Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

Have the Falcons gotten away from their roots, as Super Bowl-champion coach Bill Cowher suggests? Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers weighs in. Plus, physical receivers, dynamic returners and more in the best game preview you'll find anywhere.

Have Falcons gotten away from their roots? Dom Capers weighs in ... plus 20 more things for Sunday Have the Falcons gotten away from their roots, as Super Bowl-champion coach Bill Cowher suggests? Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers weighs in. Plus, physical receivers, dynamic returners and more in the best game preview you'll find anywhere. In regular-season games against the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta's bullish Michael Turner rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown at Lambeau Field in 2008 and 110 yards and a touchdown at the Georgia Dome last season.

This season, even with Super Bowl champion coach Bill Cowher, now a member of CBS's pregame show, saying the Falcons have gotten away from their run-first identity, Turner has two 100-yard games.

"Well, I didn't know that that was said, but I can assure you that we have a plan in how we want to approach each and every game, and it doesn't change," Falcons coach Mike Smith said in a conference call. "We try to approach our offensive game plan based on how people are going to try to defend us. At the core of what we do, we want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, and that's something that we haven't done consistently. When you don't control the line of scrimmage, it can force you to get out of your game plan."

The Packers are No. 2 in the NFL in stopping the run but had a devil of a time with Denver's rushing attack last week. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers knows stopping the run is the priority. The Falcons are 22-1 when Turner gets at least 21 carries, and when he gets rolling, the Falcons' dangerous passing game becomes lethal.

"I think that's where it's got to start," Capers said. "You've got to be ready for a physical game. If you're not ready for a physical game on this running back … because normally what you see with Turner, he gets stronger as the game goes on. He's built so low to the ground and he runs low, so when he gets those shoulders down, there's no body surface to hit on this guy. And so you see people bouncing off of him. Guys get tired of going in there and trying to tackle him."

Let's get physical

At running back, Turner checks in at 247 pounds. At receiver, Roddy White is a punishing 6-foot and 211 pounds and Julio Jones is a physical 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. All-time great tight end Tony Gonzalez is 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds.

So, what's abundantly clear is that the Packers' defense is going to have to bring a renewed sense of physicality to this game.

That's especially true in the secondary with White and Jones.

"No question," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "You have guys of their size and with their explosiveness, you've got to make sure you bring your hips around, wrap your arms. That's why they've got them."

While Capers called Charles Woodson his "best tackler," second-year player Sam Shields has not been nearly physical enough and Pro Bowler Tramon Williams hasn't been physical, either, because of the shoulder injury sustained in the opener.

"Tramon this week has looked more like Tramon," Capers said. "Quite frankly, Tramon wanted to play the next week, but he's worked his way back, and I think he's as healthy now as he's been since he injured that thing. I think he's done a good job of playing with it, but to say that he's been playing with both arms and both shoulders hasn't been the case. I've seen him do more of it this week. So, I'm encouraged by the way he's been in practice this week."

Covering Weems

The Falcons' Eric Weems is rarely mentioned in the same breath as the Bears' Devin Hester, but Weems was a Packers killer last season. In the Falcons' last-minute victory over the Packers in Week 12, his 40-yard kickoff return and a 15-yard penalty on the tackle set up the winning field goal. In the playoffs, his 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown temporarily stopped a Packers onslaught.

"Eric's an excellent player," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "I think he's as dynamic a cover guy as he is a returner. He was an impact player in both of our games last year and he's a guy that we definitely have to deal with it. I think we have a group of guys to go in and be solid with our coverage areas, and I fully expect us to be."

An influx of rookies has helped the Packers' special teams. Linebacker D.J. Smith is tied with veteran Brad Jones with four tackles on special teams, and Jamari Lattimore and Ryan Taylor are among the players with three tackles.

"This is the first opportunity in the last couple years we've been able to stack the same lineups three or four weeks in a row," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're able to have a group of players, particularly kickoff coverage, the punt team, playing together week in and week out to develop the continuity and consistency. Are we better? It's really not something that's comparable right now. I would say this: We're more consistent. We're practicing better. The looks are cleaner. The understanding I think is much better because you don't have as many moving parts. Hopefully, it stays that way. We're ready for the challenge (vs. Weems)."

