Four-Point Stance: Championship 'D'?

We break down four major story lines emerging from Sunday after talking to the assistants and coordinators. Leading off: How did the Packers' defense fare in their first matchup against a top-10 offense since the season opener? And some fresh context to the injuries.

We follow up Sunday's three-point loss at Atlanta with our Four-Point Stance, based on our review of the game and conversations with the assistant coaches.

Championship defense?

In their first 10 games, the Green Bay Packers faced one team that ranks in the top 10 in scoring (second-ranked Philadephia) compared to four teams that rank in the bottom 10 in scoring (30th-ranked Minnesota twice, 29th-ranked Miami and 25th-ranked Washington).

So, the jury was most definitely out on a Packers defense that entered Sunday's game tied with Chicago for No. 1 in scoring defense.

Well, the Packers are now all alone in scoring defense but they didn't play like a championship-worthy unit while facing the Falcons, who rank seventh in the league in scoring.

On the surface, the 20 points allowed is acceptable, but because of the Falcons' ball-hogging ways, they only had eight possessions – turning four of those into points. Not only couldn't they stop Michael Turner (23 carries, 110 yards) but they couldn't stop Matt Ryan (24-of-28 passing). They never got close to forcing a turnover, they couldn't get off the field (three drives of 10-plus plays) and their usually-sound tackling fell by the wayside.

So, in a measuring-stick matchup, how did Dom Capers' defense measure up?

"The two touchdowns that they scored, you know, they were first-and-goal at the 5 and we got them to third-and-4," Capers said. "They ran an odd route on us and stuck the ball in there. We can play that better. Then they had it first-and-goal at the 1 and it took them to fourth-and-1 to get the ball in. They had to fight their tail off to get the ball in the end zone against us. One of the things we've been doing a good job of – better than anybody in the league – is keeping people out of the end zone. So, I think our guys are still confident in our ability to do that. We just have to clean up some of the little things that we weren't as sharp on (Sunday)."

Enough already!

Seriously, can we stop talking about Aaron Rodgers' 2-12 record in games decided by four points or less? Please?

"I have never seen a quarterback, in my time here, play to that level in the passing game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'll make that statement clearly here. I thought his performance, as far as handling their pressure vs. empty sets, handling their three-man rush … was outstanding."

Not saying that Rodgers was flawless, but he was an absolute maestro given the circumstances. With no running game to speak of, Rodgers handled another dome challenge with aplomb. He completed 26-of-35 passes for 344 yards with one touchdown and a passer rating of 114.5. What more do you want?

Oh, a late-game comeback? Starting from the 10-yard line, Rodgers moved the team 90 yards for the game-tying touchdown. He did it by overcoming two penalties and converting two fourth downs – one, an ad-lib, underhand flip to James Jones for 18 yards and the other the touchdown to Jordy Nelson.

"It was an outstanding drive," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said while rattling off the challenges mentioned above. "It's an impressive drive. There's a lot of good football on it. A lot of the things that happened on the last play of the game are things that we talked about during the course of the week. That last play of the game is not a textbook play that you see drawn up in the playbook."

Receivers on the rise

One thing we've learned as Donald Driver's production has slipped because of age and injury is that the Packers might be in good hands in the long run opposite Greg Jennings.

Jones, who is in the last year of his rookie contract, has 35 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. Inconsistent early in the season, Jones has caught 16 of the 22 passes thrown his way after getting shut out against the Jets. By turning 74.3 percent of his catches into first downs, Jones ranks fourth in the NFC. His running ability is underrated. Not only did he catch Rodgers' flip, but he gained another 10 yards by beating a linebacker one-on-one in the open field. All Nelson does is catch everything thrown his way. He's caught 69.4 percent of the passes thrown his way, a rate that ranks sixth among NFC wide receivers.

Beaten up

With an 11-5 record, they made the playoffs as a wild card and were seen as a rising power with a young standout at quarterback. But the next season, they were ravaged by injuries.

No, we're not talking about the Packers. We're talking about the Falcons. After a breakout 2008 season, the Falcons were hammered by injuries, including Turner missing five games and Ryan two games and all but a few snaps of a third.

The Falcons obviously have bounced back nicely, and look no further than the injury list. Last year, they put 11 guys on injured reserve, including standout guard Harvey Dahl, starting cornerback Chris Houston, their top two draft picks (Peria Jerry and William Moore), their two top backups at wide receiver and their top backup at cornerback.

This year, they have merely one player on injured reserve, third-down back Jerious Norwood. Think there's any correlation between last year's Falcons winning nine games and this year's Falcons matching that total with five games to go?

Of course, you know the Packers' injury situation. Would the Packers have run the ball better with Ryan Grant? Might they have scored more than three points on their first two trips inside the Falcons' 5-yard line if Jermichael Finley were injured? That the Packers were even in a position to compete toe to toe with the Falcons is pretty remarkable. But will there be enough healthy bodies to make a playoff push in December and the first week of January?


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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