Green Bay Packers (4-0) at Atlanta Falcons (2-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 7:20 p.m. (Central)
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
STATISTICS: Packers offense — Overall (5), rush (15), pass (5). Packers defense — Overall (28), Rush (2), Pass (31). Falcons offense — Overall (12), rush (19), pass (11). Falcons defense— Overall (21), rush (10), pass (24).
KEYS TO THE GAME: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hasn't been sacked since Week 1. The risk in using zone blitz or sending defensive backs off the edge is that Rodgers can quickly puncture an off-kilter defense. He can run or throw on the move and has a 122.6 rating in three starts against the Falcons, who know their corners will be taxed. Keeping the game close means getting the ball in RB Michael Turner's hands enough to keep the Packers from dominating a beleaguered offensive line. However, Green Bay yields just 71 rushing yards per game, and Falcons QB Matt Ryan isn't nearly as effective when he doesn't work off play-action.
FAST FACTS: Rodgers leads the NFL with a 124.6 passer rating and could become the fifth player since 1970 to record single-game passer ratings over 100 in five straight games. ... The Packers sacked Ryan five times in the 2010 playoff meeting.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Total punts by Green Bay's Tim Masthay in two games against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome last season. Masthay had zero punts in the Packers' 48-21 rout of the Falcons in an NFC divisional playoff in January. It was the first time in team history Green Bay didn't have a punt in a postseason game. … 0 -- The number of sacks the Falcons' offensive line gave up against the Seahawks. The unit was helped by balanced play-calling. Ryan attempted 42 passes; there were 36 runs. … 92 -- TE Tony Gonzalez's career scoring catches ranks ninth in NFL history. He trails Don Huston (99), Tim Brown (100), Steve Largent (100), Marvin Harrison (128), Cris Carter (130), Terrell Owens (153), Randy Moss (153) and Jerry Rice (197).
GAME PLAN: To think the Packers can charge right back into Atlanta and crank out a facsimile of their 48-21 whipping of the Falcons in the NFC divisional playoff last January seems far-fetched. Then again, Green Bay is coming off a 49-point explosion in its rout of Denver and is blazing with a league-high 148 points after four weeks.
Aaron Rodgers has been as masterful in the passing game to start this season as he was in the postseason knockout of Atlanta in the Georgia Dome, where he completed 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
The Falcons will counter with essentially the same secondary that floundered in that game. Look for head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy to get Rodgers on the move outside the pocket to neutralize Atlanta's pass rush and let the league's top-rated quarterback fire away to any number of open pass catchers, including TE Jermichael Finley and rookie WR Randall Cobb, who weren't involved in the postseason beat-down.
Green Bay's defense also can be exploited by the pass, and the Falcons are doing more of that this season with talented Matt Ryan at the helm and the trio of Roddy White, rookie Julio Jones and veteran TE Tony Gonzalez thriving on the receiving end. The Packers' ongoing deficiencies in coverage could force defensive coordinator Dom Capers to back off again on trying to throw off Ryan with a multitude of blitzes.
As much as the Falcons like to push the football vertically, they haven't reneged on their objective of controlling the clock. Getting back to pounding the football with Michael Turner, who rushed for 110 yards in Atlanta's regular-season win over the Packers last year but was held to just 39 in the lopsided defeat in the playoffs, seems likely. Green Bay dropped its guard in that regard by allowing 103 yards to the Broncos' Willis McGahee last weekend snapping the Packers' streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher since Turner's aforementioned outburst in late November at 12 games.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.