Rodgers' hot start

Aaron Rodgers is the first quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to have back-to-back seasons in which he put together four consecutive games of 110-plus passer ratings. Doing that one better, Rodgers has done it three seasons in a row with his sizzling start to this season.

Rodgers leads the NFL with a 124.6 passer rating and 73.0 percent accuracy. Both would set NFL single-season records. Rodgers' career passer rating is up to a record 100.5 – almost four points ahead of second-place Steve Young (96.8). Among active quarterbacks, San Diego's Philip Rivers is next at 96.6, with Tom Brady at 95.7.

"Some of his statistics through the first four games have just been unbelievable in terms of his quarterback rating and his completion percentage," Smith said. "He's almost completing three out of four passes. There's no doubt he has a great understanding of the passing game that Coach McCarthy has put together. He has a lot of weapons that you have to try to defend, and he seems to know where to go with the ball. It's going to be important for us this week to try to be disruptive and not let him get comfortable in terms of his pocket presence because he is a guy -- and he did it to us last year – he can really make some plays with his feet. In both ballgames, he was able to have a presence to get away from pressure and get the ball down the field. You watch this guy operate, I don't know if there's a quarterback in the NFL right now that's playing more efficiently."

Quarterback comparison

The Packers, with Rodgers, and the Falcons, with Matt Ryan, have been two of the best quarterbacks in the league since taking command of their offenses in 2008. That's evident on the most important situations: third down, blitz and fourth quarter.

Since 2008:

-- On third down, Rodgers leads the NFL with a 114.4 passer rating and is second with 43 touchdowns. Ryan is fifth with an 89.9 rating and fourth with 30 touchdowns.

-- Against the blitz, Rodgers also leads the league with a 104.2 rating and is second with 32 touchdowns. Ryan's tied for fourth with 27 touchdowns and has an 89.1 rating.

-- Rodgers is second with 25 fourth-quarter touchdown passes and Ryan is fifth with 19. Two of Ryan's 14 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime have come against the Packers: a 27-24 victory at Lambeau Field in 2008 and last year's 20-17 win at the Georgia Dome.

-- This tells you about the offenses. Rodgers has completed 104 passes for 1,325 yards. Ryan has completed a similar number of passes, 102, but for merely 1,135 yards.

Red hot in red zone

The NFL's official measuring stick for offense and defense is based on yards. That, of course, is silly, because the only thing that matters is the scoreboard. Getting to the 20-yard line is the easy part. It's those final 20 yards that are the challenge.

Offensively, the Packers rank fourth in the league by scoring touchdowns on 13-of-19 treks inside the opponents' 20-yard line, good for 68.4 percent. That's even better than usual. The Packers topped 60 percent in 2008 and 2010 and rank fourth over the last three-plus seasons at 58.5 percent.

Meanwhile, a porous defense has stiffened when opponents cross their 20-yard line. They've allowed six touchdowns on 16 red zone possessions, good for a sixth-ranked 37.5 percent. The Packers' best defensive performance under McCarthy came in 2008, when they finished eighth at 48.8 percent. Capers' unit will be challenged by a Falcons offense that ranks eighth with 61.5 percent touchdowns this season.

Add it together, and the red zone is a major reason why the Packers have outscored their opponents by 51 points while outgaining them by just 90 yards.

Full Nelson

What has gotten into Jordy Nelson? Nothing more than a possession receiver for most of his three seasons in the NFL, he goes into this game ranking third in the league with 19.5 yards per reception. His three touchdown receptions already are a career high.

"It just makes it more difficult on defenses," Nelson said. "They can't lock in on Greg or even Jermichael when he's split out. So, the more plays we can make, besides those two, it just puts more and more pressure on a defense and hopefully won't allow them to double team those guys and we have four or five of us able to go one-on-ones. That's the way we want it. Like we preach every day, you've got to make the most of your opportunity. If you get that opportunity to take a shot, you've got to make the most of it because if you don't, then someone else is going to get that shot and you might be down for a while. When you get that opportunity, you've got to make the most."

