Sunday, October 05, 2008

Packers - Falcons preview

Hmmm...Packers at home...favored by 4...but mounting injuries...weak (to put it kindly) running game...and not sure who'll be at quarterback....

Somehow, I think this game will be a lot tougher than was initially thought when looking at the schedule before the start of the season. After all, both the Packers and the Falcons are 2-2. And if you look at the comparative stats, Packer fans, in many categories the edge goes to the Falcons: average number of first downs, yards per game, rushing yards per game (nearly double the Pack!), yards per rush, interceptions, sacks allowed, field goals, possession time, points allowed, first downs allowed, yards per game allowed, rushing yards allowed per game, yards per rush allowed, and passing yards allowed per game. In short, on most of the major stats of the game, the edge goes to the Falcons.

A big part of Atlanta's offense is the thunder and lightning running back duo of Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. While not the equal of the Cowboys' Marion Barber - Felix Jones combo, Turner and Norwood are similar to the extent they present the Packers defense with the same kind of problems. Turner is the power guy who could gash the Pack up the middle while Norwood could do damage -- as Jones did -- running to the outside using his speed. If the Packers defense doesn't contain that running game it could be a long afternoon. At the same time, the "D" must get pressure on the rookie QB, Matt Ryan. This will be even more difficult than it has been so far this season for the Packers with the loss of Cullen Jenkins.

On the offensive side of things, there are two big questions for the Packers going into today's game: can the Packers generate any semblance of a running game, and who will be the quarterback? So far this season, Ryan Grant has been ineffective. Of course, it's hard to run through a hole when there is no hole to run through. The offensive line -- and the zone blocking scheme -- is again out of sync, as last season, in these early games. If there is no running game again today, all the pressure goes on the QB. This is a problem whether an injured Aaron Rodgers is able to play today or whether rookie Matt Flynn gets the start.

Head coach Mike McCarthy told Rodgers that he needs to know 90 minutes before kickoff whether he is going to be able to play today or not. According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Rodgers is on the field right now warming up, seeing if he can go. Rodgers was quoted this week as saying, "It's going to be a matter of, can I make the throws I need to make? The pain is something I can deal with." It will probably go right down to about 10:30 a.m. when the game inactives have to be turned in. There's a better than 50-50 chance that Flynn will get the start today. Regardless of how Rodgers feels, it might be that McCarthy decides the possibility of long-term injury requires him to sit Rodgers. Matt Flynn has been preparing all week as if he would be the starter, getting the majority of snaps. Fellow rookie, Brian Brohm, has been getting the snaps as #2.

I'm hoping I'm wrong, and that Rodgers is healthy enough to play and be effective. But my guess is that Matt Flynn will be the first rookie to start a game for the Pack since Don Majkowski in 1987.

I question this game as much as any this season, given the combination of factors noted earlier. And if the Packers play no better than last week, they have a real chance of losing this game. Still, I think the Pack will find some way to win at home...somebody will step up and make a key play, perhaps on special teams or via a turnover. It may be ugly. But I think it will be a Packers' win. I'm taking the Pack 20-17.