ReFo: Falcons @ Packers, Week 14
Flexed out of the primetime Sunday night slot by NBC what looked like a mouthwatering late-season contest between NFC contenders ended up an encounter between a team slipping away from contention without their star quarterback and arguably the league’s most disappointing team of the season.
Even so, with the Lions and Bears failing to capitalize on Aaron Rodgers’ continued absence, the Packers were still well in the hunt for the playoffs in spite of their recent slide. This victory over the Falcons — combined with the Lions defeat in a Philadelphia snow storm — brings Green Bay right back into playoff contention with Rodgers reportedly close to a return.
The Packers ground out their victory overcoming the adversity of a fluke interception by Sean Weatherspoon, deflecting off of Paul Worrilow’s right foot. The Falcons’ linebacker made the most of it, breaking tackles on a lung-bursting touchdown return just before the half that looked like it might consign Green Bay to a sixth straight game without a win. However, those were the last points Atlanta would score with short field goals from Mason Crosby and a touchdown pass early in the fourth seeing the Packers to a crucial victory.
With three games left to play, the Packers will be no more than half a game out of first place with the division title still up for grabs while the Falcons are just counting the days to the end of the season when they can put this disastrous season behind them and look ahead to 2014.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Strong Day up Front for Peters
While not the best season for the Falcons as a team there have been still been individual bright spots throughout the team with one of those being Corey Peters who showed his all-around game again yesterday against the Packers. His best work all season has come against the run and he led the way with one of his highest season grades in that department (+1.6) notching three defensive stops as he earned a positive run defense grade for the third straight week. Adding to his sound work against the run was his first sack since Week 8 driving through the left shoulder of Evan Dietrich-Smith before tracking out to Matt Flynn as he tried to escape to the left of the pocket to finish the play with Paul Worrilow.
Rounding out Peters’ game was a nice play covering a screen late in the third quarter. With the entire second level of the defense sealed in, Eddie Lacy might have had a walk-in touchdown, but having read the screen, Peters had the athleticism to go with him and took the Green Bay back down for a 3-yard gain which helped turn a potential seven points into three with Flynn overthrowing Brandon Bostick on the ensuing third down. Peters tied his highest overall grade of the season (+2.1) and tied his season high with five stops, both set in the Week 1 defeat in New Orleans.
Mixed Day on the Offensive Line
The state of the Atlanta offensive line has been a sore spot for much of the season and both individually and as a unit they had their struggles yesterday. Surrendering pressure on 17 of 36 drop-backs by Matt Ryan, it was another tough day in pass protection and the run blocking was a mixed bag brought into sharp relief by the strong game from Justin Blalock (+2.1) stacked up next to a poor showing from Lamar Holmes (-2.9) on the left side. In pass protection, most of the struggles came from the right side of the line where Peter Konz and Ryan Schraeder (entering the game for Jeremy Trueblood) accounted for 12 of the 19 pressures charged to the Atlanta offense. Struggling one-on-one, the Packers took further advantage of the right side pairing late on with stunts that exploited this advantage and further pressed it by testing the communication between the Falcons’ young pairing to disrupt some late throws by Ryan.
Contrast in Efficiency at Receiver
The Falcons’ receiving corps is a strength that was decimated by injury this season with Julio Jones’ absence still all too apparent in this game. Even so, boasting a trio of Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, the Falcons still had weapons to throw at the Packers young but very talented secondary. On the one hand they got extremely efficient play from White who snagged 74 yards on eight catches picking up a first down or altering the down and distance into short yardage for the Falcons on almost every single catch. On the other hand, they had Douglas only catch two of six targets for 20 yards with a pair of drops including a crucial one on a deep out late on the final drive which would have given the Falcons a fresh set of downs around the Green Bay 40. Completing the trio, Gonzalez netted 25 yards and a touchdown but also put two passes on the ground, failing to come up with the sort of tough grab in tight coverage on a fourth down play that he was making earlier in the season. The Falcons’ second leading receiver behind White was Drew Davis with one catch — his 36-yard score that tied the game early in the second quarter.
Green Bay – Three Performances of Note
More Hard Running from Lacy
A 3.3 yards per carry average may not look particularly special but Eddie Lacy was running hard yesterday and put in an extremely strong showing to pick up those meager gains. Forcing five missed tackles and notching 2.2 yards per carry after contact, Lacy got everything and more that was available behind the Packers’ offensive line yesterday. With an improved showing from Matt Flynn under center, Lacy was not asked to win the game on his own but he did get the Packers underway with a sharp touchdown run on the final play of the first quarter, spinning off of contact into the end zone on a 1-yard score on 3rd-and-goal. For the season, Lacy is now firmly inside the Top 5 in the league for missed tackles forced on the ground with 48, trailing only Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy and hasn’t fumbled since Week 1.
Pressure in Bunches for Perry
Prior to his injury against the Ravens in Week 6 Nick Perry had been rounding into strong form as a pass rusher over that and the previous week, snagging 11 pressures (3 Sk, 8 Hu) against the Lions and Ravens in two of the best games of his short career to that point. Putting to one side his ineffective return against the Eagles (which was followed by another two games on the sideline) Perry has returned in that same vein of form providing the much needed second option in the pass rush opposite Clay Matthews. Perry tied a career high with six total pressures (all hurries) taking his total over the last five games to 20 total pressures after netting just four in his first three games of the season. Perry added to his display with some solid run defense early on (including a stop on the game’s opening snaps) to tie the highest overall grade (+3.8) of his career.
Solid Return Continues for Jolly
After an ineffective debut against the 49ers in Week 1, the return of Johnny Jolly to the Packers’ defensive line has for the most part been a solid one with occasional really strong games like the one he registered yesterday against the Falcons. His only contribution as a pass rusher was a batted pass midway through the third quarter but he made a strong and consistent impact against the Atlanta ground game. That impact was felt no more than by Jason Snelling midway through the fourth when Jolly shot inside of Konz to meet Jackson in the backfield, stopping him dead to take him down for a 2-yard loss. Notching further stops at the start of the first and second quarters Jolly recorded a season-high three stops to take his season total to 10, fourth on the Packers’ defensive line.
– Josh Sitton’s fine season in pass protection continues surrendering no pressure yesterday, the eighth time he has managed that this season.
– Only two Atlanta defenders did not record a defensive stop yesterday, Stansly Maponga and Malliciah Goodman.
– The Falcons didn’t generate pressure very often but when they did they tended to finish. Pressured on eight of 42 drop-backs, Flynn was sacked five times, scrambled once and only completed one of two targets for 5 yards.
PFF Game Ball
Hard running combined with added value as a receiver sees Eddie Lacy take the game ball this week in the Packers’ pivotal victory.
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