First Look At: Atlanta Falcons

It will be a playoff rematch on Saturday night, when the Atlanta Falcons host the Green Bay Packers. Matt Ryan is 2-0 against Aaron Rodgers, including 20-17 on Nov. 28.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has won both of his matchups against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

In 2008, Ryan's rookie season, the Falcons beat the Packers 27-24 in Lambeau Field on Oct. 5. It was Ryan's first road win of his career.

He'd dropped road games at Tampa Bay and Carolina before the breakthrough win at Lambeau Field. The third time was a charm and helped to power the Falcons to an 11-5 record and wild-card playoff berth.

In the regular-season matchup this season, a 20-17 Falcons victory on Nov. 28, the teams played to a near standoff.

Despite being outgained by 124 yards, the Falcons never trailed. The game was tied on three different occasions before the Falcons' special teams delivered the victory.

Ryan had one of his better games against the Packers. He completed 24 of 28 passes for 197 yards and tossed one touchdown pass. His passer rating of 107.9 was his fifth best of the season.

The running game was strong as Michael Turner rushed for 110 yards on 23 carries and scored one touchdown.

"They are complicated," Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said. "They are very sound in what they do."

In one of the big matchups, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews was held without a sack by right tackle Tyson Clabo.

"(Clabo) played well against him, but we gave him help," Mularkey said.

Since winning the NFC South, the Falcons' coaching staff had to scout Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans. Seattle eliminated New Orleans with a stunning 41-36 victory on Saturday.

They watched Green Bay's last seven games, including an impressive 31-27 loss to New England on Dec. 19. Running back James Starks' performance against San Francisco also caught their attention.

Rodgers was the Packers' leading rusher in the last matchup with the Falcons. Starks rushed for 123 yards against the Eagles on Sunday.

"They have been more effective running the ball late in the season," Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said.

The Packers had success spreading out the Falcons and passing the football. Rodgers completed 26 of 35 passes for 344 yards and one touchdown.

The Falcons had problems with wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught five passes for 119 yards. He had plenty of support as four other receivers also averaged more than 10 yards per catch.

"They like to horizontally spread the field and they have a quarterback that is very intelligent with a great arm," VanGorder said. "They try to stretch you out to create space and have him deliver the ball. It's just what they've done for years."

The earlier matchup went down to the final minute.

The Packers tied the game when Rodgers tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson with 56 seconds left.

Atlanta's Eric Weems returned the ensuing kickoff and was on his way to the end zone before Green Bay's Matt Wilhelm almost yanked off his facemask. The penalty put the ball at Green Bay's 49.

After four short completions, Matt Bryant made a 47-yard field goal with nine seconds left.

Earlier in the game with the score tied 3-3 in the second quarter, the Packers appeared set to take control when on a third-and-1 from Atlanta's 1, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton forced Rodgers to fumble. Linebacker Mike Peterson recovered the fumble in the end zone.

Trending: The Falcons' pass defense has improved steadily down the stretch. The defense recorded 12 sacks, had seven interceptions and gave up just 185.6 yards per game over the last five games.

However, those stats may be skewed by two games against Carolina and rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. They had eight sacks and two interceptions in wins over the Panthers.

By the numbers: In the previous matchup with Green Bay, the Falcons' coverage teams also did a good job against the Packers. Atlanta's average drive-start was their 30-yard line. Green Bay's average was their 17-yard line.

"When you make a tackle inside the 20, that's big because most people can't take the ball the length of the field and score," Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said. "That's critical when you look at special teams."

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

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