On Sunday, the Packers meet another injury-decimated team, the 3-9 Atlanta Falcons. David Choate of the Falcoholic was kind enough to answer some questions about the Falcons and provide some insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: This offseason, the Falcons and Packers were among the teams bidding for the services of veteran running back Steven Jackson, who ultimately landed in Atlanta. Now, 14 weeks into the regular season, do you think the Falcons made the right choice to sign him?
I don't think they made the right choice, less because of who Jackson is than the process that led them to make the signing.
The Falcons jettisoned Michael Turner because he was 30 year old power back with a lot of miles on him. They picked up Steven Jackson because he was more versatile and had the better year in 2012...but he was also a 30 year old power back. The Falcons just didn't need to be spending $3-4 million on an RB, and with the injuries and the poor blocking in front of him, Jackson hasn't been close to worth it.
Maybe that changes next year, when Jackson is healthy, the line will hopefully be improved and the team is back to full strength. I still think the logic was flawed.
APC: After a career year in 2012, quarterback Matt Ryan hasn't experienced the same level of success this season. How much of that is due to injuries (Julio Jones, Steven Jackson), and how much is due to Ryan himself?
Most of it is due to injuries and the line in front of him. He's lost Julio Jones, he's been working with a limited Roddy White and Steven Jackson, left tackle Sam Baker has been either ineffective or hurt and Tony Gonzalez is regularly double-teamed. He's also being sacked at a career-high rate. There are very few quarterbacks who wouldn't see a dip in their numbers, given those circumstances.
He's not blameless. He's making some poor throws, his timing's a bit off and his decision-making has taken a turn for the worse for long stretches. I'm still more inclined to blame what's happening around him.
APC: Atlanta has struggled defensively this year, currently allowing the fourth most points per game. That's a steep decline from a season earlier when they finished in the top five in the same category. What factors do you attribute to this change?
Partly injuries, partly the Falcons being a bit of a paper tiger on defense last year. The 2012 team was heavily reliant on turnovers and a shifting defensive front to mask what they were doing. That uncertainty led to picks and masked some real weaknesses, namely that they weren't exactly stocked with elite pass rushers.
The wheels came off in part because Mike Nolan lost Kroy Biermann for the year. Biermann isn't an elite player, but he's extremely versatile, and he was forever moving around to help create that uncertainty. The Falcons lost him, lost Sean Weatherspoon for a long time and were forced to turn to rookies and young players to replace them. They haven't been able to approximate what Biermann in particular could do, and that's led to a less creative front.
Mix that in with some mediocre safety play, blown tackles and the complete lack of a pass rush and you have a recipe for lousy D.
APC: If you were game planning against the Falcons, how would you attack them on offense? How about on defense?
I'd go right after Matt Ryan. The ground game can be a problem, but it's not a killer if you're able to at least keep an eye on it. What you want to do is hit Ryan all game, never let him get comfortable and take away Roddy White and/or Tony Gonzalez to the greatest extent possible. Force him to throw to his lesser lights and get in the backfield.
On the defensive side of the ball, an effective ground game can open things up for you. For a solid month-and-a-half, at least, the Falcons have been totally unable to contain opposing running backs. Run the ball, throw short passes and screens as much as possible and try to get your guys into space to make plays. Go right at the safeties.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Who wins this Sunday and why?
I've got the Packers winning 27-21. I think the Falcons just don't have a lot of wins left in them, and the Packers are due for a better game.
We'd like to thank David and the Falcoholic for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Falcons. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for our comprehensive game day coverage of Falcons vs. Packers.
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