The “Debacle in the Dome” shook most fans to their core and its one of those type of losses that’s so bad, that it takes a long time to get rid of in many fans minds and hearts. Some think that it may have even ripped off a mask of this team, specifically the coaching staff, that has shown it to not be truly considered in the conversation of elite. The Falcons need this win against the Super Bowl defending Champion Green Bay Packers in so many ways.
Most of which is to remind a nervous fan base that this team can still compete at the highest levels with goals of titles in their minds. It all was going along magnificent with the Falcons getting the #1 Seed in the NFC, home-field advantage, and looking invincible at home. Then the nightmare just kept getting worse and worse and ended with one of the worst playoff blowouts (at home) in NFL history.
Not many can get too upset if you lose to the defending Super Bowl Champs, especially the way that the Packers and, specifically, Aaron Rodgers are playing since going on their unbelievable run through the Georgia Dome and on to grab the Lombardi Trophy. That’s assuming that your team takes care of their business elsewhere. That has not happened in 2011.
After adding firepower on both sides of the ball and rounding out one of the deepest rosters in franchise history to an already 13-3 team, the sky was the limit. The Falcons didn’t win a preseason game, were embarrassed in Chicago (where they couldn’t muster one offensive TD), scraped by the Eagles where they almost let a 3rd string QB beat them at the end (and who are now 1-3 themselves), lost to the youngest team in the NFL and a division rival in Tampa Bay in one of the sloppiest games in memory, and all but let one of the weakest teams in the NFL in pure rebuilding mode beat them in Seattle.
Forget the past, this game is about the future and whether this coaching staff are the right men to carry this team to competing on the highest level. If the Falcons can win this one, than they restore some much needed confidence about the direction of this team. But if they lose, this will just continue to pile on the angst of an already ill fan base concerning the coaching staff.
If the Falcons win, than everything is right back in front of them. But if they lose, that would drop them to 1-5 against elite teams or heavy contending teams in recent history (beat the Eagles; lost to Saints after Christmas, lost to Packers in playoffs, lost to Bears, lost to Bucs, and another loss to the Packers) and basically make them indefensible on being considered a legit threat to any titles going forward. This one’s big for many reasons.
((Editor’s Note: This blog posting will take on a little different format than usual. Andy Tisdale of the Oak Creek Patch blog in Wisconsin, an excellent writer and Packers fan, contacted The Bird Cage and wanted to swap questions in an effort to inform each other’s readers on their opponent’s team and fan bases. Andy sent several questions to The Bird Cage and we sent several questions back to him. This was a very neat experience and can provide some extremely informative viewpoints on what the Packers and their fans went through not long ago themselves. First questions are from Andy to The Bird Cage. Second set are from The Bird Cage to Andy and Packer fans. Hope you enjoy………..
At the time, it was a major shock for all our fans. We started hearing rumors the day before that Thomas Dimitroff was going to try to vault all the way up the charts to get either AJ Green or Julio Jones. The vast majority of us outright dismissed it as a ridiculous rumor. We were all completely surprised when they called our name to grab Jones. You will be hard-pressed to find any Atlanta fans who aren’t ecstatic to have Jones as a Falcon. The player himself was never questioned, because most of us also follow college football, specifically the SEC, and anyone who had seen him play knew he was the real deal and would flourish anywhere he went.
That being said, there still are some among us who wonder if the price wasn’t too steep. We gave up a 2nd and 4th this year, and a 1st and 4th next year. Most weren’t worried at all about the 4th rounders because we feel that this is one of the more talented rosters the Falcons have had in their short franchise history. Some were able to be OK with the 2nd rounder, but the big one that hurts the most is giving up the 1st rounder next year. Even though most feel this roster is pretty deep, we’re starting to see major issues on the offensive line and our secondary has leaked like a sieve seemingly forever.
A common theme you will see in these answers is regarding our coaching staff because dissatisfaction is at an all-time high with them and this one is no different. Many of us believe that our coaching staff is holding us back and are either incapable or unable of making needed adjustments to move us into a legit Super Bowl contender. After the “Debacle in the Dome,” as many of us in The Bird Cage call it (one of the worst blowouts at home in playoff history by none other than your Packers), we expected to see some changes in philosophy on both sides of the ball, specifically the offense where we just couldn’t keep up with high-octane and aggressive teams with our hyper-conservative, run-first, ball-control offense. They said all the right things about becoming explosive in the off-season and the Julio Jones trade seemed to indicate that. Than we are treated to the same-old, same-old this year and now we sit at a very shaky 2-2, which could easily be 0-4.
