Green Bay Packers (7-3) at Atlanta Falcons (8-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, noon.
TV: Fox (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin).
Keys to the game: The Packers' offense hasn't been as prolific as expected, but it hasn't been losing games, either - not turning the ball over in three consecutive games for the first time since 1963. Green Bay will have to make the most of its possessions because Atlanta will likely dominate the clock. If the offensive line can protect QB Aaron Rodgers, he'll find mismatches downfield. WR Greg Jennings (32 catches, six touchdowns the past six games) has been particularly hot. The Packers have allowed 10 combined points the past three weeks while the Falcons are averaging 31.5 points over their past four games. Green Bay isn't deep throughout the secondary and the Falcons could go with more no-huddle and spread the field. But while Ryan hasn't been sacked in three of his past four games, the Packers are aggressive and enter with 29 sacks. So look for the Falcons to be conservative and feature plenty of RB Michael Turner on first and second downs.
Fast facts: Falcons QB Matt Ryan is 18-1 career in the Georgia Dome as a starter. ... The Packers are 10-3 in dome games under coach Mike McCarthy, who pipes simulated crowd noise into indoor practices. ... The Falcons are 5-0 and averaging 29.8 points at home.
By the numbers: Packers – 13th offense (19th rushing, 11st passing); 12th defense (18th rushing, 11th passing). Falcons – sixth offense (seventh rushing, 13th passing); 17th defense (sixth rushing, 24th passing).
Series history: 24th regular-season meeting. Packers lead 12-11. The teams are meeting in Atlanta for only the second time in the last 18 years. The Packers prevailed 33-25 in 2005 in their most recent visit to the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won the teams' last meeting, 27-24 at Green Bay in 2008. Atlanta has won three of the last five matchups since 2001, including a 27-7 road upset of the Packers in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs during the 2002 season. It was Green Bay's first home loss in the postseason.
Inside the Falcons
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has leaned heavily on wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez in the passing attack. However, a couple of weapons that have been injured are rounding into shape.
Wide receiver Michael Jenkins (shoulder) missed the first five games of the season, and backup tight end Justin Peelle (sports hernia surgery) missed three games. With both of them back, Ryan has his full complement of weapons.
"I think he's starting to really find his stride," Smith said of Jenkins. "He made some big catches (against the Rams) on third down, which allowed us to continue drives and of course win the time of possession. Michael has a very good skill set with his height and creates some mismatches. I really like the way he's played. I thought he did a good job in run-blocking as well."
With secondaries focusing on White and Gonzalez, Jenkins should get plenty of one-on-one coverage.
"There are certain routes that Michael runs extremely well," Smith said. "I think there's a comfort level, and I thought Michael had great concentration because there were some balls where he was coming over the middle that he had to concentrate because he knew there were guys closing on him."
Peelle didn't waste any time in making an impact. He scored a touchdown in his first game back.
"Justin worked extremely hard, he was on the quick end of his recovery from his sports hernia surgery that he had," Smith said. "We were anticipating that it may be a couple more weeks before we would get him back out on the field, but he did come out.
"You could see that conditioning was a little bit of a concern. We weren't able to play him in as many snaps as we'd like, but he did a nice job. He had the touchdown pass, I thought he blocked well at the point of attack, especially when we got into the third and fourth quarter where we wanted to run the football."
Something indeed has to give Sunday between the league's two hottest teams. The Packers and Falcons not only are riding four-game winning streaks, but both teams haven't turned over the football in their last three outings. The setting favors the Falcons, who have won 14 straight games at the Georgia Dome with Matt Ryan at quarterback. For the Packers to break that streak of invincibility, their opportunistic defense (12 takeaways last four games) will have to take the Atlanta offense out of its ball-control, mistake-free comfort zone. Ryan has thrown only five interceptions.
What's more, the Falcons rank second in the league for time of possession with an average of more than 33 1/2 minutes. A high rate of success converting third downs (48.7 percent) has lot to do with their ability to play keep-away, not to mention pounding the football with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling.
To get the football in the hands of their suddenly clicking offense, the Packers will have to be better than their subpar success rate of 39.7 percent for third-down defense. It's no secret Green Bay will throw the football, and Aaron Rodgers is red hot. Rodgers has been targeting Greg Jennings with great frequency the last five games (32 catches, six touchdowns), so the Falcons figure to shade coverage Jennings' way. It will be on Rodgers to look off Jennings and spread the wealth with Donald Driver, James Jones and tight end Andrew Quarless.
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