Report Card: Packers-Falcons

The Packers improved to 5-0 by rallying past the Falcons 25-14, and the coaches earned rave reviews for the in-game adjustments that made the victory possible.

PASSING OFFENSE: B — Aaron Rodgers came within four yards of a second straight 400-yard passing game, but his performance in helping the Packers erase an early 14-0 deficit with the game's last 25 points didn't have the feel of being in the same elite class as other big-time efforts he's produced. Never mind that he tied an NFL record with completions to 12 players. Rodgers (26-of-39) managed to overcome a sluggish start by an offense riddled with protection issues, dropped passes, an untimely holding penalty (by right guard Josh Sitton) and a few wayward throws of his own doing by delivering in the decisive second half. Both of his touchdowns came in the final two quarters, including a Rodgers-esque downfield heave to James Jones (five catches, 140 yards) as he ran the post and easily beat safety Thomas Decoud as the ball arrived past midfield and outran the trailing defenders the rest of the way for the go-ahead, 70-yard score. Greg Jennings (four receptions, 82 yards) had an exceptional 29-yard catch-and-run touchdown to start the final quarter on a crossing route. Tight end Jermichael Finley had three of the team's six drops — one was on a sure touchdown, another on a two-point throw — but made amends with some clutch catches in the late comeback, particularly a 24-yard gain over the middle on third-and-10 in the drive that ended with the Jennings TD. Rodgers avoided turning the ball over despite feeling a lot of heat from the pass rush of the Falcons, who sacked him a season-high four times. Rookie tight end D.J. Williams missed a blitz pickup on one sack. Left guard T.J. Lang and Marshall Newhouse, who started the game at right tackle but moved to left tackle after Chad Clifton suffered a second-quarter hamstring injury, each gave up one sack.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — The Packers' streak of 100-yard rushing games since the start of the season ended with a mostly drab outing by the rotating combination of Ryan Grant and James Starks. Green Bay finished with 57 rushing yards and a per-carry average of 2.9 yards, factoring in a one-yard loss by Rodgers on the game-ending knee he took. Grant's return to action after missing a game because of a kidney bruise was forgettable with seven carries for 18 yards and his first fumble in more than two years — Green Bay's only turnover led to the Falcons' second touchdown in their hot start. Starks was marginally more effective with 12 carries for 40 yards. He had the tandem's only double-digit run, of 11 yards on a burst around the corner, but couldn't muster more than 14 yards in his final eight rushes. On the plus side, Starks picked up a key first down on third-and-3 from the Atlanta 17 with three minutes to play, allowing the Packers to chew up two more minutes of game clock and get in closer range for a win-sealing field goal.

PASS DEFENSE: B — Green Bay's maddening pass defense did an about-face after the Falcons struck for the touchdowns in their first two possessions, during which quarterback Matt Ryan completed eight of 10 passes for 80 yards. A coverage lapse by cornerback Charles Woodson that allowed Roddy White to get wide open on the left side of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown toss from Ryan on a well-executed crossing pattern in the game-opening series was long forgotten after Green Bay had the upper hand the last 21/2 quarters. Ryan was a lethargic 10-of-22 for 87 yards and two interceptions the rest of the game and finished with an anemic passer rating of 55.1. The Packers had only one sack (by inside linebacker Desmond Bishop on a blitz) but resorted to a lot of pressure, especially by outside linebacker Clay Matthews, to throw Ryan off his game. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez (six catches, 60 yards) was a handful for the linebackers in coverage and had the Falcons' biggest gain of 23 yards. Safety Charlie Peprah, however, rose to the occasion by tipping a downfield throw intended for Gonzalez away and into his own hands for a huge turnover deep in Packers territory as Atlanta was driving down 22-14 midway through the fourth quarter. The perimeter tandem of Tramon Williams and speedy Sam Shields flourished more often than not against White (six receptions, 50 yards) and heralded rookie Julio Jones (one reception, 16 yards). Dime back Jarrett Bush picked off a desperation Ryan pass in the final seconds of the game.

RUSH DEFENSE: B — The 180-degree turn of play by the defense after the inauspicious first two series also included getting more physical in choking off the run. The Falcons had hammered away with Michael Turner between the tackles for 36 yards (long of 15) and a one-yard touchdown in 10 carries during their scoring drives, along with a couple impressive runs to the outside by Jones (17 yards) and rookie Jacquizz Rodgers (11 yards) in the first possession. Atlanta did next to nothing on the ground the rest of the way, finishing with 95 yards and a per-rush average of 4.3 yards. Turner regressed and averaged a mere 3.5 yards as he totaled 56 yards in 16 carries as the Packers clogged the middle up front and had the inside 'backer duo of Bishop (seven tackles) and A.J. Hawk (four tackles) flowing in to clean up. Backup defensive end C.J. Wilson dropped Turner in the backfield on an early run for a three-yard loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus — Mason Crosby was a difference maker. He stayed perfect for the season on field goals by connecting on all four of his attempts, highlighted by the 56-yarder he booted with some distance to spare in the third quarter to pull the Packers with 14-9. His 30-yard chip shot with 70 seconds to play all but ended any faint hopes the Falcons harbored of staging their own comeback. Crosby pounded the football into and out of the end zone, as six of his seven kickoffs resulted in touchbacks and kept nemesis Eric Weems from wreaking any more havoc. Weems' only runback on a kickoff went for 28 yards, and he picked up all of three yards in his lone punt return. Tim Masthay, who wasn't needed to punt in the Packers' rout of Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in the divisional playoff in January, averaged 42.5 gross and 41 net yards in his two kicks. Rookie Randall Cobb was ineffective on returns, averaging 22.3 and two yards on kickoffs and punts, respectively.

COACHING: A-minus — The players are paid to produce and give the team a chance to win; the coaches are paid to win games by putting their players in position to have that impactful production. The in-game adjustments made by head coach/offensive play caller Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers made a great deal of difference to shake Green Bay out of its early doldrums and extend the team's unbeaten start to the season to 5-0 for the first time in 46 years. Capers threw caution to whatever air was being circulated in the Georgia Dome by having his maligned pass defense after it allowed those quick 14 points get physical with bump-and-run coverage by Williams and Shields on the outside and sending an array of defensive backs and linebackers on blitzes to get Ryan out of sync with his talented receivers. McCarthy didn't wince after falling behind by two touchdowns and then losing Clifton for the last 39 1/2 minutes. He trusted young bookends Newhouse and Derek Sherrod, the rookie first-round draft pick who went in at right tackle, and didn't waver from the game plan in giving Rodgers the freedom to systematically pick apart the Falcons' short-handed defense and its soft zone coverage. McCarthy also was rewarded for the big vote of confidence he placed in Crosby to take aim on the 56-yard field goal with the Packers behind 14-6 in the waning minutes of the third quarter — a miss there gives Atlanta the football near midfield and could have proved to have been detrimental in keeping the perfect record intact. McCarthy did err in Green Bay's next possession by keeping the offense on the field after the long Rodgers-to-Jones touchdown put the Packers up 15-14. Going for two points, which failed on the drop by Finley, came much too early.


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