Some think that our GM, Thomas Dimitroff, is trying to take us the way of the Patriots, Packers, and Saints in their pass-heavy, aggressive offense philosophy, while Coach Smith seems to be stuck in the old-school, run-heavy, conservative play-calling. The best way to summarize it is to ask why we would trade 4 draft picks to get a receiver to be a #2 option in a run-heavy, hyper-conservative offense? Drafting Torrey Smith or Leonard Hankerson, or even keeping Michael Jenkins, could have accomplished that without giving up so much.
To be honest, most of our fans seem to be having a serious crisis in confidence in our coaching staff and their ability to truly maximize the talent on this team. While he may have missed on some picks, by and large Thomas Dimitroff has done an amazing job reshaping this team in such a short time after the Michael Vick nightmare destroyed our team, roster, and franchise in so many ways. We felt that our team was legitimate contenders to make a serious run at the Super Bowl both last year as we entered the playoffs and this off-season. But the magnitude of the blowout given by your Packers shook most of us to our core and many of us just have the feeling that a mask has been ripped off on this coaching staff and it appears that we’ve just never been the same since, including preseason and the start of this season.
Using that as an introduction and the way our team has played and looked this year, it’s hard for us to look at any opponent remaining on our schedule and truly pencil that in as a sure win. That is honestly not a joke. The way we played so poorly against Chicago and losing to Tampa Bay with one of the youngest rosters chock full of rookies and 2nd year players starting has decimated confidence in our coaching staff, not necessarily the players. Add that on to barely escaping a loss against one of the lesser teams in the NFL in Seattle, who are in a pure rebuild mode, and it’s easy to see why so few fans are optimistic about the rest of the season.
If our defense made Tavaris Jackson look like a Hall of Famer, throwing for 300+ yards, we shudder to think what Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton will do to us. There is a true feeling, even if not on the surface, that we can drop any game this year, and that absolutely includes Carolina and Detroit. We’ll know everything we need to know about this year’s team after the next three weeks.
Although there are some who still think we should continue our run-heavy, hyper-conservative, ball-control offense, most fans want to see the offense open up and become much more aggressive in terms of letting Matt Ryan run the show. Most of the fan base seems to still on board with Head Coach Mike Smith getting plenty of time to correct his mistakes for what he’s done in such a short period of time. He has been the only coach to lead the Falcons to back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history (that should tell you something about our history in and of itself). However, the same can’t be said of either coordinators, Mike Mularkey on offense and Brian Van Gorder on defense.
Smith and Mularkey are obsessed with running the football and establishing the run, even when it’s obviously not working (as has been the case a lot recently). When Michael Turner is running well and the team as a whole can establish the run, the team operates pretty well on offense with the play-action passing game. That was fine, well, and good in the beginning before teams started figuring us out. Now the secret is out that all you have to do is stop the run and our offensive cannot or will not adjust. The big joke among many of our family members (our term for our blog posters) is that Mularkey can’t run a screen pass to save his life and that he has a total of about 4 wide receiver routes that he runs: curl, out, go route, and a wide receiver screen (that rarely works).
Many are envious of the creative passing games that have become extremely popular in places like New Orleans, New England, and your own Green Bay. There have been many opposing players that have come on record after beating us and saying that “their offense didn’t do anything that we weren’t expecting,” and therein lies the major issue. We feel that we have one of the best offensive arsenals in the NFL with Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Harry Douglas, Jacquizz Rodgers, Kerry Meier, and Eric Weems, only to see Mularkey run Michael Turner on two straight 1 yard gains directly into the middle of the line.
A great description of our last game is that we finally see Julio Jones catch a nice drag route where he goes for like 29 yards, only to never see it the rest of the game. Barring an unforeseen and major turnaround, most fans feel that this will be the last year of the Mike Mularkey Era in Atlanta.
Fans from our blog surely can’t speak for all fans, but we really don’t see this game as any sort of revenge and it didn’t seem to create any bad blood for the Packers and their fans. If anything, we were jealous that a team could look that good embarrassing a #1 seed on their own turn all the way to the Lombardi Trophy. For most fans perspective, it seemed to be more anger towards our team, specifically our coaching staff, than anything else. There’s no reason to be angry or feel like this is game that will “make everything alright” because you’re the ones with the Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl rings.
