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Total View: Packers 43, Falcons 37

Eddie Lacy

The Green Bay Packers played two halves of football on Monday night. One half was worthy of a Super Bowl contender and one half was worthy of vomit.

 11:15, 1st Quarter – The Atlanta Falcons defense is as advertised and the Packers offense moves right down the field for an opening touchdown.

The Packers started with the exact same play as last week — a dump to John Kuhn that picked up 6. The Falcons were predictably sitting back in the two-deep defense and the Packers immediately took advantage with two big runs by Eddie Lacy over the left side, one for 22 yards and one for 12. The Packers quickly found themselves on the 3-yard line after Rodgers rolled to his right and facing no pressure, found Jordy Nelson in the middle of the field for 22 yards. James Starks surprisingly came in and carried it in for the touchdown on the next play.

7:00, 1st Quarter – The Falcons play out of their ass for a drive and get a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.

If the Falcons executed like this on offense even two drives a game, they wouldn’t be 5-8. The Packers sat in their nickel all drive and played good defense, but good execution will beat good defense and that happened here. On 3rd and 4 from the Falcons’ 44, the Packers sent five and Mike Neal got to Matt Ryan in two seconds. But Ryan threw it just as Neal arrived and threaded it between two defenders to Roddy White for a first down.

On the next play, the Packers were playing run, leaving Sam Shields all alone on Julio Jones. Jones ran a deep out and easily picked up 19 yards, down to the Packers’ 25. On 3rd and 7, three plays later, Micah Hyde had tight coverage on Jones, but the ball was thrown out in front of Jones and he got 12 over the middle. Action Jackson scored on the next play, when the Packers thought they could defend the goal line with their nickel. That puts six smaller defenders against six larger offensive players with predictable results.

14:55, 2nd Quarter – Yeah, still the Falcons defense. The Packers score another touchdown to go ahead 14-7. Their lead from here on out would remain continuous.

The Packers looked to be punting when faced with a 3rd and 17 from their own 13. They got there after David Bakhtiari gave up a pathetic sack to Kroy Biermann, who now leads the Falcons with a whole three sacks all season. A false start by Andrew Quarless also chipped in. On third down, Rodgers had plenty of time to work against the drop seven defense. He found Quarless between the linebackers and safeties for 30 yards.

A mix of quick passes to Quarless and Nelson, dumps to Lacy and runs by Lacy moved the ball steadily down the field from there. On 2nd and goal from the 7, Rodgers escaped the pocket to his left and scrambled to the 3. He momentarily was stripped of the football, but fell on it. Defensive lineman Tyson Jackson was over-excited by the prospect of a fumble and gave Rodgers a late hit when he clearly had possession of the ball. That drew the flag and gifted the Packers 1st and goal from the 1. Eddie Lacy practically strolled in on a stretch left play that has been especially harmful to the Falcons.

7:20, 2nd Quarter – The Packers roll down the field again, but only get a field goal this time to make the score 17-7.

The Falcons went three and out this time. On 3rd and 1, they tried a pick play to White, but Ryan failed to throw the ball over Tramon Williams, who skied for it only to have the ball go right off his hands. Huh… Punt.

James Starks cut back on a stretch left play and picked up 22 yards on first down. Dumps to Starks and then another to Lacy where he broke out the circle button and left three Falcons in his wake, moved the ball to the Falcons’ 21. The Packers went no further. On first down, Lacy took a stretch right and waited too long to either cut back or go around the end. Both were options. By the time Lacy did go around the end, the Falcons defense was there and Lacy got 0. On second down, Mike McCarthy decided to call a screen play even though the Falcons had not been getting a pass rush. Lacy got held in the backfield and Rodgers threw it away. On third down, Rodgers escaped the pocket to his left and then threw the ball out of the end zone. Davante Adams appeared to be open in the middle of the field, but Rodgers was not into throwing Adams the ball this game.

