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Packers-Falcons Q&A: Green Bay should attack Atlanta's defense down the middle

Dave Choate of SB Nation's Atlanta Falcons blog The Falcoholic answers our questions about Matt Ryan's career renaissance, Atlanta's defense, and what he expects from Packers vs. Falcons.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers take on the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons. Dave Choate of The Falcoholic was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Falcons and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

APC: After a season where Matt Ryan appeared to struggle with turnovers and efficiency, he finds himself in the midst of the MVP race. What changed for him, and how much credit does offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan deserve?

For Ryan, it seems to be a question of comfort in the scheme and supporting cast more than anything. With Tevin Coleman emerging as a dynamic receiver, Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, and Taylor Gabriel added as pass catching weapons, and an upgraded offensive line with Alex Mack at center, Ryan’s suddenly got better players around him, and his play has gotten accordingly better. He’s always had the talent to be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, but like most NFL QBs, his play waxes and wanes based on who he has around him.

So yes, Kyle Shanahan does deserve considerable credit for putting together a scheme Ryan and others can thrive in, but Ryan’s making it work with his talent and wits.

APC: The Falcons finished near the bottom of the league in pressures and sacks last season. Has the defense improved in that department, or does the pass rush remain a problem?

The defense still has major problems—they can’t cover the middle of the field, they shoot themselves in the foot with missed tackles and penalties, and they still need to infuse more talent—but they’re better than they were a year ago. Part of that is the pass rush, which suddenly looks semi-capable.

Vic Beasley is hot and cold, but his speed and improving physicality have made him a tough dude to deal with off the edge. Dwight Freeney is still tough, Grady Jarrett is causing problems in the middle of the line, and the Falcons have mixed things up and sent Desmond Trufant and other members of the secondary after the quarterback, with some success. It’s not a great pass rush, and it’s not going to make Aaron Rodgers miserable Sunday, but at least it’s there for a change.

APC: Why don't the Falcons wear last week's throwbacks every game?

That’s what I’d like to know. I grew up with the old black jerseys and old Falcons logo, and I wish they’d come back permanently. Maybe there’s a small chance of it happening with the new stadium next year.

APC: If you were game planning against the Falcons, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?

As the Packers offense, you have to attack the middle of the field. Any time you can get a receiver, tight end, or even running back on a linebacker or safety Ricardo Allen, you have to take advantage of that. Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Allen are not bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but all are works in progress when it comes to coverage, and you can dink and dunk this defense to death. I would advise doing so, given the strength of the cornerbacks.

On defense, you have to double up Julio Jones and slow down Devonta Freeman. If you can do that at least semi-successfully, you’ll greatly limit this Falcons offense, which is without dynamic back Tevin Coleman this Sunday.

5. Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?

I’ve got the Falcons by a score of 31-27. I expect it to be close, I expect there to be plenty of offense, and I expect Atlanta to do just enough to win. I tend to predict close games because the Falcons tend to play close games.

We'd like to thank Dave 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 Packers vs. Falcons.

Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. He covers the NFL for Sports on Earth and SB Nation. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.