That being said, a win against the Packers would really do wonders for a fan base that has been shaken to their core since the last time the Packers entered the Dome. Anything else will just be piling angst on an already deteriorating coaching staff. A loss here will all but tell us that we’re not even close to being elite, because that would make us 0 – 5 in our most recent games against elite or at least major contending teams (New Orleans, Green Bay, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and another Green Bay loss).
5) The Falcons tried everything to stop Aaron Rodgers in January. Nothing worked. What might they try this time, and will ex-Viking Ray Edwards be a major part of whatever they do try?
Try to not have him score 8 TDs and throw for 700 yards? In all seriousness, Rodgers is the best player going of any in the NFL right now and I’m sure our predictable, swiss cheese, jumbo jet (the size of the holes in our “zone”) defense will try to limit Rodgers big plays and make him earn it, which he has proven he can do. Once again, this goes back to coaching as well. Fans feel like this is one of the best and most athletic defenses in franchise history.
Dimitroff has drafted well and we have developed players pretty good also. Major angst is levied at both coordinators these days and it just depends who gets more from week to week. Right now, it appears that Brian Van Gorder is more disliked this week. We literally can make any quarterback look like a future Hall of Famer. One of the points from the last post was titled “A Quarterback’s Dream,” and it basically says how, regardless of experience or talent, this Falcons defense will make you look fantastic.
Elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have proven to shred this defense, but it goes much deeper than that. We can make a mid-range QB, rookies, and even former backups look like Pro Bowlers. The zone is a ridiculously soft gameplan that many high school defenses would be ashamed of. Van Gorder puts our corners 8 -10 yards off of every receiver and there are literally enormous holes anytime a receiver catches a ball. Always only rush 4 linemen (and many times only 3) with limited success and never employ any type of exotic blitz scheme or aggressive play-calling whatsoever.
The defense seems to boil down to a “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy that is getting decimated on a weekly basis. In terms of Ray Edwards, we all hailed the pick, especially for the price we got him for ($6 million a year compared to $12 million a year for Charles Johnson). Some are upset that he hasn’t done more so far, but the vast majority lay the blame at the feet of the defensive coaches. Speaking on schemes, Van Gorder actually came out and said that he “liked the way our defense played” against the Packers in the playoffs, just that “we didn’t tackle well.” Yes, he actually said that.
6) After four games, what conclusions can you draw about the 2011 Falcons?
First of all, we didn’t win one preseason game and looked pretty awful doing it. We tried to rationalize that away as only being “preseason.” Many of us thought that we would get a tough game in Chicago on opening day, but the way we came out and played so poorly in all aspects of the game was tough to stomach. We made Jay Cutler look like Joe Montana, Roy Williams like Jerry Rice, and our much ballyhooed “explosive” offense couldn’t even muster an offensive touchdown.
We were able to bounce back against the Eagles in a monumental win for this franchises psyche by beating Michael Vick in the Georgia Dome and finally put that saga to rest, a least a little bit. In that game, Vick was taken out of the game and we still tried to allow a 3rd string QB beat us at the end. We turn around and lose to the youngest team in the NFL with rookies and 2nd year players up and down the roster. Not taking anything away from Tampa Bay because they are extremely talented, but we feel that we should have won that game, for no other reason that we are farther along in the process than them. Losing to them absolutely let them in the door as a legit threat to the NFC South crown.
We play lights out against a weak Seattle team in the first half, only to let them come storming back and nearly beat us in the 2nd half. A few different decisions by Pete Carroll and we easily lose that game. Frankly, if only for a few plays we easily could be 0-4 right now. As mentioned earlier, this team (specifically the coaches) seemed to have never recovered from that embarrassing night in January on our own home turf.
Some feel that you all ripped the mask off of this coaching staff who have been squeaking by and flying under the radar in 2010. We’ll know a lot more about this team the next three weeks. We can obviously stomach a loss to the Packers, who are the defending Super Bowl Champions and one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but absolutely cannot lose to Carolina, Detroit or Indianapolis.
If we make it to 5-3 at the midpoint of the schedule with the harder part coming in the first half, many of us will breathe a little easier and still have hope. But if we hit 4-4 or 3-5 while losing to the teams other than Green Bay, you’ll have a hard time seeing many fans with a ton of hope. Frankly, if we lose to Carolina with rookie Cam Newton starting at QB at home, it’s hard to defend how we are even close to competing for any titles this year.
