After a resounding victory against the Chicago Bears in Week 1, the Packers will be on the road again in Week 2 to visit the Atlanta Falcons, a team that shares quite a bit in common with the Packers' Week 1 opponent. While the Packers were able to keep the Bears' offense completely bottled up in Week 1, racking up explosives against a very weak Bears defense, will the Falcons be a tougher test of a similar game model?
One of the highlights of Week 1 was all the pressure Green Bay put on Justin Fields. The Packers racked up an obscene 36 pressures in the opener, and that was with superstar EDGE Rashan Gary only getting ten pass rush snaps. The caveat to this is that the Bears' offensive line is not very good, particularly in the middle. This week, however, they may be facing an even worse pass protection unit.
Aggregated pass protection measures from 3 sources.— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 13, 2023
Honestly this mostly checks out, though the ratings for PIT are all over the place.
The teams with 100 in the "SIS" column are teams with zero charted blown blocks
(BUF/NYJ not shown bc no data yet) pic.twitter.com/HWBqjqnABB
In Week 1, starting right tackle Kaleb McGary had the fourth-highest blown-pass block rate in the league at 14.3%. Expect to see Rashan Gary lined up across from him on passing downs whenever possible. That matchup might be enough to swing this game, which has flipped from the Packers being a short favorite to now the Falcons being a short favorite this week.
The Falcons want to make those passing situations few and far between. Their game model relies on throwing it as little as they can get away with. In Week 1, Desmond Ridder attempted only 18 passes and had a total of 22 dropbacks. When they did throw, it was short. Ridder’s average depth-of-target was just 3.2 yards, a meager .1 yards farther than Justin Fields in Week 1. The big reason for this? If one eliminates the catch Ridder had of his own pass, the 17 other attempts involved nine of them going to running backs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier. Ridder attempted just one pass beyond twenty yards, and three passes beyond ten yards. He had eight attempts behind the line of scrimmage. Similar to how Week 1 wasn’t probably going to expose the Packers' weakness at safety, we probably won’t see that this week either, at least not in the passing game.
In the run game, however, this team has the makings of a good unit. The Falcons had the third-best rushing DVOA last year, and then added Bijan Robinson, one of the better running back prospects to come out of college in recent years. Both Robinson and Allgeier had great Week 1s with Robinson eclipsing two rushing yards over expected per carry, and Allgeier topping 1.25. While the offensive line struggles in pass protection, they are built to road grade. Last year they ranked fifth in adjusted line yards, and in week one put up a very solid five yards per carry. Green Bay actually did a great job slowing down Chicago’s running game (Fields scrambles excluded). Chicago’s top two backs were held to -.15 EPA-per-rush. Atlanta was at -.03 EPA-per-rush in Week 1, but were +.08 on early downs. Their overall negative production is influenced heavily by just two late downs attempts. This is a good running game, and will be a very real test for this Packers front. Expect heavier personnel usage as the Falcons only used 11 personnel or lighter on 34% of their snaps last year and their depth chart lists a fullback and two starting tight-ends. Expect plenty of 12 and 22 personnel looks, so Green Bay will need to counter with heavier base defense looks.
On the other side of the ball, you can almost throw out the Falcons 2022 defensive numbers as the team went on a big spending spree this off-season. They added safety Jessie Bates, who picked off Bryce Young twice in Week 1, defensive linemen Calais Campbell and David Onyemata, and linebacker Kaden Elliss. Last year’s Falcons team really only had one good defensive player in AJ Terrell, now they have a handful. While this probably won’t make them a dominant unit, the artists formerly known as Football Outsiders (who you can currently find at FTN) projected a sizable improvement from 30th to 10th in defense.
In Week 1, they lived up to the billing, holding Carolina quarterback Bryce Young to a brutal -.22 EPA-per-dropback, forcing two interceptions, and securing a pair of sacks. There is probably some fool's gold in this though, in a similar way there probably is some fool’s gold in the Packers Week 1 defense: bad offensive opponents. Rookie quarterbacks are almost always bad, and the Panthers' offensive roster right now is perhaps the worst in the league outside of Arizona. The two players to watch out for in Atlanta’s front this week are Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata. The tackle duo combined for 11 of the Falcons' 28 Week 1 pressures, and given that Josh Myers is the weak link in the Packers offensive line, that does leave some cause for concern. On the plus side, basically no one was better than Green Bay protecting the quarterback in Week 1.
Packers OL allowed TWO total pressures yesterday.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 11, 2023
Huge part of Jordan Love's outlook is he's working from one of the best blocking platforms in the game.
A big question will be how well Green Bay can move the ball on the ground. Running back Aaron Jones was a monster against Chicago, putting up .43 EPA-per-rush on nine carries, but AJ Dillon was pretty disastrous at -.47 EPA-per-rush. It shows up in RYOE as well, where only three backs were worse than AJ Dillon in Week 1. With Jones pulling up lame on his touchdown reception with some hamstring pain, his availability this week could make or break the Packers' running game.
I just want to shout out quarterback Jordan Love before wrapping up. In the first game-planned start of his career, he went out and dropped .55 EPA-per-dropback and looked in complete control of the offense. The accuracy isn’t airtight, but he’s throwing to the right receiver with great regularity and improved as the game wore on. The Falcons will almost certainly provide a stiffer test, but the extremely early returns are positive. If receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) can play this week, that will add a new dynamic Green Bay had to be without this past week and can open up the intermediate areas of the field even more.
Something worth noting on that, and something I am keeping an eye on this season is Jordan Love’s usage of the middle third. Way back in the early Rodgers-LaFleur days, I noticed that Aaron Rodgers was allergic to the middle of the field like no one else. He was attempting only about 24% of his passes to either the short or intermediate middle. The next closest was short Russell Wilson at 32%. In Week 1, Love threw to that area of the field on ten of his twenty-six throws, good for 38%, much more in line with the league average. If you only count attempts beyond the line of scrimmage, it is ten of nineteen, good for 53%. This will be something to watch this week with a new free safety and new middle linebacker in for Atlanta.