4:20, 2nd Quarter – A Morgan Burnett interception led to another quick touchdown for the Packers, and this game is starting to look familiar at 24-7.

Ryan was picked on the Falcons’ second play of their next drive, when he failed to notice that Burnett was standing right in front of Devin Hester. Burnett made a nice return to the Falcons’ 15. After Rodgers picked up a first down with a nifty scramble to his right, he flipped a 1-yard pass to Lacy for the touchdown.

00:24, 2nd Quarter – We got another full-on blowout. The Packers end the half with another touchdown to make the halftime score 31-7.

The Falcons had to punt on their next possession. On 3rd and 10, Ryan threw it up for Jones with three Packers in coverage. Shields made early contact, which might have helped the ball go right through Jones’ hands. Punt.

Micah Hyde made a nice return on the punt to move the ball near midfield. Rodgers then dumped to Starks for a 14-yard gain. The Falcons were dropping back too quickly and uncovering the Packers’ running backs all half. After the play to Starks, Cobb caught a simple out route, spun around one defender and dragged another for 18 yards. The Packers moved easily until reaching the Falcons’ 10-yard line. They faced 3rd and 10 from there. Kroy Biermann pretended to drop back as if to spy Rodgers and then came clean though on a delayed blitz. A-Rodge ran to his left to avoid Biermann, escaped the pocket to his right and then fired to Nelson at the back of the end zone.

That’s a big-time play, worthy of the championship belt and perhaps an MVP.

12:35, 3rd Quarter – The Falcons did exactly what they needed to by getting a quick touchdown to start the second half.

On the very first play of the second half, the Falcons gave the Packers a taste of their own Lambeau Field medicine. Julio Jones purposefully lined up across from Tramon Williams to run the slant and go. Williams aggressively jumps slants, which the Falcons undoubtably saw on film. I like the fact that Tramon attacks that route. However, if he gets caught on a slant and go, he has to interfere with the receiver to stop the big play. He didn’t here and Jones didn’t do a lot in hauling in a good pass from Ryan and then cutting across the field when Burnett overran it. Only the speed of Sam Shields forced Jones to cut back to the middle, which allowed a chasing Williams to catch him at the 1.

It appeared the Packers might hold when they forced a fourth down from the 5. Of course, the Falcons are going for it. Fourth down conversions would end up being a huge factor in the Falcons’ comeback. You should blitz the house here with not a lot of field to defend. Dom Capers goes the conservative route instead and Ryan had plenty of time to throw the football. He was looking all the way for Eric Weems running a cross underneath the tight end, whose only job this whole game appeared to be picking defenders. If Casey Hayward stays with Weems, he likely stops the play. Instead, he was in zone and transferred the coverage to Hyde. Ryan fired it into Weems before Hyde could knock it down. Touchdown.

The Falcons tacked on another field goal to make the score 31-17 after the Packers had another failure on their first possession of the second half. T.J. Lang was called for holding on the first play of their drive, which didn’t help. Rodgers had the opportunity to convert the following 3rd and 7, but instead of dumping to a wide open Eddie Lacy, Rodgers tried the deep ball to Davante Adams and underthrew the pass. Punt.

The Packers only punt of the game was a near disaster. Players ran onto the field late and Weems was nearly unblocked. Whether he got a piece of the punt or just affected Tim Masthay, it resulted in just a 31-yard punt and it was the Falcons’ turn to start near midfield.

They didn’t go far, moving 22 yards, with 15 of that coming on a facemask call against Hyde. On 1st and 10 from the Packers’ 31, Ryan appeared to have a touchdown to Jones, but Jones failed to get his second foot down. Should have gotten it down, but appeared to either not know where he was on the field or not care. It proved costly, as the Falcons ended up punting. On 3rd and 10, Matt Ryan was just trying to shorten the field goal a little by running up the middle out of a secure pocket. He was stopped short of the line of scrimmage, however, and Clay Matthews got a gift sack, the only sack of the night for a surprisingly impotent Packers’ pass rush against a makeshift Falcons’ offensive line.

