If Sunday night football fixes the Falcons again this week, owner Arthur Blank might need to look into petitioning the league to move the rest of his team’s schedule to NBC’s weekly prime time slot.
Three weeks ago, after a poor season opener at Chicago, the Falcons returned to the Georgia Dome and defeated Michael Vick and Philadelphia 35-31. But the feel-good atmosphere was short-lived, as they’ve followed that with a 16-13 loss at Tampa Bay and an unimpressive 30-28 win at Seattle.
That leads to tonight’s game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons’ defense has been shaky all season and was shredded last week by the lightly regarded Tarvaris Jackson (career high 319 yards and three touchdowns).
It’s not as if the Falcons aren’t capable of winning tonight. But they’ll have to get great performances from two of their highest paid and highest-profile acquisitions — end Ray Edwards and cornerback Dunta Robinson — and find a way to put pressure on Rodgers. The Falcons’ are sack-less in the last four games.
We can’t know for certain if the biggest problem has been player performance or scheme, or whether head coach Mike Smith (whose background is in defense) or defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder should be targeted for more blame. But the defense has regressed since a year ago, and it wasn’t even that good then. The Falcons struggled last week against a Seattle team that began the week ranked 31st in offense.
This week they’ll face a Packers offense that is ranked No. 1 in scoring (37 points per week), No. 5 in offense (429 yards per game) and No. 1 in quarterback efficiency (120.8).
Green Bay has won 10 straight games, including playoffs, going back to last season, since Rodgers returned to the lineup from an injury. In those 10 games, Rodgers has 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. In his last 15 starts, he has 37 touchdowns and six interceptions. That’s just sick.
The Falcons need only to look at tape of last year’s 48-21 playoff loss to know what Rodgers is capable of. Rodgers had an almost perfect night. He went 31-for-36 for 366 yards, three no touchdowns and zero interceptions. Green Bay also converted eight-of-12 third-down situations.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan also played a significant role in the loss with three turnovers. The Falcons are going to have a difficult enough time slowing the Packers, so that can’t happen again.
UPDATE (7 p.m.): Defensive end John Abraham, who suffered a hip injury last week in the Seattle game, is inactive for the game. Suffice to day, it’s a huge injury. Kroy Biermann will start at right end. The Falcons will get defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) back after three games but logic dictates he might not be in great game shape. Also, as expected, center Todd McClure (knee) is out and will, be replaced by Joe Hawley.
That’s it for now. What’s your confidence level for this game?
By Jeff Schultz
Some pregame photos, from our Curtis Compton: