As we do on occasion, this week we decided to put our heads together with the bloggers who cover the Green Bay Packers' opposition in order to preview the upcoming game. This week, that's the ladies and gentlemen of The Falcoholic, who cover the Packers' opponent on Monday night, the Atlanta Falcons.
As is often the case, we'll have a few posts here and a few over at their blog discussing how we view the other team and what we think will happen on Monday. First up, we'll look at the players on the Falcons' roster and examine which of them we would most want to have in a Packers uniform.
We have identified two primary options - neither of them plays a position that would necessarily be considered a "position of need" in Green Bay, but both would be able to further bolster strong units into even better position groups. Here are our two main options.
Jones is a great big-play threat, and would make for a ridiculous bookend to Jordy Nelson on the other side of the field. However, his big-play ability has evolved somewhat and he is becoming a little more of a possession receiver - his yards per catch started out around 18 in his rookie year of 2011, but has gradually decreased to 14.3 this year. In fact, this is the only season in which Jones has not had a reception of 80 or more yards - his long in 2014 is just 41.
Granted, Jones' stats this year (82 catches for 1,169 yards so far) are partially due to the volume of throws he receives. He has seen at least 10 targets in 8 of the Falcons' 12 games this year, and he certainly would not get the same number of passes thrown his way in the Packers' offense. However, it's not hard to imagine his yards per reception increasing even as his total stats might drop.
To summarize, good luck defending a receiving corps of Nelson and Jones on the outside and Randall Cobb in the slot, especially with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to them. Sure, Davante Adams has been stepping up over the past few weeks (especially against the Patriots), but there's still a cavernous gap between his skills and Julio's at this point in time.
The best player on the Falcons' defense this year has been cornerback Desmond Trufant, and it's not really close. A first-round draft pick in 2013, Trufant struggled slightly early in his rookie year but closed out last season strong and has picked up in 2014 where he left off. He has started all 28 games and has recorded four interceptions and an impressive 30 pass breakups over that span.
Trufant leads the Falcons' defense in Pro Football Focus grading as well, earning a +12.4 grade overall and a +9.4 coverage grade. Not only do those grades lead the Falcons' defense, but his overall grade would rank third on the Packers' defense (behind Mike Daniels and Julius Peppers) and his coverage grade is better than any Packer.
Furthermore, Trufant is averaging just 43 yards allowed per game in 2014 and has given up just two touchdown passes to go with a 79.2 passer rating into his coverage. Those are all better numbers than either Packers starting cornerback, as Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have allowed seven and four touchdowns respectively, and passer ratings of 104.7 and 90.3.
Though the Packers' pass defense has largely been effective this year, the improvement has taken place largely at the slot corner and safety positions. Trufant is playing at a higher level than either of the Packers' boundary corners this year, and could make a very good pass defense truly great.
The big question becomes this: do we make an excellent passing attack and set of receiving weapons the unquestioned best in the league, or do we take a very good secondary and make it great? In and of itself, that seems like almost a wash to me.
The other pieces of the puzzle that could affect the decision is the contract situation of the two players. Jones is on the fourth year of his rookie contract, but his fifth-year option (as a first-round pick) has already been picked up and will cost the Falcons over $10 million next year before he hits free agency. Trufant's draft year was two years later, meaning he will be on his rookie deal through 2016 with his fifth-year option possible for the 2017 season. That makes him a more appealing option financially.
All in all, the Packers' offense is clicking as it is, and the addition of an up-and-coming shut-down corner on defense could take the secondary to new heights. Adding in the fact that the Packers' secondary is probably a bit weaker of a position group than the wide receivers and the differences in contract situations make me lean towards Trufant over Jones, but only very slightly.
Who would be your pick? Let us know in the comments.