ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 28: Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons is sacked Frank Zombo #58 of the Green Bay Packers at Georgia Dome on November 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Green Bay Packers defense looked bad in a couple ways. First, QB Matt Ryan completed 86% of his attempts, and RB Michael Turner ran for 4.8 ypc. Second, the defense failed to provide a single turnover to give the offense some good field position.
But now look at it in this light. The Falcons have one of the best offenses in the NFL, and they are much better at home. The Packers took WR Roddy White out of the game. While 5 receptions for 49 yards is good, White is the best receiver in the NFC. The defense was willing to let them run (though they had hoped for better results), and let them attempt short passes.
They gave them nothing downfield, and the Falcons ended up with an unspectacular 294 yards on 57 offensive plays. To their credit, they took what they were given and turned it into four scoring drives. But the defense made them work for it, and waited for a turnover mistake (which, unfortunately, never came). It was a solid strategy, and it almost was good enough to win.
A quick note on special teams: the coverage and return games were awful. There's no excuse for it. They kept the offense in bad field position, and blew it on the final kick return that set the Falcons up at mid-field. However, P Tim Masthay has been much better over the past few weeks, and he's raised his net average from around 33 to 36.9 (which is almost the same as P Jon Ryan). Something to build on as Masthay's become a decent NFL punter.
On 3rd down, Ryan rolls to his left and forces LB Brandon Chillar to choose between pursuing Ryan or covering RB Jason Snelling. Chillar gets caught in no man's land, but it was a great play by Ryan to complete that pass on the run. The Falcons are on the field for a long time, but it takes a lot of plays, and eventually they have to settle for 3 points when the drive stalls after a personal foul. While RT Tyson Clabo had a fantastic game containing LB Clay Matthews, on the other side, LT Sam Baker couldn't do anything against LB Frank Zombo on his sack of Ryan to end their second drive. Unfortunately, Zombo didn't record another sack in the game.
The second quarter starts with another three-and-out. The defense gave up three 10+ play scoring drives in the game, but they stuffed them on their other five drives. There wasn't a lot of push on running plays, or designed run blitzes. It's almost like they're willing to give up at least three ypc, and take their chances on 3rd down. It works pretty good except Mike McCarthy didn't challenge the 4th down non-reception by TE Tony Gonzalez. That gave them another opportunity and it was the difference between points and no-points. Even if he can't see it, he's got to be more aggressive on challenges in those situations. If the ruling stands, it only the cost them a first half time out and their first challenge. Letting them keep the ball cost them the time remaining in the half, and a touchdown five plays later.
After a three-and-out to start the third quarter, the Falcons use up most of the clock on a 7+ minute drive to end it. The tackling wasn't awful, but it was probably their worst tackling performance of the season. On a 3rd and 9, Ryan completes another little dump off to Snelling that goes for 10 yards in the face of at least three defenders. Then Ryan spreads the ball around a little, and their running game gets them down to the 1 yard line.
The fourth quarter starts with a 1 yard TD run for Turner. That really sucked for the Packers defense. The Falcons are stuffed at the 1 yard line on three consecutive plays, but finally punch it through on the fourth one when LB A.J. Hawk goes too far inside with nobody to his outside. On a running play, the outside linebacker to that side (it appeared to be Hawk since there were extra defensive lineman in on the play) has to force the running back inside. On the next Falcons possession, the defense forces a huge three-and-out that gives the offense plenty of time for the game-tying touchdown drive. Unfortunately they gave up the final game-tying field goal drive, but the bad special teams coverage set the Falcons up at mid-field where they only had to go 20 yards with plenty of time and time-outs remaining.
LB Frank Zombo. I didn't nominate him for the player of the game, but I should have. His sack ended one drive, and he was in on a forced fumble (Falcons recovered) that ended another drive. Two of the biggest defensive plays of the game.
CB Charles Woodson and CB Tramon Williams. It was hard to see who was covering White because the cameras were looking away as the Falcons were forced to ignore him for most of the first half. The coverage duties seemed to fall mostly to Woodson, but it's certainly fair to give Williams some credit too.