Substance Over Style For Foes

Based on how their seasons have played out, one thing is for certain: These teams won't beat themselves. Beyond X's and O's and playmakers, the Packers and Falcons have done most of the little things correctly to reach this divisional playoff game.

Barring something out of character for either team, Saturday night's NFC divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons will be of the highest quality.

The key statistics show a pair of teams that take care of the little things and simply don't beat themselves:

Giveaways: The Falcons ranked third with just 17 (and third in margin at plus-14); the Packers were 10th with 22 (and fourth in margin at plus-10).

Penalties: The Falcons ranked first with just 58 (and second in penalty yards with 598); the Packers were tied for third with 78 (and third in penalty yards with 617).

Time of possession: The Falcons ranked first with 33:03 per game; the Packers were seventh with 32:01.

Third-down offense: The Falcons ranked third at 47 percent; the Packers were eighth at 42 percent.

Big-play passes allowed: The Falcons ranked fourth with 38 passes allowed of 25-plus yards; the Packers were tied for 10th with 44.

In other words, when it comes to doing things the right way and giving themselves a chance to win, the Packers and Falcons are at the head of the class.

"If you break down the overall summary of statistics, definitely penalties," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday of what stands out about the Falcons. "They don't allow big-play opportunities, and really the penalty impression in all three phases. It's just not one phase or two phases. They are a football team that really stays on schedule as far as what they try to do and how they do it. They are very fundamentally sound. I really appreciate the way they have been coached because it shows up on film."

The Falcons, even with an NFC-leading 13-3 record, somehow have flown under the national radar all season. And while quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner and receiver Roddy White are well-respected players — especially Ryan, with his Ice-y cold nickname — the Falcons have been successful without doing anything flashy. Ryan is not a 4,000-yard passer. Turner is not a huge breakaway threat with electric open-field moves. White's averaging just 12.1 yards on his league-leading 115 receptions.

But behind that apparent lack of style is an overwhelming amount of substance. Smart offenses and stingy defenses (Packers are second in points allowed; Falcons are fifth) have made for a winning recipe.

"We've tried each and every year tried to put a plan in place for us to have success," Falcons coach Mike Smith said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Tuesday. "Doesn't always work out that way but this year it sure has come to fruition. The first thing that we talk about is we wanted to control the clock and win the time of possession, and we've been able to do that. We're one of the top teams in the league in terms of time of possession. Then we put a big emphasis on penalties and been very fortunate to be the least-penalized team in the league this year. In addition to that, we've emphasized special teams penalties because they're spot fouls, and even though they may only be a 5- or a 10-yard penalty, they're spot fouls and they're very penal.

"The other thing that we focus on is penalties in the fourth quarter of a game. Games in this league, 51 percent of them come down to eight points or less for the entire season (and) 25 percent come down to three points or less. I think it's very important that you don't have critical penalties in the fourth quarter. And then our turnover margin is something that we emphasize, and that's making sure that we have ball security and then attacking the ball from the defensive side. We've been very fortunate to do those things."

It's been virtually the same formula in Green Bay. Always a top team in terms of turnovers of McCarthy, his crew slashed the penalty total by 40 this season.

Throw in that the Packers have overcome a ridiculous number of injuries to key players and are about to play in what's essentially their fourth playoff game and that the Falcons are 4-1 in games decided by four points or less, these teams are battle-hardened, confident and don't figure to crumble with a trip to the NFC championship game at stake.

"Winning breeds confidence, no doubt about it," McCarthy said. "We are very confident in the way we are built as a football team, and really more importantly how we have been shaped throughout the season, especially the stretch run here, particularly the last three games. We are very excited about the opportunity to play in Atlanta. I am very impressed with their football team, what they have been able to accomplish. I appreciate how well they are coached. It will be an excellent challenge playing in the Georgia Dome with the crowd noise and obviously being inside. I am very confident in our abilities and we are fully preparing and expect to win the football game."

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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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