The Atlanta Falcons do not need to be reminded of how badly they were dominated by Green Bay in the playoffs last season. They also know the challenge of beating the Packers this time might be even tougher.
Seven months after the Packers stormed through Atlanta on their way to a Super Bowl title, the Falcons get a shot to avenge that loss Sunday night at the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta was the No. 1 seed in the NFC and playing at home in January, but Aaron Rodgers(notes) carved up the Falcons by going 31 of 36 for 366 yards with three touchdown passes and one rushing score in Green Bay’s 48-21 divisional playoff win.
While that game alone provides ample motivation for the Falcons (2-2), Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy knows his team is ready for the challenge.
“It’s definitely going to have a playoff feel,” McCarthy said. ‘We’re fully aware of how they feel about us. We’re definitely excited. This is going to be a hot game.”
The Packers (4-0) have won 10 straight games including postseason since losing 31-27 at New England in Week 15 last December - a game Rodgers sat out due to a concussion. Also healthier now than the last time it faced Atlanta, Green Bay is averaging a league-high 37.0 points and is coming off a 49-23 win over Denver last Sunday in which it totaled 507 yards.
Rodgers threw for a regular season career-high 408 yards against the Broncos and became the first player in NFL history with 400 passing yards, four passing TDs and two rushing scores in a single game. In addition to Rodgers, five other Packers scored touchdowns, including cornerback Charles Woodson’s(notes) 11th career interception return for a score.
“They have a great pedigree,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “They have an outstanding quarterback with a lot of weapons. That’s the biggest concern for us, being able to slow these guys down.”
Rodgers has MVP-caliber numbers through the first quarter of the season, completing 73.0 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards with 12 TDs and two interceptions. He could have more success versus a Falcons defense that allowed four touchdowns and 372 total yards in a 30-28 victory Sunday over a Seattle team that had scored 30 total points coming into the game.
“We gave up a lot of passing yards,” Smith said. “Each and every day you have concerns, and this one is obvious (going into the Green Bay game). We’ve got to make sure we have a plan on how to stop these guys. Aaron Rodgers is playing about as effectively as you can. It’s a challenge.”
Smith would like to see his defense put some consistent pressure on Rodgers. However, even after the offseason addition of Ray Edwards(notes), the Falcons have just five sacks - none from the veteran defensive end.
On the other side of the ball, Atlanta would like to exploit a Green Bay defense that ranks 31st against the pass with 335.8 yards allowed per game and has yielded 25 plays of 20-plus yards.
“Guys come in and go over the game plan against the champions and try to see what they can do to move the ball,” said Packers cornerback Tramon Williams(notes), who returned an interception 70 yards for a score in the playoff win over the Falcons. “People see something but we just have to make adjustments. We know this is the NFL and guys are going to move the ball, but it’s not OK.”
If the Falcons hope to move the ball through the air, quarterback Matt Ryan(notes) will need to be better than he was versus Green Bay in January, when he threw one touchdown and two interceptions and was sacked five times. He’s thrown six TDs and four interceptions this season and has been sacked 13 times - sixth-most in the NFL.
Even with star Roddy White(notes) on the field, rookie receiver Julio Jones(notes) is becoming another favorite of Ryan. The sixth overall pick, Jones set a single-game franchise record with 11 receptions last week and has totaled 242 yards over the last two games.
The Falcons also would like to get Michael Turner(notes) untracked after totaling 90 yards in his last two contests following consecutive 100-games to open the season. Turner ran for 231 on 49 carries in his previous two games versus Green Bay before he was held to 39 on 10 rushes in the playoff loss.