I have been a big fan of Atlanta’s coach Mike Smith. He is smart and importantly, he’s present in the moment while he coaches. (What I mean by this is that as something happens on the field, he reacts to it immediately. he doesn’t need to watch film to have an opinion on something etc etc. His pissed about bad calls, he’s angry at a player’s poor execution, etc. This is a quality of a good coach.) I really like this guy. That said, at the end of the last Atlanta game that mattered (hosting New Orleans a couple weeks ago), Mike Smith made a coaching error. With just a few minutes left (I believe 3-4 minutes), facing 4th and 5 at around the 50 yard line, Smith opted to punt the ball back to Drew Brees and company when Atlanta was down by 3. Atlanta had 1 or 2 timeouts at that time I believe. Many coaches do this. Yes, the Atlanta D had been OK that night, surrendering only 17 points to the high-powered Saints offense. But on the Saints’ previous possession, Drew Brees engineered a long drive (13 plays, 90 yards) that ate up a bunch of clock time (over 7 minutes). Clearly the Atlanta D was wearing down. So, that leads me to my point: punting the ball in that situation is not smart. Yes, you may gain a field position advantage if you happen to stop Brees (and the punt was a good one), but stopping Brees is just not easy especially considering New Orleans actually moved the ball well that night (they just didn’t score much). And, throw in there that predicting what the NO offense will do is a tall order – Payton is so willing to call a huge variety of plays even in tight situations. Even though by punting Atlanta wasn’t totally forfeiting control of the game because their D can affect the outcome – I can’t help but feel like coaches who make this particular decision essentially are taking the lower percentage option. Especially against a quality offense like New Orleans. One first down for NO and the game would essentially be over. Why take that chance? With a QB like Matt Ryan – nicknamed “Matty Ice” because he’s so clutch – it’s obvious to say now that taking a chance on 4th and 5 would have been the smarter decision. Great coaches think aggressively in moments like these. Any doubt about what Belichick would have done? Mike Tomlin? Sean Payton? Great coaches don’t tighten and pull back at moments like this. Mike Smith did.
Why does this matter? Because I essentially viewed Mike Smith as one of those awesome coaches who has the stones to make tough decisions – viewed him as a guy who just gets it and rarely makes bad decisions. That to me was a bad decision and it cost his team as NO got a relatively easy first down. And I have since read some other articles that have indicated that he can lean conservative at times when it’s not helpful. My hope is that Smith, due perhaps to a lack of playoff experience as a head coach, pulls back a bit and plays it tight. While we all worry about McCarthy’s tendency to tighten under pressure (he did it a couple times at Philly -though I have to say, it did take stones to feature a rookie RB with virtually no NFL experience), hopefully Smith will be the one to hurt his team by doing it Saturday.
Michael Turner is scary, but a little less scary after having a couple questionable games in a row. Yes he scored a TD week 17 vs Carolina, but his numbers weren’t overly impressive and importantly, he lost his 2nd fumble in as many games. He is usually sure-handed, but this recent spate of fumbling might be something our D should key on (Woodson, Bishop, Matthews should be smacking at that ball – though they also need to be careful doing this because Turner can make you pay if you don’t wrap him up right away). Still, as much as I’d like to party because the Pack appears to have a running game now – I’d say there is still a fairly significant difference between the Falcons’ running game and the Pack’s. Michael Turner is an established threat – and when on, he can be nearly impossible to bring down because he has such a strong base/foundation. Raji, Pickett, Jenkins and the LBs will have to be on fire to slow this guy down (and again, forcing an early fumble might really help to do this).
One other guy to keep an eye on is Jason Snelling. He is very good and has a brutish running style that together with Turner, can really wear defenses down. I would be a bit surprised if Howard Green is made inactive again for this game as we’ll need big bodies rotating quite a bit up front in order to stay fresh against Atlanta.
I like Matt Ryan. I think he’s very good. He has a way of operating that is impressive to watch. He’s headed to the Pro Bowl, he’s confident in most situations, calm demeanor – and I like that he’s not afraid to show emotion if he knows the team has done well. But part of me wonders if all of this may be happening a bit fast for Ryan. He is good and he’s got quality talent around him (especially a robust running game) – but I’m not so sure just yet that he’s THAT good. I have heard several people compare him to Aaron Rodgers – saying they are about the same. I don’t think so. Ryan is good, but Rodgers is definitely better.
Both Rodgers and Ryan have been starters now for pretty much 3 full seasons. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of their career stats. (Keep in mind that the career stats for Rodgers would be higher if the stats from his first 3 years of spot duty under Favre were to be removed and only his 3 years as a starter were considered.) QB rating – Rodgers 98.4, Ryan 86.9. Rodgers throws 2.7 TDs for every Int, Ryan 1.9. Rodgers completes 64.4% of his passes, Ryan 60.8. While I’ll allow that Ryan does have a talent for comeback wins and Ryan also has more wins in his 3 years (33 to 27), Rodgers is the better QB by almost any measure.
