Here’s a preview of what to watch for when the Green Bay Packers visit the Atlanta Falcons for a 3:25 p.m. kickoff Sunday.
1. Can the Packers' secondary hold up against Julio Jones?
The last time Dom Capers attempted to hold Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in check, things didn’t go so well. Matt Ryan found Jones 11 times for 259 yards and a touchdown when the Falcons visited Lambeau Field back in 2014.
Capers tried everything that night, from sending nearly every able-bodied cornerback to cover Jones, to employing several different coverages. Man-to-man, man-match, Cover 2, Cover 3, none of it mattered. Jones shredded the Packers in a shootout that Green Bay won 43-37.
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The one corner who came close to holding his own that night was Davon House. Of the current Packers cornerbacks with an actual chance of playing on Sunday, second-year pro LaDarius Gunter probably compares most favorably to House. Both are tall, physical corners who use their long arms to be physical with wide receivers.
Capers and the Packers certainly will give Gunter help throughout most of the game, but Jones undoubtedly will gobble up yards against a depleted Packers secondary.
2. Can the Packers' offense continue to operate without a running game?
Whatever Mike McCarthy’s plans were for undrafted rookie running back Don Jackson and the running game last Thursday night, the Packers were forced to abandon it after Jackson left due to an injured hand.
Yes, second-year wide receiver Ty Montgomery has started running the ball, to go along with the work Randall Cobb has done in the backfield. But they are both wide receivers masquerading as actual running backs, no matter how many times the Packers tell us Montgomery is attending running back meetings.
Without a bonafide back, the Packers took to the air and used their short passing attack as an extension of their running game. That’s fine as a change-of-pace adjustment. Is it sustainable over the course of several games? The Packers seem intent on finding out, starting this Sunday in Atlanta.
3. The Matthews family Reunion
Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews and Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews? Yes, they’re related. Cousins, in fact. The two have faced off once before, in Jake’s rookie year. Much was made about how Clay was going to “welcome” his younger family member to the NFL when the two matched up in Lambeau two years ago.
As it turned out, the younger Matthews ended up holding up quite well against his cousin, something you’d think he may have brought up once or twice during family get-togethers over the last two years.
The older cousin gets another shot at the young buck Sunday afternoon. Be sure to watch for a little extra intensity when Clay is lined up over Jake.