Winning the Battle of the Run Game Will Curtail Rodgers’ Impact
Dec 15, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Washington Redskins during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Redskins 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Rodgers appears unstoppable with his passing attack acumen and ability to avoid pressure, but the Packers’ offense has an Achilles heel that revealed itself during their losses: how their rushing attack impacts their passing efficacy. We may finally witness Mike Smith’s antiquated notions of winning via domination of the run game on both sides of the ball proven valid again – even if for only one game – providing an major upset win for the visiting Birds. I analyzed the Packers’ three losses for patterns the Falcons might capitalize upon to devise a victory formula.
In the Packers’ loss to New Orleans, Rodgers passed for a net 402 yards with just 1 TD and 2 INTs. More importantly, Green Bay running backs gathered just 68 yards on the ground for a tote average of barely four yards. The Saints conversely ran a robust 31 times for 193 yards while Drew Brees was superb completing 27 of 32 for 311 yards, 3 TDs, and no picks. New Orleans outran the Pack by 125 yards, won the time-of-possession battle, and took a three-touchdown victory.
Green Bay netted just 76 yards rushing with a poor 3.5-yard average in their loss to Detroit. Rodgers had a decidedly un-Rodgers-like line of 16/27, 162 yards, one TD, and no INTs. Like the Saints, the Lions were dedicated to the run with 38 carries for a game-controlling 115 yards. QB Matthew Stafford had a pedestrian, but not game-losing, performance with 22 for 34 passing accruing 246 yards, no TDs, and 2 relatively harmless INTs. Detroit’s commitment to the rush attack allowed them to dominate time of possession by 16+ minutes and topped Green Bay by 12 points.
The Packers mustered a pedestrian 80 yards on 21 carries for a subpar 3.8-yard average in their first loss of the season to Seattle. Rodgers went 23/33 for 189 yards with one TD and INT each. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson had a sufficient game going 19 of 28, 191 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs, but once again we see how a Green Bay-beater consistently ran the ball as Seattle rushed 37 times for a monstrous 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. This gave the Seahawks control of the clock for 6 crucial minutes more than the Packers and helped them finish the game as 20-point victors.
The patterns here are fairly clear and so is the two-fold formula for beating the Packers:
1) Hinder the Packers 19th NFL ranked rushing attack and Rodgers will likely perform as a fairly normal NFL QB. Green Bay averages 82 yards rushing in losses but 118 yards in wins. The Packers’ losses saw passing performances of just 175, 147, and an outlying 402 yards as Green Bay played catch-up by throwing the ball 22 straight times at the end of being blown-out by New Orleans. Conversely the Pack have thrown for an average of over 278 yards during wins. Atlanta must contain Green Bay’s run game, force the Packers into a one-dimensional passing attack, and provide the Predators in the Falcons secondary chances to aggressively earn takeaways as they have recently.
2) Commit to running the ball extensively and win the time-of-possession battle. Each team to beat the Packers this year ran the ball more than 30 times and owned the ball longer. Consecutive solid performances the past two games by Atlanta’s backfield – led by Steven Jackson’s two consecutive best-as-a-Falcon games – going against the Packers’ 28th-ranked rush defense should provide the Falcons’ coaching staff the confidence to tailor their offensive game plan to commit to hitting that 30+ mark. An effective and consistent running game will maintain control of the ball for the Falcons, buy time for Falcons QB Matt Ryan to find WR Julio Jones deep as he did last week, and most importantly keep Rodgers on the sideline where even the best QBs are helpless.
Aug 8, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice, center, talks with the Falcons offensive line. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
This is the proverbial trap game for the Packers where I expect them to come out flat early, so the Falcons must take advantage of immediate opportunities to develop a cushion before Green Bay realizes this isn’t the cake walk they expected. Stuff the Packers run game and Rodgers’ passing prowess loses its luster. Atlanta’s commitment to successfully running the ball behind an offensive line that seemingly has jelled over the past month should help Atlanta’s passing game be proficient while also accruing a ball possession advantage that effectively limited Green Bay’s scoring opportunities. This is the recipe for one tasty upset.
The Atlanta Falcons seem to be catching fire at exactly the right time of year. Beat the Packers in Green Bay during December with eminently winnable games afterwards against Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Carolina… and our Atlanta Falcons can roll into the playoffs with no pressure, on top of the football world, and be the team nobody wants on their side of the post-season bracket.
Do you believe?