Can Mike Daniels and the Green Bay D get pressure on Matt Ryan?
Green Bay taking on Atlanta in the last ever game in the Georgia Dome has many obvious storylines to it, but most have been covered in some depth already. How do you try and slow down Aaron Rodgers? Can the Packers do anything to limit the damage of Julio Jones? Will the Packers ever actually lean on their run game?
The most interesting matchup to me, though, is one that is flying under the radar but could have a huge say in determining the winner.
Mike Daniels is the most disruptive force on the Green Bay defense, and he will be going head to head for much of the game with the weakest link on the Atlanta offense: RG Chris Chester.
If you include the playoffs, no guard has surrendered more pressure than Chester this season. With the amount Atlanta passes the ball, he doesn’t have the league’s lowest pass-blocking efficiency score (that belongs to San Francisco rookie Joshua Garnett at 93.2), but his 94.2 is the third-worst.
Chester is the 65th-rated guard in PFF grades, in a league where only 64 players can start at the position.
Mike Daniels may not be Aaron Donald, but he is a top-10 interior defender that can play the run and the pass. Like seemingly every game of these playoffs, this encounter is a rematch from earlier in the season, and when these two went head to head in Week 8, Chester surrendered a sack and three hurries, while Daniels had one of his best games of the year.
Daniels will be a factor in the run game, but as successful as that has been for the Falcons this year, the game likely comes down to how successfully they can pass the ball, not how dominant their run game will be.
The only hope defenses have of slowing down Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense this season is to put the quarterback under pressure. When he has been kept clean, he has been the best QB in the game this year. His passer rating this season from a clean pocket is 129.4, ten points better than any other QB in the game, and pretty much impossible to deal with. That level of production will carve up your secondary and is at the kind of level that makes it extremely difficult to win the game. In order to tilt things in your favor, you need to apply pressure.
Putting Ryan under duress this year hasn’t had the same effect as it has had in the past, but it does at least make him human.
When hurried this season, Ryan’s passer rating us 87.5, a drop of more than 40 points, and while that is still right around the league average for all passes, not just under pressure, his completion percentage also tumbles 25.8 points, and you are at least dealing with a level of production that can be stopped. He has avoided making big mistakes when pressured this season, throwing no picks at all under duress, but he is substantially less productive.
In the first meeting, the Packers were only able to generate pressure on eight of Ryan’s 38 dropbacks. They sacked him twice, but even on those other six passes Ryan was able to complete five for 57 yards, so the pressure was almost a total non-factor.
For this game to go a different direction the Packers need to generate more pressure and hope that Ryan deals with it less capably than he did last time.
Daniels has too much power for Chester to handle, and one of the hurries he did get last time came on a bullrush where he was able to drive Chester right back into Ryan’s lap on the play, collapsing an otherwise well-formed pocket and forcing Ryan to slide into a hit on the other side. As it happened, the Packers had a coverage bust on the back end so Ryan was able to dump the ball off to TE Austin Hooper and move the chains regardless, but this kind of play repeatedly will make life difficult for him and at least make him work to remain productive.
This game features a matchup of two overwhelming offenses against defenses that are overmatched overall. The last meeting between the two sides was decided by a single point, with both sides putting more than 30 points on the board, but in one position the Packers do at least have a clear advantage, and the only question is whether Daniels can have enough of an impact to have any sway on the game.