4:00, 3rd Quarter – The Packers offense got back into motion with a drive for a field goal to make it 34-17.

On 3rd and 3 from the Packers’ 30, Rodgers ran forward in the pocket and fired right up the middle of the field to Randall Cobb for a 23-yard gain. On the next play, the Falcons defense blitzed and dropped coverage on Jordy Nelson of all people. Only a short pass by Rodgers stopped it from being a touchdown, instead resulting in a 28-yard gain. The Packers would end up kicking a field after that. On 3rd and 6 from the Falcons’ 15, Rodgers had time and options in the middle of the field in Cobb and Adams. He was determined to get the ball to Lacy on the circle route, however, and floated a pass versus tight coverage. It was knocked away and the field goal resulted.

12:30, 4th Quarter – The Falcons scored another touchdown to shorten the lead to 34-24.

The Falcons moved the ball easily into the Packers’ territory solely on short runs and dumps to the running back. This time it was the Packers dropping back too quickly and too far and leaving the dump pass wide open. The Falcons utilized it all the way to the Packers’ 29. On 3rd and six from there, Ryan found Jones on a simple out from the slot against Hayward. Remember that.

A couple plays later, the Falcons lined up with two receivers on the right and Jones out wide left. Comically, the only Packer even on the same side of the field as Jones was Shields. As the single-deep safety, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix  was clearly shading towards Jones, but when Jones ran the straight fade for the pylon, it was too far for the Dix to cover. Shields acted like he had help over the top and never made any kind of play on the ball. Touchdown.

10:38, 4th Quarter – The Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson combo struck again and the Packers went back up 40-24.

The Packers were in danger of punting again when facing 3rd and 9 from their 27. Rodgers stayed on his feet after getting bumped in the pocket, rolled to his right and found Cobb for a 13-yard gain and big first down. On the very next play, Rodgers went play action fake, Nelson double-move on the safety, and then 55-yard bullet pass between the safeties for a 60-yard touchdown.

On the play, the Falcons were burned by their own exotic coverage. Originally in a two-deep zone, the Falcons brought a safety up post snap to double Cobb. This left the left corner, Desmond Trufant, to scurry back and cover that deep half of the field. However, Nelson was already too far upfield and Trufant couldn’t close enough ground to stop the play.

In what was potentially a huge gaffe on the extra point, the offensive line allowed a Falcon to squeeze through up the middle and block the attempt. That left the game within two scores and unfortunately, the quickness of the score meant the Falcons still had enough time to come back.

6:20, 4th Quarter – The Falcons were well on their way by scoring another touchdown to get to 40-30.

On the first play of their next drive, Ryan found Jones against a zone coverage look up the left sideline for 18 yards. After a decent pass rush forced an incompletion that Datone Jones almost picked, the Falcons faced 4th and 4. The Falcons lined up Jones out left with Harry Douglas Jr. lined up in the slot. Casey Hayward and Davon House, who has come in for the befuddled Sam Shields by this point, were in conversation right up to the snap. It doesn’t appear that they ever figured it out. When Douglas ran an out, both guys covered him and neither covered Jones, who ran a simple post. Jones was wide open in the middle of the field for 19 yards.

Jones doesn’t even have to be good to make any of these plays. Just run to the open zone and catch the damn football. It is possible that Hayward and House got it right in doubling the quick out on 4th and 4. It is possible that Clinton-Dix was supposed to close down quicker on Jones. Clinton-Dix would be slow to get downhill and into the play all night. He’s playing too conservatively, afraid of giving up the big play. And if Pro Football Focus doesn’t have him down for at least three missed tackles, then they are a sham.

