him to clear the defense and then hits him in stride. Jones does nothing more than catch the ball and outrun what has to be one of the slower safeties in the game.
Of course, Rodgers has no time for any of this if Ryan Grant and John Kuhn don’t both successfully pick up two blitzers.
This gives the Packers their first lead of the game at 15-14. The Packers lined up and attempted a two-point conversion, trying to get a three-point lead.
This might be what the handy-dandy scorecard says, but it’s too early in the game to be foregoing an easy point. Unless you’re trying to overcome something like a three-score deficit, you should never go for two with an entire quarter to play.
On the other hand, this is more of that aggressive mindset from McCarthy. You have to love the strategy because it makes perfect sense. When you have the most chips, you should play aggressively, “lean” on your opponent until he collapses.
Plus, a jump pass to Finley for two yards should be like taking candy from a baby. Not on this day, though. They never replay the attempt, so it’s difficult to see exactly what happened. It appears Rodgers threw more of a back-shoulder ball rather than a jump ball, and the defender was able to knock it away. However, the ball still hit Finley in the hands, and it appears he should have caught it.
2:12, 3rd quarter — Even though it’s only a minute and half later, the Packers already have the ball back. The Falcons tried Turner on 1st down, but the Packers are sitting in their base and stuff it for no gain. On 2nd down, Capers sends Woodson on the blitz. Both of Atlanta’s backs try to pick him up, and Walden gets loose to bury Ryan right after he throws it away.
On 3rd down, the Packers rush three and drop eight. Ryan runs up the middle before comically sliding a yard short when Bishop, Walden and Woodson all close on him. To add more comedy to Atlanta’s misfortune, Roddy White collects an unintelligent penalty that backs up his team further. White should just keep talking junk.
Shawn Slocum mysteriously decides to see that penalty and raise an unintelligent penalty of his own when he ignores the refs third warning to stay off the field. That’s its own brand of idiocy, but I still don’t get how there was no penalty against Hotlanta on this play. The replay shows Eric Weems makes contact with Randall Cobb, basically for no reason. No Packer was even close to blocking him.
Funny how the referees’ interpretation of the rules change because a couple years ago it was a flag if you came within a yard of the man making the fair catch. Today, you can pretty much get away with hitting him without a call being made.
14:51, 4th quarter — Maybe the Falcons didn’t want the 3rd quarter. The Packers score on the first play of the 4th quarter with a 29-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings.
Starting with the ball at their 32, the Packers went the length of the field with four passing plays: a 22-yard completion to Finley on 3rd and 10, a 7-yard pass to Finley, a 10-yard quick slant to Cobb, and the touchdown play.
The Packers had no running plays on the drive. However, they went play action on Cobb’s catch and on the touchdown play. Mysteriously, even though the Packers hadn’t run the ball, the Falcons were in major run defense on the TD. As soon as Rodgers play-faked and looked up field, the Falcons were in big trouble.
About any receiver other than Jennings would have had just a nice gain on the play, but Jennings shows again how dangerous he is in the open field when he gets to the sideline and then dives into the end zone. Awesome effort.
7:33, 4th quarter — The Packers trade punts with the Falcons when a last-second timeout forces them to attempt to pick up a 3rd and 11 twice in a row. That isn’t too much for Rodgers, but it’s too much for Finley, who has the catch until a shot to the head by the safety knocks it loose.
The Falcons get the ball back and finally get things going again. First of all, they were jump-started by a 15-yard penalty on Hawk where one of the Falcons linemen auditioned for the Italian soccer team with a spin and a fall. Then, they got a 23-yard back-shoulder catch by Tony Gonzalez to move into Packers’ territory.
The Falcons got all the way to the Packers’ 29 before Ryan took an 11-yard sack by Desmond Bishop. If that wasn’t bad enough, Ryan gets intercepted on the next play when pressure by Matthews forces a high throw that goes off of Gonzalez’s hands and is caught by Charlie Peprah.
1:10, 4th quarter — Crosby kicks a 30-yard field goal to end this game at 25-14. The Packers offense puts the game away with a drive that ran down the clock and ended with a score.
A busted screen led to an 8-yard sack on the first play of the drive. Rodgers responded by hitting Cobb for 16 yards, and then Finley for 24 yards on 3rd and 2. Finley makes a nice leaping catch on the play, partially redeeming himself on a rough night where he essentially cost the Packers nine points.
Jones capped his best game of the year by shrugging off Dunta Robinson and going up the sideline for 21 yards before wisely sliding down inbounds. NICE!
The Packers would then go straight to run mode. They faced 2nd and 11 from the 25 and impressively picked up the first on two running plays with the Falcons playing the run. On the 2nd down play, the Falcons have eight in the box, but Lang and Sitton both get to the second level and clear out linebackers. Grant cuts off them and gains eight yards. On 3rd and 3 from the shotgun, Starks takes the handoff and goes right between Lang and Wells for a 6-yard gain. Game over.
In many ways, this was the Packers most impressive win. They played a wannabe contender on the road, didn’t play particularly well, and still gutted out a win. The Packers eventually stretched it out to a two-score game in the 2nd half, and now have led by two scores in the 2nd half of every game.
Hopefully we saw a little more of what the Packers defense is supposed to look like with a more aggressive game plan in the 2nd half. The Packers defense went from being 28th in the league to 21st by the end of this game. More importantly, they are 11th in the league in points allowed.
If the defense can maintain a spot in the top ten in points allowed, the Packers will be looking at 13 wins or more this season.
Rodgers had another great game and continues to overcome any obstacle thrown his way. It almost seems unrealistic that he could maintain this level, but he did it for another game under tough circumstances.
James Jones just provided further evidence of how unique this receiving core is. No other team has five different receivers, arguably six, who can be the star on a given night. It’s great to see Jones get his big night.
The Falcons had their best chance when they had their old offense on the field. They were terrible in the spread offense. It doesn’t matter who they draft; they don’t have the quarterback to run the spread offense.
Newhouse and Sherrod both looked nothing like they did in the preseason. Both looked like viable offensive tackles. True, it helped that Atlanta doesn’t have any great pass rushers, but still, these guys can block. Similar to last year, the Packers could end up gaining through injury. I feel Newhouse is a better run blocker than Clifton. The Packers took advantage of running behind Newhouse and Lang several times already this game.
Let’s face it. Clifton was quickly running out of gas anyway. It’s better to get his replacement some reps now instead of at the end of the season.
Bryan Bulaga and Frank Zombo should both be ready to return next week. A Packers defense getting healthier just spells trouble for the rest of the league.
I’ll be watching for a solid game from the defense and the running game this week against the hapless Rams. Big ouch for them.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.