Sunday 17th September represents the first competitive NFL game to be played in Atlanta’s brand new enormo-dome. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, worth $1.6 Billion, has welcomed pre-season Falcons football, has seen collegiate football games, and has been the backdrop to a pair of victories for Atlanta’s MLS outfit, Atlanta United. At long last it will throw its doors open to meaningful Falcons Football. And they’ve one hell of a game to mark it with. Packers @ Falcons Preview, below:
As with last seasons NFC Championship Game, the Atlanta Falcons will play host to NFC juggernauts the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay will hope that third time’s the charm, as they make the journey for the third time since last October. Both Green Bay and Atlanta came through Week One relatively unscathed, setting up the end of the unbeaten dream for one of the NFCs premiere sides.
In the Red Corner
We start with the Atlanta Falcons, a side that people have been forgetting is the reigning NFC Champion. Atlanta’s week one exploits reeked of a “get in, get out, nobody gets hurt” game plan. The historically great offense of 2016 wasn’t historically great in week one, and Atlanta looked almost restrained at Soldier Field. While MVP Matt Ryan notched over 300 passing yards and an outrageous touchdown pass to Austin Hooper, the Falcons ground game was largely contained by a fairly talented Bears front seven. A last second Brooks Reed sack sealed a 23-17 victory, but it was far from a vintage performance.
Before Falcons fans hit the panic button on new Offensive Coordinator, Steve Sarkesian, it’s worth remembering that Kyle Shannahan’s second season in Atlanta was peppered with frustrating missteps, especially in week one. Atlanta fell 24-31 to Tampa Bay that day, and exploded from Week Two onwards. It’s my suspicion the great schemer was bested as a result of the lack of available film on his opposition. Perhaps having a full game of Packers defence to analyse will see improvement.
Mean Green Wrecking Machine
Green Bay, similarly to Atlanta, leaned on their defence to secure a 17-9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week One. Mike Daniels wrecked havoc on one of the worst offensive lines in football, earning 1.5 sacks on the day and putting Russell Wilson under constant duress. Seattle were limited to three field goals in Lambeau. Outrageously impressive for a side coming up against a top five Quarterback.
That’s not to say the offense wasn’t pretty good. Despite an early interception, Aaron Rodgers managed to spread the ball between his team mates to the tune of 311 passing yards and one touchdown. And that was against the truly awesome Seattle defence. Mike McCarthy may worry about his ground game, however. Ty Montgomery has earned the starter spot on Green Bay’s Running Back depth chart, yet 54 yards from 19 carries may raise a few questions. Cheeseheads worldwide will hope that they aren’t subjected to another season of relying on the genius of Aaron Rodgers.
It’s a cliche, but this game will be won and lost in the trenches. The Falcons have a far better Offensive Line than Seattle, and Green Bay’s pass rush will be tested. That said, Wes Schweitzer, new Right Guard, endured a trying debut. However their tackles, Ryan Schraeder and Jake Matthews, and Left Guard, Andy Levitre, were judged as to conceding 0 pressures all game. Schweitzer will likely be asked to cover Mike Daniels, and it’s fair to say the second year Guard is being subjected to a baptism of fire. Let’s hope that he doesn’t get, like, burned to death, or something.
Green Bay’s O-Line gave up four sacks against a stout Seattle front seven, and they aren’t facing a much easier test this week. The sheer number of rotationary pieces along the line makes it difficult to name a starting defence. However, considering they boast last seasons sack leader, and Super Bowl breakout star, in Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett respectively, it’s fair to say there’s enough there to cause issues.
Between two evenly matched sides, a slight edge may be enough to swing the tie. Perhaps Atlanta may have the edge with their secondary? Corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are one of the better pairings in the league (Trufant is a top five corner). Behind them, Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal are a very fast, very physical safety tandem that is more than above average.
That’s not to say Green Bay are lacking at secondary. Davon House is more than serviceable at Corner, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is very good at free safety. You do worry, however, about this unit, especially when put up against the best Receiver in the game. Even more so when he managed 180 yards against them the last time they faced each other.
Too Close to Call
In spite of this, however, most will be expecting a close Packers victory. Unless something has changed drastically in practice, there will likely be a two to three game settling in period for Sarkesian. While this is unlikely to derail the Falcons season, it will likely stall it somewhat. Atlanta would likely have preferred to be playing Detroit or Buffalo this week, rather than hosting a perennial powerhouse during Sarkisian’s bedding in period.
The fact is Aaron Rodgers is something of a phenom. A marvel. A man who can make something from nothing. Perhaps the only player in the league today that can win a game on his own. Unless this young Falcons defence comes of age, in a prime time slot, he looks primed to avenge the woes of 2016 all on his own.
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