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World’s Best Preview: High-Flying Falcons

The Green Bay Packers' defense has struggled. The Atlanta Falcons' offense is deep, diverse and as hot as any unit in the league.

Here’s the challenge that’s in front of the Green Bay Packers’ beleaguered defense on Sunday:

The Atlanta Falcons not only have the best offense in the NFL. They have one of the best offenses in NFL history.

Their 540 points are the eighth-most in NFL history.

Quarterback Matt Ryan had one of the best seasons of all-time with 4,944 passing yards, 69.9 percent accuracy and 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In NFL history, his 9.26 yards per attempt ranked third, 117.1 passer rating ranked fourth, yardage total ranked sixth and touchdown count ranked 10th. If you think Aaron Rodgers is hot, check out Ryan’s numbers. During their five-game winning streak, his passer rating is 131.8. He’s completed 73.3 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Julio Jones is the headliner of a dynamic group of pass catchers. He caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards despite missing two games with a toe injury that might slow him on Sunday. He was the only player in the league to average 100 receiving yards per game this season, and his career mark of 96.3 receiving yards per game is No. 1 all-time.

But it’s not just Jones the Packers must contend with on Sunday.  Eight players caught at least 20 passes. The Falcons set NFL records with 13 players with at least one touchdown catch and 10 players with at least two touchdown catches. They’ve got size with Jones and Mohamed Sanu (59 catches, 653 yards). They’ve got speed with Jones (17.0 yards per receptions), Taylor Gabriel (16.5) and Aldrick Robinson (16.2). They’ve got tight ends, with Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo catching a combined 54 passes. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman added 85 receptions for almost another 900 yards.

With such an abundance of weapons, Ryan is like a puppet master and he’s got defenses on a string. He’s got more weapons than any quarterback in the league. And, as a byproduct, he’s got better stats.

“Obviously, everyone knows how great of a player Julio is, and he warrants a lot of attention,” Ryan said. “But those other guys, when they get their matchups, have been really, really critical for us all year. Mohammad has had a great year, and Taylor’s had a great year, as well. They’ve been a really important part of why we’ve been successful.”

With Jones leading the way, the Falcons’ corps of pass catchers has been incredibly good. The Falcons ranked second in yards after the catch while only two teams had fewer drops.

“In our room, we set a standard,” Jones said. “We are going to go out and hit people in the mouth. We are going to go out there and just compete from when the first whistle blows until the last whistle blows. It’s just the standard. It doesn’t matter if you drop a ball. It’s all about aggression and going to the ball. Run through it and run through it. You are going to catch more than you’re going to drop.”

That’s a lot of firepower that will attack a Green Bay defense that ranked 31st in passing yards allowed per game and per play and 29th in 25-yard passing plays. But they’ll focus on Ryan and Co. at their own peril.

With Freeman rushing for 1,079 yards and Coleman adding 520 yards, Atlanta piled up a fifth-ranked 1,928 rushing yards. That makes the Falcons one of seven teams in NFL history with 4,500 passing yards and 1,900 rushing yards. 

“Their statistics speak for themselves,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “They’ve got two really good running backs. They’re different style running backs. They’re very productive. They’re throwing the ball a lot to the running backs and they’re a big part of their offense. The receiving group is very skilled. Julio Jones is as good as there is in the league – big, can go up and get the deep ball. Sanu’s been a real good complement because he’s another guy that’s good with the ball after the catch because physical running after the catch. Gabriel’s really made a lot of progress since we played them. He had a touchdown catch against us in the first game and has good speed. Ryan’s having a career year. He throws the ball on timing and gets the ball out of his hands quick. He knows where he’s going with the ball. They can spread you out and run a lot of empty sets with nobody in the backfield, which we saw a lot of in the first game. Or they can line up and run the ball. They have a lot of weapons. It’s a veteran offensive line.”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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