This is the fifth installment in a series that will examine each of the Green Bay Packers’ scheduled 2020 opponents, their offseason changes, and their statuses heading into training camp. We continue by looking at the teams in the NFC South, today examining the Packers’ early-season game against the Atlanta Falcons.
In week four of the 2020 schedule, the Green Bay Packers are supposed to host the Atlanta Falcons for a Monday Night Football game at Lambeau Field. Atlanta scuffled to a second straight 7-9 season in 2019, however, starting out an abysmal 1-7 before rebounding over the second half of the season.
Atlanta’s offense was a tale of two phases, however. The Falcons attempted the most passes in the NFL while ranking fourth from the bottom in rushing attempts. Much of that was due to a defense that couldn’t stop anyone before the bye — the Falcons gave up 20 points in each of those first eight games, including six games with 27 or more and three of 34 or more.
Although the defense turned it around after the Falcons’ week nine bye, it was largely too late. And in the 2020 NFL Draft, Atlanta went defense early, grabbing cornerback AJ Terrell with the 16th pick and defensive lineman Marlon Davidson in round two.
The Falcons also saw a few notable defensive players players leave in free agency. Cornerback Desmond Trufant pass rusher Vic Beasley, linemen Jack Crawford and Adrian Clayborn, and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell all departed for other teams in the offseason, leaving questions about how the team will fill in the gaps that they leave behind.
Thanks to our SB Nation colleagues at The Falcoholic, we have a great breakdown of how the Falcons’ offseason progressed and what they will be looking for out of their team this August during training camp.
Notable free agency additions: EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., RB Todd Gurley, TE Hayden Hurst (okay, that was a trade)
Over/under 10 wins? Under
Rookie I’m most excited about: Defensive lineman Marlon Davidson. Rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell has huge promise and will be active immediately, but Davidson projects as a swaggering, powerful inside presence on a team that sorely needs one to complement Grady Jarrett. If he lives up to his promise, Davidson may be the missing key for a defense that has needed interior pass rush help since Mike Smith was coach.
Best position battle heading into training camp: Left guard. It’s between rookie Matt Hennessy out of Temple, veterans Jamon Brown and James Carpenter, newcomer Justin McCray, and longstanding fan and former UDFA Matt Gono. With that many players competing, the Falcons may actually be able to put a strong option at the position after a couple of down years.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Can the Falcons put a good defense on the field? It’s the question we seemingly ask every year, but it’s particularly pressing after a first half nightmare on that side of the ball nearly cost Dan Quinn his job and effectively submarined the 2019 season in Atlanta. The Falcons have added pieces and Raheem Morris has assumed control of the unit, and improvement is about the only way I can see the Falcons being markedly better than they were last season.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Will Todd Gurley be a force for good or the latest vague disappointment at running back for Atlanta? Gurley’s talent is not in question and he’s following on the heels of a down year from Devonta Freeman in Dirk Koetter’s pass-happy scheme, but concerns about arthritis in his knees and his shaky 2019 production mean it’s going to be a question we’re asking all throughout the year.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: The Falcons promise to be healthy heading into the year, but safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal are returning from season-ending injuries in 2019 and their status needs to be monitored. If they’re not 100% to start the season, the Falcons have some holes on the back end of the secondary.