Nicole Haase. 3rd October, 2008 - 11:29 am
The biggest key to this game will be whether or not Aaron Rodgers starts.
With Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are favored and should be able to find their way through the game with little problem
Without Aaron Rodgers, the defense?s focus is entirely on the running game since Matt Flynn is less athletic and less mobile than Rodgers. Ryan Grant has had a difficult time finding his groove without the defense focusing solely on him. If Rodgers is out, it should be neigh on impossible for Grant to find the holes he needs to get going.
This week does have the feeling of ?do or die? for Grant. He was a slow starter last season and eventually found a rhythm. He?s been unable to do that so far this season but has shown signs that last year wasn?t a complete fluke. The consensus seems to be that he?s on the verge of breaking free, but this week should be a true test of whether or not the Packers jumped the gun in offering him 4 years for $20 million.
There?s no place like home?
What Green Bay does have going for it are Atlanta?s struggles on the road.
Dating back to last season, Atlanta has lost 9 of their last 10 road games ? the past 5 straight. They?ve scored just 9 points in each of this season?s losses. And, these aren?t new woes for this team. Last year they averaged just 13.5 points/game on the road ? good for fifth worst in the league.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan has been impressive in the Georgia Dome but has failed to connect with his receivers when they?re away from home.
In fact, the Falcons have been unable to put a touchdown on the board on the road.
Ryan has only completed under 70% of his passes at home but has connected on just shy of 46% of his passes on the road. At home he has 2 TD's and no INT's. On the road, it?s just the opposite, with 0 TD's and 2 INT's.
Despite those numbers, the rookie quarterback seems to have earned the respect of his team. They?re confident with him behind center, and he has completed enough deep-ball, big plays to show that the Falcons are a threat.
But Atlanta has been the stage on which Michael Turner has finally stepped from the shadow of LaDanian Tomlinson and shown he iss a star. Certainly, it doesn?t matter if Ryan is not completing as many passes when Michael Turner?s running up and down the field, right?
Unfortunately for Falcons' fans, Turner has had similar struggles on the road. In 2 home games, both wins, Turner had 324 yards and 5 TD's. On the road, he has a mere 98 yards rushing and no TD's. In a home win against KC 2 weeks ago, Turner had 104 yards rushing and 3 Td'ss. Last week at Carolina, he had just 18 carries for a paltry 56 yards.
A groin injury to Packers' linebacker A.J. Hawk could prove just the thing Turner needs. A weak run defense is now even thinner and could allow Turner to find the running room he hasn?t been finding on the room thus far this season.
The absence of Hawk, plus the loss of Cullen Jenkins, will make the Packers' defense extremely vulnerable to the play action offense that the Falcons favor. Atlanta?s running back tandem of Turner and Jerious Norwood is legitimate and shouldn?t be overlooked. Turner has the speed, and Norwood has the power to cause big problems for a depleted Packers' defense. Al Harris, Atari Bigby, Nick Collins, and Charles Woodson could all be out. The Packers could have as many as 6 starters, 5 on defense, riding the pine come Sunday.
If Rodgers does indeed sit out Sunday?s game, Matt Flynn in the likely replacement. While Flynn doesn?t have the arm strength Rodgers does, he does seem to have the pocket presence that Brian Brohm lacked in preseason. Despite being a 7th round pick, Flynn led the LSU Tigers to a National Championship, and that big game experience shows when he remains calm in the pocket. After a good showing in preseason, one of the words to describe Flynn was ?moxie.? He?s very smart behind center and doesn?t seem to fluster.
But the rest of the team is going to have to step up and help Flynn.