It was time well spent for Falcons coach Mike Smith.
"We spent a good bit of time (on the Packers) as a coaching staff," Smith told Packers beat reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. "As far as the players were concerned, we did not spend any time. We spent two days on the field and we basically worked against ourselves on some fundamental things that we felt like we needed to tighten up. As a coaching staff, we felt like we needed to do our due diligence on all three teams that were in the mix in terms of who we might be playing. We put some preliminary things together last week and then on Sunday, as soon as it became apparent that we were going to be playing you guys, we went full steam ahead in terms of implementing our game plan."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said he spent some time during the week watching film of the Packers' game at Atlanta on Nov. 28 as well as a couple of recent games. Plus, he watched the Packers' victory over the Eagles.
With the short week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy spent the flight home from Philadelphia watching film of the Falcons. Other than rest, however, McCarthy didn't think his team would be at a disadvantage.
"We were very fortunate in the fact that we knew with the win in Philadelphia that we would be playing Atlanta so we only had one team to play for in advance," he said after Tuesday's practice. "That in itself was a benefit. I have been in circumstances where if you won in the first round, you may be playing one of three teams, so that is a lot bigger challenge for your quality-control department and your support staff. So, with that, we were fortunate that we knew we would be playing Atlanta so we were able to start working on Atlanta Thursday night, Friday afternoon after the players left, and a number of coaches were working on Atlanta all the way up until Sunday morning. That has helped us from a preparation standpoint."
Since the teams met in Week 12, the Packers have played six games, including three consecutive victories. Smith didn't think they had changed a whole lot in that time.
"I think they've definitely run the ball more effectively through the last quarter of the season and it's really a very talented football team offensively," Smith said. "They've got so many weapons on the perimeter with (Greg) Jennings and (Donald) Driver, those two guys can really cause you some issues. Defensively, Clay Matthews, I think is having arguably a defensive MVP-type season. I don't know that it's a whole lot different. It's a very talented team and they've overcome a lot of adversity this year and been very resilient, much like we have in terms of playing some very tough games. I think it's going to be a great game where there's two football teams that are playing well right now going after each other."
Atlanta has been slammed by a rare winter storm, with snow and ice making roads hazardous in a city that owns just eight snow plows. The Falcons do their work in Flowery Branch, Ga., which is located about 45 miles to the northeast of Atlanta.
"We had a couple guys yesterday that weren't able to get to practice, a couple of guys that slid off the road," Smith said. "We were able to get some people to go help them. (Defensive end) Kroy Biermann was our extractor, so to speak. He's from Montana and accustomed to driving in that type of weather. He was able to go get John (Abraham, the standout defensive end); John was about four miles from the facility and he went and picked him up. He had a tow rope on his big truck and he just pulled him on out. We were able to get through it, thankfully, and got everybody here safely and had a good little walkthrough yesterday."
Even with the game being played on Saturday and the teams practicing on Tuesday through Thursday, the injury reports are being announced on the usual Wednesday through Friday schedule. Accordingly, McCarthy wouldn't talk in depth about any of the injured players.
"I give him a chance," McCarthy said when asked about Frank Zombo, who has missed the last four games with a knee sprain. "Tomorrow will probably be a very big day for him. I don't have any information today for you."
— To keep his players fresh on a short week, practices are about three-fourths as long as for a usual week, McCarthy said.
— Ryan Pickett, on the noise in the Georgia Dome: "I think it's going to be a tough environment. It was tough when we played down there before, but it's kind of fun sometimes playing on the road, having everybody root against you. It's easier for the defense. No crowd noise when we're on the field. So, we can do our thing."
— Among the connections this week, Falcons defensive backs coach Tim Lewis was the Packers' first-round pick in 1983. An upper-echelon cornerback, his career ended after four seasons because of a neck injury. Packers receivers coach Jimmy Robinson and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt got their NFL starts in Atlanta.
— Playing in a dome comes with a not-so-obvious challenge for Aaron Rodgers: the risk of going hoarse during the practice week and during the game. "That's something that I do think about actually. That's something I do think about during the game. I have to be strong in the fourth quarter as well as the first quarter. That's definitely something that's on my mind. I'm not really going to give away some of the stuff I do for that, but it's definitely on my mind."
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