With the Green Bay Packers' win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons' divisional round opponent in the playoffs was determined. It will be a rematch of the 20-17 Week 11 Falcons victory. A patented Matt Ryan final-minute drive was needed to position Matt Bryant for the winning field goal in the final moments. Green Bay returns to the Georgia Dome once again, this time with much more on the line. AtlantaFalcons.com contributor Daniel Cox provides a scouting report for the returning Packers.
While the Falcons are just beginning to write history for their franchise, the Packers have been at it for decades. Green Bay's 12 NFL championships is the most in league history. The Packers are tied for third in NFL history with 26 postseason victories. Their .619 postseason winning percentage is also third best. The team from the league's smallest market has made it to the playoffs in 13 of the past 18 seasons.
Against the Falcons in Week 11, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had his third highest completion percentage game, connecting on 26-of-35 passes for 74.3 percent. His 114.5 QB rating was his personal sixth highest of the season. His 101.2 rating for the season led the NFC. He's the first Packers quarterback with consecutive seasons with a 100-plus rating. Rodgers' 3,922 passing yards this season brought his career total as a starter to 12,394, the second most yards in the first three years as a starter in league history. Last year in his postseason debut Rodgers passes for 423 yards, a franchise postseason record and second most ever by a QB in first postseason start in the NFL.
A New Look
The Packers that are returning to the Georgia Dome are vastly different from the 2009 playoff edition. They feature 10 different starters, but the biggest difference between that team, the team that came to Atlanta earlier this season and the team coming in off a wild-card win is the running game. Against the Eagles, the Packers rushed for 138 yards, a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. Rookie James Starks had a career day, contributing 123 yards on 23 carries. The sixth-round pick from Buffalo only saw action in three games this season, accumulating 101 yards. The Eagles were ranked 15th in the league defending the run, allowing 110.4 yards-per-game. The Falcons may fare better as the 10th-ranked defense, allowing 105.9 yards on the ground.
What makes the Packers so dangerous is the potential of a running game to balance a highly potent passing attack. Green Bay had three receivers this season with 50-or-more catches for the first time in franchise history. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones are those receivers. In Week 11 three receivers had five catches, Jennings, Jones and Jordy Nelson. Jennings had 119 yards and his 12 receiving touchdowns tied for the NFC lead this season. He had eight catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in the Packers' playoff loss last season. Entering Sunday's playoff game against the Eagles, Jennings had three touchdowns in three playoff games. Philadelphia limited him to one catch for 8 yards. Driver led the team Sunday with five catches for 56 yards. Jones added a touchdown, versatile running back Brandon Jackson added one and rookie tight end Tom Crabtree chipped in one as well.
Simply put, Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews has been a force during his two seasons in the NFL. His 13.5 sacks was second in the NFC and he's the first Packer to start his career with consecutive 10-sack seasons. The Falcons held Matthews sack-less in the Week 11 matchup, holding him to four tackles and no further damage. Against the Eagles he had three tackles and one sack and now has a sack in two consecutive games.
The Beast Master
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' defense has unleashed its pressurized blitzes on opponents this season and the results have been tremendous. The Packers' 47 sacks were tied for second in the NFL this season. Racking up the sacks is part of the plan for the Packers defense and it begins with Matthews, but doesn't end with him. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins had seven sacks this season and defensive tackle B.J. Raji added 6.5. The most complicated thing about Capers' defense is the frequency of the blitz. This season he's has 28 sacks from 12 different defenders. Against the Eagles they managed two sacks of the mobile quarterback Michael Vick. What makes Capers' scheme so complex is not just the frequency, but the numbers he sends to the quarterback and when he does it. Much of the Packers' blitzing success this season has come on earlier downs this year, according to NFL.com's Pat Kirwin. Kirwin tracked 44 percent of Green Bay's blitzes on first down and 40 percent on second down. The number dropped to 33 percent on third down, yet the defense is still good enough to stop offenses on third down. The Packers limited the Eagles to 38 percent on third down in Sunday's win.