Earplugs essential for Packers' trip to Falcons' new nest
Second in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2017 regular season.
GREEN BAY - In Week 2 of the 2016 season, the Green Bay Packers traveled to Minneapolis for the grand opening of the new U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. They left with a 17-14 defeat.
In Week 2 of the 2017 season, the Packers will travel to Atlanta for the grand opening of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the reigning NFC champion Falcons. The walls surely will be reverberating once again.
Crowds inside U.S. Bank Stadium reached 114 decibels during the first exhibition game last August. That kind of volume nestles between live rock concert (110 decibels) and emergency vehicle siren (115 decibels), according to popular decibel charts, which makes verbal communication nearly impossible.
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Just as they always do, the Packers will practice with speakers blaring in the days leading up to the game. Sometimes they blast music of different genres. Sometimes they pump in artificial crowd noise that makes your ears ring.
The bottom line is that non-verbal communication becomes extremely important at a point in time when offenses are still chugging to life. The receivers will pay extra attention to hand signals from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the offensive line will sharpen their silent counts with whoever replaces T.J. Lang at right guard.
A defeat in September would be the Packers’ third loss to the Falcons in a 10-month span.
Here are three things to know about the Falcons:
» Big coaching changes: Yes, the Falcons reached the Super Bowl last year and came within inches of winning it all, but that didn’t translate to calm waters during the offseason. The Falcons ranked second in total offense last season and led the league in scoring at 33.8 points per game. (The next closest team, New Orleans, averaged 29.3 points per game.) But such success led to the inevitable departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. His replacement is Steve Sarkisian. There is also a new defensive coordinator in Atlanta. Head coach Dan Quinn made the decision to fire Richard Smith after the 2016 season and replaced him with Marquand Manuel, a first-time coordinator.
» Delayed effect: Outside linebacker Vic Beasley led the league in sacks last year with 15½, an increase of nearly 300 percent over his rookie total of 4. And while Quinn prefers to rotate his rushers and linemen in rapid fashion, the Falcons lacked consistency opposite Beasley. Their second-best rusher was veteran Dwight Freeney, who turned 37 in February and is no longer with the team. That’s why the Falcons snatched UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley in the first round of this year’s draft. McKinley had 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss during his final season with UCLA and has serious upside as a pass rusher. However, McKinley had shoulder surgery in early March that will sideline him for up to six months. It’s unclear whether the Packers will have to contend with Beasley’s newest friend.
» Impressing Las Vegas: In September of last year, the Falcons’ odds of winning the Super Bowl stood at 80:1 — the same odds applied to the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. Oh, how much difference a year can make. The Falcons rolled through the regular season with a juggernaut offense that took them all the way to the Super Bowl, and oddsmakers in Las Vegas clearly noticed. As of early June, the Falcons were pegged at 13:1 to take home the Lombardi Trophy. That’s good enough for fifth-best odds in the league, trailing only the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.
Packers schedule glimpse
Sept. 17 at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m., NBC
Week before: Regular season opener, vs. Seattle Seahawks, Sept. 10
Week after: vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Sept. 24
On the horizon: vs. Chicago Bears, Sept. 28
Coach: Dan Quinn (19-13, third season)
2016 record: 11-5, NFC South champions
Scoring offense: 33.8 points per game (1st in NFL)
Total offense: 415.8 yards per game (2nd)
Scoring defense: 25.4 points allowed per game (27th)
Total defense: 371.2 yards allowed per game (25th)
Series: Packers lead 17-15
Last meeting: In theory the Packers and Falcons were equidistant from the Super Bowl when they arrived in the Georgia Dome for the NFC Championship game last season, but the level playing field was quickly destroyed. Led by quarterback Matt Ryan (392 yards, four touchdowns) and wide receiver Julio Jones (180 yards, two touchdowns) the Falcons embarrassed the Packers in a game that was over after the first quarter. The final score, 44-21, was Green Bay’s most lopsided loss of the season.