Five plays later, the Falcons faced 3rd and 6 from the Packers’ 12. Jones lined up in the slot. The Packers were in their nickel and had the audacity to line up Brad Jones across from him. Jones ran a simple slant, shed the diving tackle attempt of Jones, of course, and then went down after bouncing off a decent hit by Datone Jones. Yes, that is a Triple Jones. Mercifully, Julio Jones would either hurt his hip on this play or the man was flat tired. Regardless, his night was over.

On 2nd and goal, the Falcons ran the same play as the Vikings and found Roddy White crossing the field all alone for the easy touchdown. Showing an amazing lack of situational awareness or give-a-shit, perhaps, Morgan Burnett and Julius Peppers allowed White to run untouched by both of them, when a simple legal push would have stopped the play.

Amazingly, either Mike Smith or Matt Ryan thought it was a good idea to run the draw on the two-point conversion attempt, rather than simply running that same damn drag play again. It was stuffed easily and the Falcons still trailed by two scores.

2:15, 4th Quarter – The Falcons got exactly what they needed with a touchdown before the two-minute warning. That would finish the scoring for the night at 43-37, Packers.

The Packers managed a field goal after Jarrett Boykin made a nice play in recovering the onside kick that followed the last Falcons’ touchdown. The Packers went nowhere from there. On 3rd and 4, Rodgers tried a back-shoulder pass to Adams that wasn’t even close. I find it comical that Adams gets criticized for this play. Packers fans apparently haven’t noticed that the back-shoulder pass to ANY Packers’ receiver hasn’t worked all year. In fact, other than some passes to James Jones, the back-shoulder hasn’t been a reliable weapon for Rodgers since 2011. The two-deep has a lot to do with that, since it allows corners to play under the receivers, but Rodgers and his receivers also just don’t seem to be very good at it anymore.

It was a gutsy call to have Mason Crosby try the 53-yard field goal, especially considering he just had an extra point blocked, but props to Crosby for putting it through.

Crosby decided to kick it in the end zone even though the shorter, higher ball had been working. Devin Hester returned the kick to the Falcons’ 34-yard line. On 2nd and 10 from there, Ryan threaded a pass to White for 29 yards. Williams was in trail coverage with Clinton-Dix over the top. Dix again was slow to come down and challenge the pattern, and Ryan threw such a good ball that it might not have mattered anyway.

On the next play, Action Jackson caught a dump off and used the referee as a perfect screen to pick up 17 more yards. A draw to Jacquizz Rodgers against the Packers dime then picked up 14 more. The Falcons were held to 4th and goal from the 2. The Packers blitzed the house for a second play in a row. Ryan was going to the out all the way. Douglass ran the same out from the slot that burned Hayward on the last fourth down. Hayward covers decently on both plays and got beat by perfect passes. However, if he really wants to stop that play and not rely on a bad pass, he needs to disrupt the receiver’s route. He allowed clean releases on both plays, and it is awfully difficult to cover that route by purely reacting to the receiver.

That makes three fourth down conversions for the Falcons, two of them for touchdowns.

The Falcons tried the onside kick once again, but mysteriously kicked it 20 yards downfield where Nelson could easily cover it. On 2nd and 8, Rodgers rolls to his right, looking for Richard Rodgers on the out. Seeing Rodgers covered by man-to-man, A-Rodge took off straight upfield instead, easily picking up 12 yards and the first down. On the very next play, James Starks got the carry on a stretch left, the direction where all of the Packers’ rushing success came from, got a kick-out block by the pulling Josh Sitton and a seal by Kuhn and broke it up the sideline for 41 yards. That first down enabled the Packers to run the clock out.

Except for the first drive of the second half, the Packers offense remained in high gear. Aaron Rodgers, though not perfect, played at a very high level and as long as that remains the case, the Packers have a chance to win every game. He was helped out by another strong performance from the offensive line, who not only gave him protection in the pocket, but also opened up holes for both Packers’ running backs. David Bakhtiari, however, did give up a sack to Biermann and was also beaten badly by Osi Umenyiora. Bakhtiari is going to be facing much better competition in Buffalo and better bring his A game.