7) Is this the Falcons’ chance to make a “statement” win and get their season back on track?
As mentioned earlier, this is a really big chance for the coaching staff to prove they still have what it takes to compete on the highest level. Most of us wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a statement game, per se, but it would do wonders for a very nervous and shaky fan base concerning this coaching staff. Most fans believed that we would likely lose the Packers game if for no other reason than the nightmare from January and they were OK with that.
However, they surely didn’t think that they would have lost to both Chicago and Tampa Bay playing the way they did. A win here got much, much bigger when the Falcons lost to both the Bears and Bucs, and nearly losing to the Eagles and Seahawks. In conclusion, Falcons fans need a reason to believe this team is capable of competing at the highest levels again.
1) One of the reasons for success seemed to come with the hiring of Dom Capers as the Defensive Coordinator. Was there ever any main concerns with fans about the direction of the coaching staff, specifically if Mike McCarthy was the right coach?
Oh, absolutely. First of all, there was massive discontent when the Packers chose McCarthy. He wasn’t a big name; he was an unknown San Francisco offensive coordinator who was coming from a lousy offense. Packers fans wanted to go out and get a big-name coach or former coordinator and McCarthy definitely wasn’t that. He’s also not very forthcoming with the media or with fans, which rubbed some fans the wrong way. There was the Brett Favre unretirement cluster bomb in the summer of 2008, during which a substantial portion of the fan base (not including myself) wanted his and GM Ted Thompson’s heads for sticking with Aaron Rodgers.
Just last year, after the first six games when the Packers were 3-3 and then late in the year when they were 8-6, there was just an outpouring of calls for Jon Gruden to come in and coach. Because the Packers’ season started with Super Bowl expectations and the Packers had such a talented team, the thinking was that McCarthy was just not getting the most out of his squad and somebody else should come in and lead us to a title. Well, the Packers went on a six-game winning streak and the rest is history, and now there’s not a fan in Wisconsin that complains about Thompson or McCarthy. But yes, there has definitely been plenty of controversy around McCarthy at various points in his tenure.
2) Right now in Atlanta, there seems to be a struggle on what offensive direction the team should take. Before the recent major success, did fans ever worry or complain about McCarthy’s heavy passing attack philosophy?
I don’t think so, because y’know, it’s worked well. Speaking for myself, I’m a bit of a old-school football purist, and I like to see a team that can run the ball and stop the run first and foremost. The 2010 Packers had a lot of trouble with both, but they also won 14 games, so I wasn’t too fussed. McCarthy’s scheme mixes in a lot of short passes and screens that essentially replace the run, and while I’d like to see us be a bit more balanced on principle, I don’t think it hurts the offense much if at all. There have been times when McCarthy’s gotten plenty of flack for a missing, lousy or un-creative running game—in the regular-season game at Atlanta, he called back-to-back fullback dives and two QB draws on different drives, for example—but I don’t think there’s been much sustained discontent among the fan base. If the scheme wasn’t working, you’d hear people talking, but my gosh has it worked in the past.
3) What was one of the biggest changes that McCarthy and other coaches made to reach and win the Super Bowl?
I’ll give you two, because there’s two huge ones I can think of. The first one was Dom Capers’ decision to play his nickel defense about 75% of the time last year (which has continued into this year). That was a big change from ’09 and it really helped the Packers limit opposing passers. If you can rush the QB and contain the run with two defensive linemen and always have an extra defensive back, that’s a really big advantage. It also enabled Charles Woodson to play mostly in the slot and operate as a cornerback/safety hybrid, where he was extremely effective. That worked because Sam Shields and Tramon Williams were solid all year on the outside; this year Williams has been injured and Shields’ coverage is much worse, which is a big reason why you see the Packers hemorrhaging yards.
The second one was the loss of TE Jermichael Finley. The coaching staff basically built the offense around him in the 2010 offseason, and you could see Rodgers preferred to go to him in the first four games. Then he blew out a knee in Week Five and went out for the year. Boom, your entire offense has to be adjusted because now you’re playing a rookie fifth-rounder at TE and he’s nowhere near the receiver Finley was. Greg Jennings became the featured receiver and had a dominant year. A lot of that is obviously Rodgers and Jennings’ individual skills, but it was also McCarthy and OC Joe Philbin making the adjustments to help Jennings make plays.