The fact that Ryan is going to the Pro Bowl over Rodgers is simply not right. However, this may end up being a blessing in disguise for Packer Nation. As I indicated before, I have it on some authority that Rodgers was not happy at all re the Pro Bowl snub. Clearly, he played at a high level last weekend – as though he had something to prove. Don’t think for a moment that it is lost on Rodgers that Matt Ryan beat him out for a Pro Bowl roster spot. Rodgers takes stock of such things. He has already beaten one guy who beat him out (Vick), now he has a chance to beat another. The third QB on the roster, Brees, is already out of the playoffs – and frankly Rodgers should have been selected over Brees too. (Vick deserved the Pro Bowl nod and should start, but Rodgers should have been #2 behind him.) Rodgers has a chip on his shoulder and something tells me that the chip will remain there until he wins the Super Bowl. That’s part of why I think fans are so drawn to him.
Despite having the #22 ranked pass D (yards allowed per game), Atlanta does feature 2 CBs who can play – Brent “oddly massive thighs for a small guy” Grimes and Dunta Robinson. Robinson hasn’t been as good as he used to be this year, but he can still play. But Grimes has proven to be a clutch performer this year – including a huge pick at TB to secure a win on the last play. Still, Atlanta had lots of trouble stopping our passing game in Week 12 and with Driver back to being himself (he’s apparently fine after Sunday’s injury), I think the Falcons could have extra difficulty accounting for all of our receiving targets – especially if Rodgers successfully works in RBs, FBs, and TEs again.
One other fact that I BELIEVE is true. Around the time the Pack played Atlanta (Week 12), I’m pretty sure Atlanta was the #6 run defense w/respect to yards allowed per game. By the end of the year, they fell to #10. After Week 12, Atlanta gave up 2 100 yard games in a row. James Starks could do some damage Saturday night.
I heard McCarthy ordered James Jones to get super hammered Sunday night so that he’d forget about everything that happened last Sunday. There is just something about that particular pass play that Jones struggles with. Even on the 2-3 occasions when he has caught that pass (I think we’ve run it 5-6 times this year to him), he bobbles the ball before catching it.
Expect a clean game. Both teams are not penalized very often. However, remember that this is a home game for the Falcons, so be wary of the Leslie Nielsen home team officiating bias (rest in peace).
With nice dome conditions it will be interesting to see which kicking game prevails. Koenen and Bryant are solid but Crosby and Masthay have been very good down the stretch at well. Field position will matter in this game.
Arthur Blank looks like a villain of some kind until he smiles – then he reminds of a magpie for some reason.
Not sure what it is about that one NFL commercial featuring the Falcons – but I just like it. Cool team, nice rhythm to the song. One problem I have is that I don’t dislike the Falcons. I’m not keen on Roddy White and his tendency to push off to get open, but the rest of the team seems to consist of mostly of decent guys. I wish I could hate them, or at least hate their fans (like last weekend with the Eagles).
Still mulling over a final score prediction – tough one.
I think our secret weapon vs ATL is Starks – out of the backfield. Somewhat lost in the hoopla is that he was a VERY effective receiver in college, and in limited opportunities has been effective for the Pack as well. I hope MM has the wisdom to use him in this fashion. Lots of play action, sending the receivers deep and then throwing to Starks between or beyond the LBs. I expect this would be extremely effective. And unforseen.
I hope that with all of the talk about Starks this week that MM will dial up a few mis-direction or screen plays with Starks as a decoy to get either Jackson or Kuhn open in space. Both of those guys are most dangerous when they get a head of steam up and with all of the multiple back sets that MM like to use, I think there will be some oppurtunities to use all of this attention on Starks to the Pack’s larger advantage.
Andy I’m sure you haveread this alread but just in case—from MM’s presser today;
(Does the emergence of Desmond Bishop surprise you at all?)
I don’t think anybody’s surprised about Desmond Bishop. Desmond is a football player, a very instinctive, tough football player that really, every opportunity he’s been given, he’s taken full advantage of, and that’s no different with the last one of being a starter. Been very productive, all the way throughout his career. I’m just very happy for him personally, and he’s earned everything he’s accomplished so far.
Also re: the Ryan to Rodgers coparison Ryan has much better hands when doing a handoff. Rodgers has that Favre type delivery of just stick it out there for the world to see. Ryan does and no one really knows who has the ball until the run is on. Wish Rodgers would learn thast technique.
and 56, I hadn’t seen McCarthy’s Bishop comments. Nice. But you raise a great point re the obvious handoff style- I’ve never been a fan of that either. Even Mark Sanchez can really fake defenders out with his handoff style and I do wish Rodgers would work on that. On the other hand, when Rodgers does the obvious handoff move, perhaps it increases the likelihood that defenders will bite. Overall though, I do wish he’d be more discreet sometimes.