It was nice to see James Starks getting some carries, finally. He looked fresh and explosive.

The Packers offense was especially efficient when Rodgers included the tight end. He got away from that in the second half. He seems to have a tendency to do that. I don’t know why. Tight ends are typically not wide open. They are big guys that are tough to stop if the ball is thrown to the right spot. This offense, and Rodgers, would remain more effective against the two-deep zone if he stuck with the tight ends more. Rodgers substituted for that a little bit in this game by throwing the ball to the running back, which is another thing that we’ve been calling for for years now.

The key to the inept defensive performance in the second half was a complete lack of a pass rush for the first time this season. It is quite odd that one week after successfully harassing Tom Brady, the pass rush was so ineffective against the crap offensive line of the Falcons. Mike Neal was the only pass rusher who showed up on the tape. The Packers got next to nothing from Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Mike Daniels, though Peppers would have had a sack if Ryan wasn’t allowed to spike the ball into the ground in the first half. We heard a lot about the fact that Clay was matching up against his cousin Jake and Jake pretty much got ownage in this one. Clay got one sack as an early Christmas gift from Ryan. That was all.

The absent pass rush allowed Matt Ryan to get comfortable in the pocket and as a result, Ryan had one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play. It also certainly helped immensely that the Packers never determined to take Julio Jones out of the game. They regularly singled him against either Shields or House, let zone cover him or forgot to cover him altogether. Someone wake Dom Capers from his halftime stupor, but this was somewhat reminiscent of Jerron McMillian being consistently matched against Anquan Boldin in the opener last season, even as Boldin went for over 200 yards receiving. What I want to see is Dom in a Smokin’ Jay Cutler meme — “DON’T CARE!!!”

Obviously, the Packers need Sam Shields, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to play better, but to say that this defensive performance proves the Packers incapable of a deep playoff run is thin at best, considering the defense just played pretty well against two playoff teams in the Patriots and Eagles. Is this performance somehow more important than those?

Anyway, the Packers go on the road for the next two weeks, and they haven’t been a particularly good team on the road. So, we will get a further indication of where this defense and team is at over the next two weeks. Everything is still out there for the Packers to win. However, everything is still out there to be lost as well. The Packers haven’t even clinched a playoff spot yet, though a win and a Dallas loss to Philadelphia would accomplish that.

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Shawn

Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.

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10 Comments

  1. Andrew Chitko December 11, 2014

    Awesome read as always Shawn.

    I do think when the defense throws in a clunker like this, it is more concerning than a strong performance is positive.

    In the playoffs you’re going to need to do it consistently for three or four games and the fact that this defense is so capable of going between their ‘A’ and ‘D-minus’ games so easily is scary.

    Has this defense put together three good games in a row yet? Even with home field throughout, we’ll still need to get that out of this unit. So far they haven’t been playoff consistent.

  2. kato December 11, 2014

    Agree with Andrew. There has been some good defense played and some horrific. For every patriots game, there has been the second half against the falcons, first half against the jets, the first game against the bears (yeah they only gave up 17 points but nearly 500 yards), the seahawks game.

    1. Phatgzus December 12, 2014

      The Bears and Jets games were a long time ago, this defense has been better (esp. vs. the run) and more consistent since then, particularly since the Eagles game. A good number of those games have been without Perry as well.

  3. pf4l December 11, 2014

    I disagree with the contention that over the next 2 or 3 weeks, we’ll see where this defense is.

    We play the Bills, Bucs, and Lions. Not exactly powerhouse offensive units as all 3 are 3rd tier scoring offenses.

    We’ll see where the defense is, when we get in the playoffs, like we usually do. Good or bad.

    What will be tested, is the offensive line against Buffalo. The Bills have 48 sacks. The Falcons have 15 sacks.

    Because of that, this will be a tough game to win.

