Behind Enemy Lines: Six Matchups To Watch

We tell you the matchups that will decide Sunday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons. Leading off: the Packers' special teams against kick returner Eric Weems and the Packers' corners against the Falcons' towering wide receivers.

Packers coverage units vs. Falcons KR Eric Weems

The Chicago Bears' Devin Hester is regarded as Public Enemy No. 1 for the Green Bay special teams a guaranteed two times each season in the division games. Coordinator Shawn Slocum's charges know they can't sleep on Weems as they get ready to meet a non-division foe in the Falcons for the third time is less than a year. The diminutive (5-foot-9) and elusive Weems burned the Packers in both games toward the end of last season.

His 40-yard kickoff return and accompanying face-mask penalty on then-Packer Matt Wilhelm after Green Bay had tied the score put Atlanta's offense in ideal position to get Matt Bryant in range for a game-winning field goal in the final minute of their regular-season matchup. Weems then ran back a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown to briefly put the Falcons ahead 14-7 early in the NFC divisional playoff that the Packers won going away, 48-21.

Weems hasn't been a big-play threat so far this season, averaging 20.9 yards on kickoff returns and 8.6 yards on punt returns.

Packers CBs Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson vs. Falcons WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy says Atlanta's bold move to mortgage most of this year's and next year's drafts by trading with Cleveland to get way up in the first round and take Jones with the No. 6 pick gives the Falcons "another big weapon."

The swift and imposing Jones, who stands nearly 6-3, hasn't disappointed four games into his pro career. He leads the rookie class with 24 catches for 342 yards and is riding a two-game streak of 100-yard games. The seasoned White is no slouch with 26 receptions for 302 yards. That Williams, who sustained a Week 1 shoulder injury, and second-year nickel back Shields haven't played nearly as well as they did last season is a source of more than mild concern for defending Jones and White on the perimeter. Neither Williams nor Shields have played physically this season, so that's also a concern given the power of Jones and White.

Williams doesn't have an interception after leading the Packers with a career-high nine last season, including two (one for a game-turning 70-yard touchdown return) on Falcons QB Matt Ryan in the playoff rout. Woodson, who turned 35 on Friday, is the "old man" of the defense but probably gives Green Bay its best hope for containing the Falcons' vertical passing game if he gets matched up with one of their playmakers in the slot. His uncanny knack for coming up with the football (three interceptions, fumble recovery) has been vital in the early going to offset the Packers' pass-coverage issues.

Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Falcons RT Tyson Clabo

Clabo lost a couple of battles against Tampa Bay's Dekoda Watson but was one of the ring leaders last week against Seattle as the Falcons did not yield a sack for the first time this season. He won the regular-season matchup with Matthews last year, but Matthews had a big game in the playoff rematch with two sacks and a fumble recovery. Matthews has only one sack this season but remains an impact player with eight tackles for losses and 18 quarterback hits.

Maybe the Falcons' bigger problem will be keeping B.J. Raji out of the backfield. Atlanta's interior line has been a mess, with guards Garrett Reynolds and Justin Blalock having allowed a combined three sacks and 16 pressures.

Packers LT Chad Clifton and RT Marshall Newhouse vs. Falcons DEs John Abraham and Ray Edwards

With Bryan Bulaga may have to miss a second straight game because of a left knee injury, the mostly untested Newhouse figures to be the bookend opposite Clifton again. The Falcons will look to come at them hard with their pair of proven pass rushers.

Abraham had a sack in each of the teams' two meetings last season. Clifton allowed only one sack over the final six games of last season against a spate of the league's top pass rushers. The guy who got that sack? Abraham.

Edwards, who signed with Atlanta in free agency this year and is without a sack so far, has a long history with Green Bay from his time with the rival Vikings and produced a pair of two-sack games in the teams' last three encounters.

The Falcons have trouble getting to athletic quarterbacks in Michael Vick, Josh Freeman and Tarvaris Jackson. They had trouble with Rodgers last season and they tried to heat him up with blitzes. They had nine free runners at Rodgers throughout the game, but could not register a sack.

Packers WR Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson vs. Falcons CBs Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes

Everybody, it seemed, had a big game against the Falcons in the playoff game, but nobody dominated to quite the extent of Jennings. He caught eight of the 10 passes thrown his way for 101 yards. He also had five catches for 119 yards in the Week 12 loss. Nelson, however, was automatic. He caught all 13 passes for 140 yards, with a touchdown in each game.

Robinson and Grimes, who both stand 5-foot-10, are the starters. Robinson has been miserable, allowing 79.2 percent completions and two touchdowns, with quarterbacks registering a 146.5 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Grimes, on the other hand, has allowed 50 percent completions with one touchdown. The Packers went after third corner Christopher Owens in the playoff game, connecting on 6-of-7 passes for 110 yards. This season, Owens has allowed 7-of-9 passes. Also in the mix in a reserve role is Kelvin Hayden, who started 45 games over the last four seasons for the Colts but hasn't played anywhere close to a full 16-game slate since 2007.

Packers TE Jermichael Finley vs. Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez

Obviously, Finley and Gonzalez won't be squaring off but both present enormous matchup problems — especially if the defenses are putting too much focus on the high-profile receivers.

Gonzalez has caught 21-of-31 passes thrown his way (67.7 percent) for 229 yards, with his four touchdowns ranking second among NFL tight ends. The Packers had their hands full against him in the regular season, when he caught all six passes and scored a touchdown, but he was limited to one catch for 7 yards in the playoffs. The Packers got beaten deep last week by Daniel Fells, though Desmond Bishop saved a touchdown with his last-second strip.

Finley has been dominant, even beyond his three-touchdown game against Chicago. He's caught 18-of-24 passes (75.0 percent) for 234 yards. He's likely face linebacker Stephen Nicholas but also some of safety Thomas DeCoud or even a cornerback.

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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

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