The Green Bay Packers travel to Atlanta Sunday for a key NFC showdown with the Falcons, who boast the NFL’s top scoring team and passing offense.
Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones headline an offense that averages 32 points and 440-plus yards passing per game and will challenge the Packers injury-depleted secondary.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense struggles to find its identity with running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks sidelined.
In a choppy 26-10 victory over the Chicago Bears on Oct. 20 at Lambeau Field, head coach Mike McCarthy was forced to employ receivers Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb in the backfield.
Rodgers threw a record 56 passes—many short underneath routs—and completed a team-record 39 passes for 326 yards and three second-half touchdowns. He may have to put up similar numbers again to keep pace with Atlanta, but the running game should have more balance with Knile Davis in the backfield.
“This is how we’re going to have to play until we get Don (Jackson) and Knile up to speed,” said Rodgers, who completed 10 or more passes each to Davante Adams, Cobb, and Montgomery.
Davis, acquired by GM Ted Thompson in a trade with Kansas City, did not play against Chicago as he had just one Packers practice under his belt. He has crammed to absorb the complex Green Bay offensive playbook during the team’s mini-bye.
Davis and his speed in the backfield could be a significant difference maker in this game, helping keep the Falcons defense honest with a running threat and providing play-action opportunities for Rodgers.
Mike Ditka, former network analyst and Bears head coach, said balance is a key in the high-scoring contest.
“It’s simple, some of the pressure has to be taken off Aaron,” Ditka said Friday night from his restaurant in Chicago before the World Series Game 3. “His receivers have to get open, his backs have to get some yards, his line has to block better. He needs time to execute to keep up with Atlanta and Julio Jones—who’s the best in the league and a big target.”
Jackson suffered a hand injury against Chicago and should see limited action Sunday.
“You do what you have to do, you play how you have to play,” McCarthy said. “We have the ability to run it as much as we need to, the ability to throw it as much as we need to.”
The Packers-Falcons contest will be televised at 3:25 p.m. Sunday exclusively on FOX 25/48 in Western Wisconsin. The Washington-Cincinnati game in London kicks off at 8:30 a.m. and the Detroit-Houston contest starts at 12 noon. Game 5 of the World Series in Chicago starts at 7 p.m.
Ditka said the entire city has Cubs fever. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere and I hope the Cubs win the next three here at home. Chicago will go crazy.”
Green Bay, 4-2, is one game behind the 5-1 Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North Division. The Vikings face the Bears in Chicago on Monday night, when Jay Cutler returns as the team’s starting quarterback.
Atlanta, 4-3, leads the NFC South by one game over 3-3 Tampa Bay. The Falcons have lost two straight games, including a 33-30 overtime shocker at home to San Diego last Sunday.
Week 8 NFL Picks
Julio Jones must be licking his chops as Matt Ryan and NFL’s most potent offense (433 yards, 32.7 points per game) faces Green Bay secondary. Can Aaron Rodgers and Packers offense keep pace? Newcomer Kniles Davis could play a key role in the outcome of this contest.