The Atlanta Falcons have the best offense in all of football. Their backfield is led by Devonta Freeman, who has been one of the better running backs in all of football for the last season and a half.
Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, has been one of the better players at his position since he entered the league. Their offensive line has improved in front of him this season.
Oh, and they have the best receiver in football, Julio Jones. Jones presents a nightmare matchup for the Packers. The last time he faced them, they threw Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Davon House at him in attempts to slow him down.
None of it worked. Jones finished with 259 yards receiving and made a game that should have been over at halftime competitive at the end of the fourth quarter.
The Green Bay Packers will have none of the aforementioned players available for them when tomorrow’s game kicks off. Tramon Williams is in Cleveland. Davon House is in Jacksonville. Casey Hayward is in San Diego. Sam Shields, the only remaining player on the roster, is on injured reserve.
The strength of this Packers defense was supposed to be in their deep secondary. Shields was paired with young, talented corners Quentin Rollins and Damarious Randall.
Both of those players have suffered groin injuries that will keep them out for at least Sunday, and likely beyond that.
Undrafted free agent Ladarius Gunter is likely to draw the assignment of Jones throughout the day. He is the Packers’ best remaining corner. While he had a better week against Alshon Jeffery than any other he’s had in his career, that is a nightmare matchup for the Packers.
As the Denver Broncos proved last season, the easiest way to neutralize a high-flying offense is with a hellacious pass rush. The Broncos rode Von Miller and Demarcus Ware to a Super Bowl title. Along the way, they beat Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton.
While Matt Ryan is not on the same level as those players, he is a very good quarterback. He also has a receiver that none of the aforementioned players had available to them in last year’s matchups.
So the best way for the Packers to neutralize the Falcons is to be able to get to the quarterback with four rushers.
Their secondary could have the best scheme devised against Jones. Truth is, Jones will make plays down the field at some point. He is too good not to.
The good news for the Packers is they should have the advantage in pass rushing opportunities. Clay Matthews, the defense’s best player, is questionable with a hamstring injury but has progressed throughout the week. He will also be facing his cousin Jake Matthews. That could give him extra motivation.
Unlike past years, however, the Packers have more players able to get to the quarterback than just Matthews.
Nick Perry has been Green Bay’s most productive edge rusher this season. He has already surpassed his career high in sacks with 5.5.
Apart from Perry, Kyler Fackrell has also been productive when given opportunities. Fackrell was seen as a project but made plays in back-to-back weeks against the Lions and Giants.
Julius Peppers has worked nicely into his new role as a situational pass rusher. While he is not the Peppers of old, he still has the ability to take over and ruin a game for the opposing offense. Datone Jones has also done some nice things as a pass rusher in his new role on the edge.
Add it all together, and the Packers have a good group of defenders to harass Ryan throughout the day.
It is imperative that they are able to do this. If they cannot get after Ryan with four, that means they’ll have to pull players out of coverage to blitz him. Blitzing Ryan means fewer players in coverage against the Falcons weaponry.
More often than not, when it comes to a matchup against a great offense, the key is to win up front and make the QB uncomfortable. It sounds overly simple, but that is by far the biggest key for the Packers tomorrow in Atlanta.