Falcons vs. Packers Preview: Five Things to Watch For

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

With the Packers' playoff hopes on life support, the team needs to find a way to get past the underachieving - yet feisty - Atlanta Falcons this Sunday.

In the NFL, we have the ‘Manning Bowl', the ‘Harbaugh Bowl' and now with the Packers facing the Falcons this Sunday at Lambeau, we officially have the ‘Depressing Bowl.' It's been quite the fall from grace for these two franchises over the last few months. Once considered to be among the handful of elite teams in the NFC, injuries have relegated both squads to just shadows of their former selves. Matt Ryan has been without his stud tandem of receivers for most the year while the Packers have seen Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, and pretty much everyone else get injured this year at some point. Of course, the most important of those is Sad Aaron Rodgers, who, probably won't play, but he might, but that all depends. Who the hell knows. But with or without #12, there's still a game to play. So crack open a beer or ten while keeping an eye on these five things:

Scatt Flynzien

Assuming Aaron Rodgers can't go this Sunday, the Packers' slim playoff hopes will rest on the collective shoulders of Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien. Flynn is likely to get the start, but after last week it's safe to assume his leash won't be very long. Flynn was so bad on Thanksgiving that I actually spent more time talking with my family than watching football. Thanks, Matt Flynn. But playing on short rest against a good defense is one thing. The Falcons on the other hand, are an epically bad defense right now - ranking dead last in the league in passer rating allowed, 31st in sacks, 30th in passing TD's surrendered, and 30th in interceptions (tied with the Packers!). If Flynn can't move the ball against this team, Tolzien could be back behind center before this one's over.

Body language

One of the more disappointing things to me about the Packers recent losing streak hasn't just been the final score. It's been how they've looked during it. Against the Lions the Packers looked not just physically beaten - they appeared mentally defeated. We've debated plenty on whether the Packers failures are a result of coaching and while McCarthy and Capers have to shoulder some of the blame, there's only so much they can control. This is one of them. Having your players execute plays and schemes is important, but it's equally as important to play with heart and not look like you're already making plans for Cancun in the off-season. If this team has any pride or fight left in them, we should see them come out guns a-blazing.

Tackling, damnit!

You'd assume that, since you're watching a professional football contest that tackling would be a given. You would be wrong. At least if you've watched the Packers lately. I'm honestly not sure what's happened but this team's missed tackle number is skyrocketing like a pinball score. They're on pace to shatter the Capers-era record and against the Lions alone they missed a total of 13 tackles including a crucial whiff against former Packers goat Jeremy Ross. The Packers need to tackle somebody. Anybody. Hell, tackle a hotdog vendor in the stands just to get a reminder of what it's like. We can talk about schemes and talent and coaching all we like but the simple fact is if the Packers can't tackle, they can't win.

Run defense

This kind of falls in line with tackling but it can't be overstated enough. The run defense, once ranked 3rd in the entire league has plummeted all the way to 26th. Granted, going up against Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson (twice), LeSean McCoy and Reggie Bush is bound to put a dent in your ranking a bit, but still. The front line is just getting whipped on a weekly basis. And now comes Steven Jackson. He's not the runaway Humvee he was once, but now that he's healthy he'll still be a handful. Not only that but the Falcons carry two dangerous scatbacks in Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers. Neither is exactly Darren Sproles, but both possess good speed and can do some damage in open space - something Reggie Bush did with impunity last week. The Packers front line will have to be much more stout in this one if they want to snap their losing streak.

More Sean Richardson

When your team is struggling in nearly every facet of the game and hasn't won in over a month it's hard to find things to get excited about. Sean Richardson might be one of them. He's only played 11 snaps in each of his first two games back since coming off the PUP list, but as Rob Demovsky reported, Richardson could see more action in the coming weeks. For the Packers it makes sense. They obviously like what they've seen in the hard-hitting Richardson in his limited opportunities and, let's be honest, he can't be much worse than M.D. Jennings or the recently-cut Jerron McMillian. But more importantly, they need to see just what they have in Richardson before the draft. They'll likely target the safety position anyway but his play over the next four weeks could impact just how early that pick gets made.

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