4) The “Debacle in the Dome” as many of us call it here in Atlanta seems to have been a turning point for both franchises with you all winning the Lombardi and us devolving into a downward spiral. How big of a win was that for the Packers and their fans?
That was the game where I think the team shifted in the eyes of Packers fans, from “Good, but not great” to “Holy crap, these guys could be Super Bowl champions”. I mean, at that point we’d beaten the Giants, we’d stifled the Bears and survived Michael Vick and the Eagles. Rodgers was looking very good and the defense was too, but nobody expected what happened in Atlanta. The Falcons were the No. 1 seed, we heard all week how they were invincible at home and how the Packers had lost to them in November, and everyone was kinda full of trepidation. Then, boom. Rodgers puts on a dazzling performance and suddenly we’re in the NFC Championship game. That was enormous for Packer fans, and I’m sure for the Packers as well.
5) The Packers lost a few games before getting on a scorching hot streak all the way to the Super Bowl title. How much do fans believe that winning the Lombardi was a product of how well they were playing? What helped the Pack get on that streak?
I think it was a combination of Aaron Rodgers’ return after a game and a half’s absence, good coaching by McCarthy and the realization that the Packers’ backs were absolutely against the wall. We were in a scenario where if we won the final two games, we’d make the playoffs, that’s it. As the pundits say, we controlled our own playoff destiny. That realization was part of it. Desmond Bishop said after the regular-season finale that the Packers’ mindset was on a six-game winning streak. The team never seemed to doubt that the Super Bowl was within their reach. I’m not sure if that completely answers the question, but those are the reasons I can think of.
6) Green Bay is a model for drafting and developing great players. Who has had more of an impact on the Packers success: Aaron Rodgers or Clay Matthews? Have there been any head-scratchers in recent drafts?
Hard to say. You can point to either player and say “Without them, we don’t win the Super Bowl. Simple as that”. Each is tremendously important to the Packer offense/defense. If pressed, I would say Rodgers.
As far as head-scratchers, not really. The last really big “Huh?” player was Justin Harrell, our first-round pick in 2007 and probably Thompson’s biggest bust. He was somebody that Packers fans hated literally from the minute he was drafted (fans in the Lambeau Field Atrium during the draft infamously booed the pick when it came over the loudspeakers). Harrell was constantly injured, and when he could get on the field, he was ineffective. Beginning with the 2008 draft that netted Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley in the first two rounds, though, Thompson has been on a ridiculous roll for the last few years. Almost all of his high picks have contributed or are starting.
7) Even though it is such a difficult task, are the Packers fans “expecting” to repeat as Super Bowl Champions this year?
Not really. I’ve heard this question a lot, and I really think we’re not. A lot of Packers fans still remember 1996-1997, where Brett Favre and the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI but lost to the Broncos in XXXII. The fans understand that it’s incredibly difficult. Plus, it’s really early in the season for talk of a repeat. If we’re, say, 10-3 in Week 14, then you’ll hear a lot of repeat blather. Right now, though, all we’re expecting is to be in playoff contention.
8.) Now that the Falcons are on a major slide, what teams do Packers fans fear the most in the NFC? Do Packer fans feel that the Lions are a legitimate threat to the NFC North crown?
Preseason, I think the teams Packers were looking at as our major competition were the Saints and the Eagles. We beat the Saints, if only just, and the Eagles spent the first quarter of the season self-destructing. At this point, fans are naturally focused on the other undefeated team in the league and in our division, namely, Detroit. Because Packers fans have watched the Lions be so terrible for so many years, I think there’s a definite sense that the world is upside down and it’ll right itself eventually in the form of some Lions losses. Having said that, I shudder to think what Matthew Stafford (we can’t get to the quarterback) and Calvin Johnson (we can’t cover so far this year) could do to our defense. I still think the Packers will win the division, but it’ll be closer than anybody thought it might be
10) Prediction of Final Score
I’ll say Packers over Atlanta, 31-24. Aaron Rodgers is coming off a stupendous game against Denver and I don’t see him or the Packers offense slowing down anytime soon. Having said that, the defense has figuratively lived and died by the big play this year. We’re 31st in passing yardage given up, but we’re only 18th in points given up, because we’ve forced 11 turnovers in four games. Sooner or later, that’s going to catch up with us, and it could easily be against Atlanta. If Atlanta plays it safe and doesn’t turn the ball over, this could easily be a Falcons victory.