This was billed a battle between two of the best teams in the league, and lived up to all of its hype. Both offenses put up dominating performances, but the Falcons had the ball last and put up an amazing one-minute drive to set up the game winning field goal.
The game came down to which team had fewer weaknesses. The Falcons struggled in pass protection and in getting to Aaron Rodgers. The Packers couldn’t stop the run or run the ball. In the end, the grading was a wash — as were the two quarterbacks, both of whom are MVP candidates.
It was fitting that Atlanta won this dead-even game by three, the traditional edge for home field in the NFL.
Packers: Three performances of note
Each week it seems like a different receiver will step up for the Packers, and this week it was WR Jordy Nelson (+2.6). He was only thrown at five times, but he caught all five for 61 yards and the game tying touchdown on fourth down. This is the sixth straight game where Nelson has been on the field for over half of the Packers offensive snaps which is not common for a team’s number four receiver, but in this game he made the most of his opportunities to make a case to pass James Jones (+0.9) on the depth chart.
Because of injuries to Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar, ILB A.J. Hawk (-3.9) has been an every-down linebacker for the majority of the season. He has shown a few sparks of greatness this year, but this year was a terrible game for him. At a position where you expect your player to get stops, Hawk only had two on the game. He missed two tackles and only had two tackles on the game. More performances like this and you might be seeing Hawk’s last season in the green and gold.
Prior to this game, CB Tramon Williams (-4.1) was making a case for the best cornerback in the league. That was significantly hurt by his performance in this game. He allowed four of the six throws his way to be caught for a total of 50 yards. Not terrible raw numbers, you expected him to do more to prevent the catch. He also struggled with the run, missing two tackles. This is a player the Packers need to get back to his Pro Bowl level.
Falcons: Three performances of note
QB Matt Ryan (+5.6) has been making a case for MVP all season, and that effort was helped this week with a strong performance against one of the best pass defenses in the league. He threw 18 passes between 0-10 yards and completed all 18 for 129 yards and no interceptions. Most impressive, he was 7-of-9 while being pressured with no picks. The Falcons had a strategy on offense against the Packers’ explosive D, and it worked.
While HB Michael Turner (+1.9) had a good game running the ball, a lot of the credit can go to his fullback Ovie Mughelli (+3.9). Mughelli has been just OK this year, but he dominated as a run-blocker Sunday in the biggest game of the year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons did a lot of things right. However, the Packers got the best of CB Brent Grimes (-1.5). He was targeted nine different times while covering all five of the Packers wide receivers at various points, and allowed seven catches; at least one by each receiver. This accumulated to 108 yards, 47 of them being after the catch. Grimes also missed two tackles.
Andrew Quarless (+0.7) got his second start of the year for Green Bay at tight end, and he had his best game of the year with three catches on three passes for 35 yards. CB Sam Shields (+0.8) was in less than usual as the Falcons used fewer three-wide sets than most teams against the Packers. He had a -1.5 special teams rating as the teams kick returner. Bryan Bulaga (-0.7) and Frank Zombo (-0.8) also started and played the whole game, and were neither liability nor standout.
Because the Falcons were playing in the nickel the majority of the game, OLB Sean Weatherspoon (-2.8) played the majority of the game. He mostly struggled against the pass, where he allowed four catches for 50 yards. DT Corey Peters (-0.6) had 21 snaps while starting. He came up with a hit and a pressure as well as a stop.
This game marked the return of the Packers’ five-wide set. It has been used very sparingly this season prior to this game, but in this game it was used on 15 of the Packers 61 plays. It was typically Brett Swain on the outside and Donald Driver on the inside on one side of the field, with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings in the slot along with James Jones on the other side.