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Five things to watch when Falcons host Green Bay Packers in Week 2 clash

Both teams want to exhaust their opponent at the line of scrimmage. What will it take for the Falcons to prevail? 

The red helmets are back. The Falcons are 1-0, having won their first home opener since the 2017 season. Bijan Robinson and Jessie Bates III were as advertised in Sunday's Week 1 win vs. Carolina.

What happened against the Panthers isn't super relevant, though, as a new opponent heads into town this Sunday. New week. New challenges. Well, OK, the red helmets making their triumphant return does mean a lot so we can keep that. Everything else? The Falcons are looking to replicate in Week 2.

The Falcons host the Green Bay Packers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. There's a lot to like about this matchup. It has the makings of a fun one. So, let's talk about it.


Eyes on those dealing with injury

The Falcons left the door open to see the potential return of two could-be starters on Sunday. The Falcons have been without Jeff Okudah and Cordarrelle Patterson since the first couple weeks of training camp, as Okudah has been working through a foot injury and Patterson a thigh injury.

After being a full participant in practice throughout the week, Patterson was not given a game designation on Friday, which means he could play on Sunday. Okudah was listed as questionable. Head coach Arthur Smith said there is a realm where Okudah is active but doesn't start. More will be known about his status as kickoff encroaches.

When asked about a potential return of Patterson, running backs coach Michael Pitre said that the inclusion of Patterson "doesn't alter" what the Falcons do at running back. If anything, Pitre said, it just gives the Falcons another weapon defenses have to account for. This tracks with previous conversations had with both Smith and Patterson in the early days of training camp, when both indicated they wanted to have Patterson's role look more like the multi-positional style from the 2021 season than 2022, when he had to be used as a more traditional running back.

As for the Packers, they had a group of four players listed as questionable for Sunday's game in Atlanta: RB Aaron Jones (hamstring), WR Christian Watson (hamstring), OT David Bakhtiari (knee) and LB Quay Walker (concussion).

Jones' status may mean a lot when thinking about the next section of this article...

Which running back brigade reigns?

Both the Packers and Falcons want to exhaust their opponent with the use of their running backs. Both teams did just that in Week 1.

With the dynamic duo of Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier, the Falcons wore down the Panthers defense last Sunday. Together, Robinson and Allgeier accounted for 80.1-percent of Atlanta's total offense and all three of the Falcons touchdowns in the win.

Though the Packers running back trio of Jones, A.J. Dillon and Patrick Taylor didn't put up that level of a percentage, they still represented a large chunk of the production for the Packers in their own Sunday win vs. the Bears. The Packers running backs made up 56.2 percent of Green Bay's total offensive production. That's not 80.1 percent, but it's more than enough to take notice.

A key to this game will be which defense can withstand the other team's running backs. Even as we continue to monitor Jones' game status, the Falcons defense will be working to improve its run defense on Sunday. They'll have to do so without one of their leading tacklers in inside linebacker Troy Andersen.

Andersen has been working through concussion protocol this week and was ruled out of Sunday's game by Smith. Nate Landman will likely be working alongside Kaden Elliss. Last Sunday, the Panthers averaged 4.8 yards a carry against the Falcons. This defense will want to shrink that number on Sunday. The good news for the Falcons offense, though, is that the Bears ran the ball at a 4.2-yards-per-carry average against the Packers last week. The team that can make the largest adjustment in these rushing numbers may help their chances of coming out of Sunday with a win.

No Love lost in defensive front attack

Jordan Love didn't skip a beat in his first start as Packers QB1 in the organization's post-Aaron Rodgers era. His performance last Sunday was integral to Green Bay starting the 2023 season with a win. Love was 15-of-27 through the air. He threw three touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over.

For the Falcons defense, they want to get after Love in a way that they didn't against Bryce Young, and that means getting after him earlier. The Falcons defense made Young uncomfortable, yes, but some of his most uncomfortable moments came in the second half, especially when Jessie Bates III's turnovers kept turning into touchdowns by the offense as the Atlanta lead grew.

A goal of the Falcons defense should be to make Love as uncomfortable throughout the entire game as they made Young in the final half of Sunday's game.

Can limiting explosive plays carry over for Falcons in Week 2?

A win for this defense in Week 1 was the lack of explosive plays allowed. Young never completed a pass beyond 14 yards on Sunday, a testament to both the sticky coverage of the back end and quarterback pressure at the line of scrimmage.

Even with the Panthers in obvious passing situations late in the game, they couldn't stretch the field the way they wanted to. As was pointed out in this week's Nerdy Birds report, on throws of 10-19 and 20-plus air yards, Young was 1-for-8 for 11 yards.

This is something assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray said this week is always a goal of this Falcons defense.

"One of the things that we try to do is eliminate explosive plays," Grady said. "When you take a look at the NFL, explosive plays tend to end up being losses for you if you give up too many. We're real conscious of that as defensive backs and a defense, and understanding that, 'Hey, look. If you cut down explosive plays and make the team drive the long haul, you've got better chances of making plays.' ... We try to make the team run the long haul. If you try to go 14, 15 plays, you did a good job."

The Packers will want to cash in on big plays on Sunday like they did against Chicago. Love connected on three plays in particular that helped flip the field and get the Packers in good field position: A 51-yard play to Jones, a 37-yarder to Luke Musgrave and 30-yard completion to Jayden Reed.

If the Falcons can limit plays like this and other chunk yards in the run game, too (Atlanta gave up five runs of over 10 yards against the Panthers last week), they could keep themselves in a good spot defensively.

The elephant in the room

There has been no greater chatter in the aftermath of Sunday's win than that of Kyle Pitts and Drake London's targets, or lack thereof. After the game, Smith said the Falcons don't care about fantasy football or specific stats. They care about one, Smith said: Winning. And they did win, even without recording a catch from London.

Asked about London's (and Pitts') targets in his Wednesday press conference, quarterback Desmond Ridder said he understands the frustration.

"I know I would definitely struggle if I played wide receiver out there and it happens like that," Ridder said. "But Drake and I have grown a great relationship (where I can) tell him, 'Hey, we'll find you the ball, the ball is going to get to you. Don't worry about it.' Then, how the culture we've built and created here, like I've said before, it doesn't matter how we win. As long as we get the win, everyone's going to be excited come Monday."

Ridder continued by saying that, where quarterbacks can get into trouble is when they're trying to force the ball to one specific player.

"Trying to create things, make things happen that aren't there," he said.

That, and the Falcons were having consistent success running the ball against Carolina. So, if something's working? Stick with it until it's not. We'll see what's working for the Falcons on Sunday.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put on their red helmets and put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Green Bay Packers, presented by Fast Twitch.

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