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NFL Preview - Green Bay (7-3) at Atlanta (8-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It's common for southerners to make their guests feel right at home. The Atlanta Falcons haven't received that memo and look to make Green Bay's visit to the Georgia Dome a forgettable one when the two NFC powerhouses collide Sunday afternoon.
The Falcons are 5-0 at home this season and own an 18-3 record under head coach Mike Smith at the Georgia Dome. Rising young star Matt Ryan is 18-1 (.947) as the host -- the most home wins for any quarterback in the league over the last three seasons. He's also won 14 straight in Atlanta.
Ryan, who has thrown at least one touchdown pass in a career-high nine straight games, led the Falcons to a 34-17 victory over St. Louis on Sunday from the Edward Jones Dome, improving to 20-4 in dome games since the 2008 campaign. He completed 26-of-39 passes for 253 yards and two scores, and has six touchdown passes with no interceptions in his last three games. Ryan is part of an offense that hasn't turned the ball over in three straight weeks.
"What can you say about him? Our guy continues to mature, it is his third season as we all know and I think each and every game he continues to get better," Smith said of Ryan after improving to an NFC-best 8-2. "Matt has a very good understanding of our offense and he is becoming the leader of our football team."
Atlanta was able to orchestrate the no-huddle offense with ease under Ryan, the 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year, and used 70 offensive plays to shut down the Rams' defense. Racking up 391 yards of offense and running back Michael Turner recording another 100-yard performance helps too, as the Falcons posted their fourth straight win and lead both New Orleans and Tampa Bay by one game in the NFC South.
Turner will try to penetrate the Packers' tough defense for his sixth 100-yard effort of the season. He came away with 131 yards and a score on 28 carries last week and has hit the century mark in rushing five times this season. A productive Turner usually translates into a more dangerous day for Ryan.
Green Bay will be ready for whatever Ryan and the Atlanta offense has to offer, as it's coming off Sunday's 31-3 rout of the downtrodden Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.
Aaron Rodgers destroyed Minnesota's secondary for 301 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes, leading the Packers to their fourth straight win and a 7-3 record. The Packers are tied with the Chicago Bears atop the NFC North standings and are in the midst of playing four of five games outside of Lambeau Field. That hasn't mattered so far for Rodgers and a potent offense.
"When he gets in a zone like that, there is no quarterback better," said wideout Greg Jennings, who ended with 152 yards and three scores on seven receptions. "He is so accurate, able to extend plays with his legs, then he can run when you give him the lane. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense when you have a quarterback back there who can do everything you don't want him to be able to do. It's exciting for us."
What's also exciting for the offense is that it has yet to turn the ball over for three straight games, something it hasn't done since the 1963 campaign. Green Bay had turned the ball over 13 times over the first seven weeks after the team established a new franchise-low with just 16 giveaways for the entire 2009 regular season. The last turnover for the Packers was a Rodgers interception against Minnesota at home back in Week 7.
Keeping the football out of Ryan's hands will be key Sunday. Green Bay had two takeaways in the Twin Cities, as Brett Favre was intercepted by Packers cornerback Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson forced a fumble. Woodson tied a career-high with four forced fumbles a season ago and has already matched that total with six contests remaining on the season.
Green Bay has a 12-11 edge in its overall regular-season series with Atlanta, but the Falcons came through with a 27-24 triumph at Lambeau Field when these teams last faced one another, back in 2008. The Packers prevailed in their most recent visit to the Georgia Dome, which took place in 2005, by a 33-25 count.
The Packers and Falcons have also squared off twice in postseason play, with Green Bay earning a 37-20 home win in a 1995 NFC First Round Playoff and Atlanta stunning the Packers in Wisconsin by a 27-7 score in the opening round of the 2002 NFC Playoffs. That latter game marked the first postseason loss at Lambeau Field in the Packers' history.
Atlanta's Smith is 1-0 in his career against the Packers, while Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 0-1 all-time versus both Smith and the Falcons.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Rodgers (2,601 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT) posted a season-best 141.3 passer rating and helped set the final nail in Minnesota's coffin with four TD passes. He also beat Favre for the second time this year and has thrown three or more touchdown strikes three times this season. Rodgers hasn't been picked off since a Week 7 win over the Vikings. He has faced the Falcons once before and lit them up for 313 yards and three scores with an interception in a 27-24 loss at home on Oct. 5, 2008. On Sunday, the Packers showed no signs of rust after their bye week, especially Jennings, who recorded just his second 100- yard receiving performance of the season. Jennings (703 yards, 9 TD) has six touchdown catches in his last five games and became the first Packer to post three touchdown receptions in a game since wide receiver Javon Walker did so at Indianapolis on Sept. 26, 2004. Jennings has turned the corner since a three-game stretch with only 65 yards on three catches. The former Western Michigan star also became the first Packer since wide receiver Sterling Sharpe (12 straight) to post six or more catches in five consecutive games. Green Bay will have to get its ground game going since it's rated 19th in that category. Brandon Jackson (488 yards, 3 TD) and Dimitri Nance (48 yards) shared the load in Minnesota and will most likely do so again in the Georgia Dome.