  4. Shawn Neuser December 11, 2014

    The defense does not have to play three good games in a row for the Packers to win a Super Bowl. It is a team game and one unit just needs to pick up the other if it struggles.
    The Ravens did not play particularly well on defense when they won two years ago. The offense picked up the slack when the defense struggled, like against Denver.
    The Packer offense can dominate against most teams in the NFC. Yes, the Packers will need to play some defense to beat the Seahawks or Lions, but there is no guarantee they will even face those teams.

  5. Howard December 11, 2014

    Great read. Thanks for taking the time. In your fifth paragraph from the bottom did you mean to write tight ends are typically wide open? I believe they are. Quarless is open often. R.Rodgers is doing better, however it does appear he is a tick slow getting out of his stance or off the line even without someone over him. Sure he will work on this. Tight ends will continue to get more passes thrown there way.

    That drag route on the goal line will be ran again against the D. I would like to see Barrington not blitz and wipe out any asshole that comes across the middle. It is a legal play with some minor restrictions. I think Barrington would like the opportunity and that opportunity will be coming soon until the D shows an ability to come close to stopping it.

    It does appear there is some confusion including frantic arm gestures prior to several plays by the D. Not sure how much that relates to Barrington having the headset. There may be some bumps in the road with Barrington, and that may be one of them, however Barrington is the best choice at this time. I believe he will only get better with more snaps.

    I have to admit Brad Jones is doing very well on ST’s. I do not like him as the dime linebacker. For all the straight line speed he exhibits on ST’s it sure does not show up as a linebacker very often.

    1. Phatgzus December 12, 2014

      Say what you will, but Jones is our best ILB not named Matthews in coverage, he usually manages to hold his own against good or worse tight ends. The rest of his game leaves much to be desired.

  6. DJ December 12, 2014

    As usual, well done Shawn. I agree about the inclusion of the TE’s or RBs being a major key to our offensive passing game. I think its also crucial in terms of rhythm & pace. More than any other season, this season has seen ARod hold the ball a lot more & longer and have to improvise more than in the past. And I dont know if that is because nobody is open on his initial reads or if he’s obsessing about ball security…or maybe a little of both. I would venture to guess that he’s had to (or chose to) use his feet half the time….and that isnt good in terms of scheme AND keeping him upright. Either way, imo, the ball has got to come out quicker on a more consistent basis. Hence the necessity to KEEP the TEs & RBs involved. I think the NE game proved we quasi bridged the gap from losing James Jones & Finley….but we’re not there all the way there yet.
    Defensively, the wheels didnt really fall off until we were up 31-7 and its pretty obvious there was a let down after that across the board. Thus, I agree that its hard to gauge the D after that performance. If it was 31-28 at half time I think we’d all be singing a different tune. Plus I dont think (actually, I hope) with a big lead we’d empty the def playbook to stop a Grade A WR (Julio) when we got Calvin coming to town in a must win game in a few weeks. Makes no sense to pull our pants down now scheme wise. See, thats how a true Packer fan rationalizes his defense getting shredded in the 2nd half. lol

  7. rebelgb December 12, 2014

    Great write up.

    The contention that the defensive efforts against Philly and New England means as much as the effort against the Falcons is just plain off though.

    Philly had Mark Sanchez at QB (no more needs to be said) and New England has been inconsistent on offense all year.

    I have grave concerns about this defense come playoff time. Your contention that the offense will just have to pick up the slack if the defense struggles is spot on, however, lets see how our offense does this sunday, and 2 weeks from now against the Lions. Both teams have great defensive lines and may be able to pressure Rodgers with just 4. Putting up 30+ even at home could be tough against teams like that; at which point our defense will need to be there for us.

    1. Phatgzus December 12, 2014

      “England has been inconsistent”.

      They were the league leader in ppg. going into Lambeau, so not so much; if they are inconsistent then so is every other offense in the NFL.