For all of those questioning our selection of Aaron Rodgers as Offensive Player of the Year, consider this game Exhibit A.
Rodgers put up one of the best grades of the season in picking apart the Falcons defense, and got the Packers a game away from returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since Brett Favre’s heyday.
The Falcons aren’t built to come back from behind, and once they were down they couldn’t find any type of rhythm on offense. Matt Ryan (+0.1) edged Rodgers for our MVP title, but didn’t play like one in this game.
Packers: Three performances of note
The clear star of this game was Rodgers (+9.1). What made his performance so amazing was his ability to avoid pressure and his consistency throwing deep. While the defense could at times get heat on Rodgers, he frequently rolled out of it and still got throws off. On balls thrown 10+ yards, he was 11 for 12 for 213 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers was able to get first down after first down to keep the chains moving, keep getting points on the board and keep the Falcons off the field.
While Jordy Nelson (+3.5) is the least-talked about of the Packers four receivers, he had the best game of the group and the best of his career. He was thrown at eight times, and made all eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. What has made the Packers so good this season is their depth, and when the fourth receiver can have a game like this, you have a very dangerous team.
While outside linebacker Erik Walden (-2.9) won the Defensive Player of the Week in the NFC award in the regular season finale, he reminded you Saturday that he’s the fourth-string linebacker. He rushed Matt Ryan 31 times, but was only able to manage one pressure. He also was hurt on the few run plays the Falcons had. While the Packers looked like they had no weakness in this game, they did have one that just wasn’t exploited.
Falcons: Three performances of note
Because of an injury to Brian Williams, Chris Owens (-3.5) was pushed into the slot cornerback role. The Packers took advantage of this by putting not only Donald Driver in the slot receiver position, but Greg Jennings more than usual, and at times both of them in the slot on the same side of the field. Although other defensive backs allowed more catches, he allowed the most yards and by far the most after the catch.
Part of the Falcons’ strength on defense this year was their pass rush, but the defensive line as a unit struggled in this game. All four starters on the defensive line ended up with a rating below one in pass rush. Although three sacks is a good output, they were only able to get pressure on six of 42 pass plays. The fact that the Falcons couldn’t get to Rodgers gave the Packers enough time to find the holes in the defense.
On offense, it was the lack of possession that really cost the Falcons more than poor execution. Tony Gonzalez (-1.9) was notable in his silence, though. It was thought that he would be a big part of their offense in this game, but he was only thrown at once for a-seven yard catch. His negative rating was mostly due to his run blocking, but it’s worth noting that he didn’t grade well this year and at 35 won’t have many more chances at playoff glory.
For the Packers, the play of right tackle Bryan Bulaga (+3.4) was a real sight for sore eyes. After receiving negative ratings the past five weeks, Bulaga only allowed one sack and no other pressure and performed well in run blocking. While HB James Starks (+0.6) saw most of the carries, he was just solid instead of spectacular as he was vs. Philly. TE Andrew Quarless (+0.5) wasn’t in on offense as much as recent weeks in favor of more wide receivers. DE C.J. Wilson (+0.8) had a nice day stopping the run and had a sack in garbage time. CB Sam Shields (-0.6) didn’t have a good a rating as recent weeks due to a pass interference penalty.
As usual, the Falcons didn’t have any rookies play on offense and only two on defense. DT Corey Peters (+0.4) was the only starting defensive lineman with no pressure, but had four stops in a nice day stopping the run. LB Sean Weatherspoon (-1.6) played in nickel situations, but had no pressure and two penalties.
One in every eight pass plays for the Falcons ended up with Matt Ryan getting sacked. … The Packers’ defense actually graded out as a net negative (-0.3). … Ryan Pickett and Howard Green started on the D-line for Green Bay, but Cullen Jenkins and Wilson had more snaps off the bench. … Mason Crosby continued to be a liability on kickoffs.