Falcons hot reads

-- Under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 21-4 at the Georgia Dome. Only New England (22-3) has a better home record during that span. Ryan's 21-2 home mark as a starter since taking command in 2008 trails only Tom Brady's perfect 18-0. The Packers, on the other hand, have won five straight on the road, dating to last year's playoff run.

--The Falcons have gotten it done in close games, with a 19-8 record in games decided by eight points or less since Smith took command in 2008. That .704 winning percentage trails only the Colts' 21-7 for .750. Moreover, the Falcons are 9-5 in games decided by a field goal or less, including last year's 20-17 triumph over the Packers in Week 12.

-- With Turner and Gonzalez, it's no wonder that the Falcons have been successful in short-yardage situations. They've converted 14-of-17 on third-down plays of 4 yards or less. That 82.4 percent success rate is second in the league and a big reason why they rank No. 1 with 12 drives of 10-or-more plays.

-- Few teams are as good with the ball as Green Bay. The Packers will be challenged by a Falcons defense that has forced at least one turnover in a league-high 23 consecutive regular-season games.

-- Gonzalez is so good that even Jermichael Finley has an appreciation for his fellow No. 88. Gonzalez ranks fifth in NFL history with 1,090 receptions, ninth with 92 touchdown receptions and 15th with 12,636 receiving yards. With 12 consecutive seasons of at least 60 receptions, he's No. 1 in NFL history ahead of Jerry Rice's 11. He holds the tight end records for yards, receptions, receptions in a season (102), 100-yard games (27) and 1,000-yard seasons (four).

History lessons

-- The regular-season is tied 12-12, with the Falcons holding a 2-0 edge in the McCarthy vs. Smith games. The first matchup was in 1966, with the eventual Super Bowl I champions crushing the expansion Falcons 56-3. While the teams haven't played often, they're meeting in back-to-back seasons. They did the same in 1994 and 1995. In 1994, Brett Favre's diving, 9-yard touchdown run gave the Packers a 21-17 victory in their final game at Milwaukee County Stadium. The next year, the Packers beat the Falcons 37-20. Antonio Freeman returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown.

-- Since the 12-game playoff format was instituted in 1990, 50 of the 61 teams to start the season 4-0 have reached the playoffs – an overwhelming 82.0 percent. This is McCarthy's second 4-0 start, with his 2007 team reaching the NFC Championship Game. In all, five Packers teams have started 4-0 over the last 50 years. All of them reached the playoffs, with the 1962, 1965 and 1966 teams winning championships under Vince Lombardi. The 1998 team lost in the wild-card round to San Francisco.

Four-point stance

-- The Packers not only have started the season strong at 4-0, but they've started those games strong. They rank second in the league with 42 first-quarter points and third with a plus-20 point differential in that opening quarter. Moreover, they're tied for fourth with 14 opening-drive points and tied for third with 14 points on initial drives to the third quarter.

-- League-wide, four teams have rallied from 20-plus points down to win games. That ties a league record for a 16-game season. "We hadn't finished the first few games like we wanted to," Rodgers said in explaining the aggressive approach in the second half against Denver. "We had Carolina down by two scores and Chicago down by three scores and both those games got tight, so we thought it was important to get off to a fast start and then finish the way we wanted to."

-- For further perspective on Charles Woodson's dominance, how's this: He has seven pick-sixes since the start of the 2007 season. Nobody else has more than four.

-- The last word goes to Whitt, when we astutely pointed out that quarterbacks' passing numbers are going down and wondered if that was a sign of progress. "Hell, it can't go much higher, can it? It's frustrating because three or four plays skews the whole thing. Good coverages that aren't seen because we're making silly mistakes and dropping coverages and giving up this and doing this and doing that. We've just got to get back to playing our game. If everybody's concerned about the numbers, the numbers will come back to us. I remember back in ‘09, we gave up 500 yards to Pittsburgh but we still finished in the top five in yards. The numbers are going to come back. We're going to get those back but it's going to take 16 games to get it done. The main thing we're worried about is winning. We're playing winning football. As long as we keep doing that and getting turnovers, which we're the best in the league at doing, the rest will come."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


Packer Report Top Stories