Falcons safety William Moore (36 tackles, 4 INT) had the lone pick of the game last Sunday and snapped Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's NFL rookie record streak of 169 consecutive pass attempts without an INT. Moore's interception gave the Falcons 15 on the season, which ranks second behind Philadelphia. The defense, however, failed to get a sack against the Rams and will be in for a long night if Rodgers gets the kind of protection he did in Minnesota. Atlanta shouldn't have to worry about the ground attack since the Packers' offense is mainly predicated on the right arm of Rodgers and the hands of Jennings. Atlanta is 24th in pass defense this season, allowing 244.1 yards per game, and has average cornerbacks in Brent Grimes (53 tackles, 3 INT) and Dunta Robinson (32 tackles). Grimes had a team-high three passes defensed on Sunday. Besides trying to lock down Jennings, the Falcons must be wary of James Jones, who has scored in back-to-back contests. They allowed the Rams to convert just one of 10 third-down attempts and held them to 71 yards rushing. Atlanta defensive end and sack master John Abraham (21 tackles, 8 sacks) was inactive against the Rams with a groin injury and is questionable versus Green Bay. Jamaal Anderson (13 tackles, sack) replaced Abraham and posted one tackle for a defensive line rotation that end Kroy Biermann credits for fresh legs.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
Ryan (2,518 yards, 18 TD, 5 INT) will try to wear down Green Bay's defense with methodical drives and some no-huddle plays on Sunday, something that worked in Atlanta's favor on Sunday. Ryan was the mastermind behind a 14-play drive in the fourth quarter that led to a 26-17 lead. One aspect for Ryan's success was that the offensive line did not allow a sack for the third time this season. Ryan has been sacked just twice in the last four games, giving the young signal caller enough time to post a passer rating of 100 or higher for the fifth time in the 2010 campaign. Atlanta is a perfect 14-0 when Ryan's quarterback rating is 100 points or better and has won eight of its last nine games. Ryan hit eight different receivers in the Gateway City and stud wideout Roddy White hauled in nine passes for 83 yards. White (1,017 yards, 7 TD) also eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the fourth straight year, becoming the first player in team history to record four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He passed former Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison for the third-most receiving yards in franchise history. Rison had 5,633 receiving yards in four seasons, while White owns 5,706 yards. Turner (864 yards, 6 TD) is on pace for the second 1,000-yard season in his career. He ran for 1,699 yards in 2008.
There's only so much a defense can do to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and the Packers were able to hold him to 72 yards on 14 carries. Green Bay played so well on the defensive side of the ball Minnesota was forced to throw the more often. Atlanta will try to establish the run early to keep pressure off of Ryan against the Packers' 18th-ranked run defense which is allowing 112.1 yards per game. The team committed one penalty on Sunday in a hostile environment and will face similar surroundings down south since the Georgia Dome is known for not welcoming visitors with open arms. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers has his hands full for another week. Capers' 3-4 unit has allowed just 10 points over the last three games to move into a tie for the No. 1 ranking in scoring defense with Chicago. Both teams have given up 146 points through 10 games. The Packers have allowed just four touchdowns in five road games, including none in their last two, and have sack leader Clay Matthews on their side. Matthews (36 tackles, 12 sacks, INT) had the only sack for the defense on Sunday, while DB's Nick Collins (50 tackles, INT) and Woodson (60 tackles, sack, 2 INT) combined for seven stops.
The two quarterbacks alone in this matchup could combine for 60 fantasy points so starting both Ryan and Rodgers is a must for their Week 12 date. Turner, White and tight end Tony Gonzalez should also have a spot reserved for them in most lineups. Ryan even threw TD passes to Brian Finneran and Justin Peelle, showing more proof that he has the offense under control. Kicker Matt Bryant is another option since the Falcons score a lot and find themselves in enemy territory quite regularly.
Rodgers and Jennings are starting to click and have been off the charts the past few weeks. Since the Falcons will try to take Jennings out of the game early and often, it wouldn't hurt to send Jones out there. Green Bay's defense has been one of the best in 2010, but this may not be a good matchup. Packers kicker Mason Crosby is, however.
It's almost December and this is the time of year for teams with playoff aspirations to start hunkering down. Atlanta and Green Bay are both right in the mix for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Falcons have an edge for how well they've played inside the confines of the Georgia Dome. Some Atlanta players, including Ryan, have stated that the team is still in search of a full performance even though its already 8-2 on the season. Continued preparation and attention to detail have been the pillars to the Falcons' success. They need to come out firing on Sunday in order to secure a possible head-to-head tie-breaker with the Packers. Green Bay won't go down easy as it has outscored the opposition, 85-10, the past three contests.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Falcons 27, Packers 23
11/24 14:16:56 ET
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