Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers: Where Are They Now

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Brian Poole
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Brian Poole /

The Packers return to Atlanta this Sunday in a rematch of January’s NFC Championship clash. What has changed since for both teams?

The Green Bay Packers travel to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football this week in the first regular season game in Mercedes Benz Stadium. These foes have collided eight times during the Matt Ryan era, with the series being deadlocked at four wins apiece.

Most recently though, this matchup represents a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game. As we all know, Atlanta prevailed in that contest in runaway fashion by a score of 44-21.

The storyline for the Packers this offseason, at least in the national media’s eyes, was of a team that reloaded its talent pool in the hopes of overcoming its recent playoff woes.

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On the flip side, the Falcons dealt primarily with questions surrounding their Super Bowl collapse and how it’ll affect them moving forward. Very few media members actually gave thought to how the Falcons bettered themselves in the offseason.

Therefore, let’s rectify that and examine how far both teams have really come in eight months’ time.

Key acquisitions and their impact thus far

We all know who the Falcons’ major additions were this offseason. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, defensive end Takk McKinley, and linebacker Duke Riley were brought in to upgrade a lackluster front seven.

Their impact on the defense has already been apparent in just one game of action. Poe made his presence felt in the middle last Sunday as he went on to record four pressures in Atlanta’s 23-17 win over the Bears.

As for the two rookies, Riley flashed his speed at weakside linebacker en route to notching six tackles, while Takk showed similar burst off the edge in the Falcons’ nickel package. The latter also made a really nice play in the open field after rushing the quarterback, as evidenced below.

Falcons fans can expect more effort plays like this from McKinley in the future.

Contrary to popular belief, the Packers did not in fact add many new faces to their existing roster. Outside of bringing back a former corner of theirs (Davon House) and adding a new toy at tight end (Martellus Bennett), this is the same team that lost by three scores to a team that, as alluded to, got better in their weakest area.

One might argue the Packers’ biggest improvement was that they got healthy, which is true. Receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerbacks Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins were all banged up in the NFC Championship game.

However, with respect to Randall and Rollins, neither of them have been all that effective even when healthy. The graphic below, which depicts the Packers’ week one grades on defense, would support that claim.

Given that House will likely draw receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons’ second and third receiver should have a field day on Sunday, especially Mohamed Sanu in the slot.

Key losses and their impact thus far

Aside from the Super Bowl hangover questions, a lot has been made about the Falcons’ change in offensive coordinator. Steve Sarkisian took over for the departed Kyle Shanahan and the initial reception from the fan base after week one was less than stellar.

But as discussed in this week’s Falcons First Takes, Sarkisian’s conservative play calling against the Bears could be attributed to the run game being stymied and guard Wes Schweitzer struggling in pass protection.

Therefore, more time is needed to adequately judge the Falcons’ new signal caller and right guard.

Much like the Falcons, the Packers only starter that had to be replaced was right guard. Green Bay opted to sign a veteran rather than take Atlanta’s youth movement approach as they eventually settled on Jahri Evans.

Evans does, however, represent a downgrade from T.J. Lang so an opportunity to exploit Green Bay’s interior offensive line may present itself. It should be noted that four of Atlanta’s five sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers last year came from the interior. Look for that trend to continue on Sunday.

What it means for Sunday

With a rejuvenated and motivated Packers team entering week two, this game should resemble the October 30th contest. That game featured a back-and-forth affair with the winner ultimately decided by who had possession last.

Next: Falcons vs Packers: Week 2 Staff predictions

The Falcons may not be so lucky this time around; therefore, they’ll need their upgraded front seven to be a factor. And who knows, maybe Atlanta’s defense will have to answer the call once again like they did in Chicago.

Anticipate another nail biter this Sunday, Dirty Bird Nation.