McGinn: Rating the Packers vs. Falcons
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers picked a terrible time to play one of their two poorest games of the season.
Talk about going out with a whimper. In an abominable performance, the Packers were crushed Sunday in the NFC Championship Game by the Atlanta Falcons, 44-21. It was the final game at the Georgia Dome.
By the fourth quarter, the Packers had throttled down. The Falcons’ final touchdown, a 3-yard run outside a crash call inside, showed players with little interest in pursuit or getting off blocks.
There was little or no fight left in the Packers. In some ways, they looked like a team that had just given up.
Here is a rating of the Packers against the Falcons, with their 1 to 5 football totals in parentheses:
Not only did Jordy Nelson play with broken ribs, he probably was the team’s best receiver. In truth, that wasn’t saying much. The six WRs caught 16 passes for just 176 yards (11.0) against a secondary that was without No. 1 CB Desmond Trufant (shoulder) and allowed 341 net passing to the Saints in Game 16. Of the 176 yards, just 38 (2.4) came after the catch. Falcons coach Dan Quinn went away from his base Cover 3 scheme to challenge the Packers with extensive man-to-man. Nelson beat CB Jalen Collins on a deep corner route for 27 on the second play. On the next snap, he curled inside against nickel back Brian Poole for 15. He was unable to sustain his fast start as the pain obviously built up, and he had a bad drop late in the first half that might have led to points or at least prevented Atlanta from scoring. Still, Nelson had enough left to beat CB Robert Alford on a slant for a late 3-yard TD. He played 49 of the first 56 offensive snaps before being withheld from the final 12. It underscored anew just how important being a part of the team is for Nelson. Davante Adams (27) and Geromino Allison (28) were limping around on their ankle and hamstring injuries and couldn’t make much headway. Randall Cobb (66) wasn’t much of a factor, either. His two big gainers (34, 22) came when he broke off routes and there was all day to spot him. For the second game in a row the most targeted receiver was Jared Cook (51, including 15 with his hand down). Of his 12 targets, he caught seven and dropped two. He kept falling down at the catch point. The snap total for Richard Rodgers (16, six with his hand down) was his lowest since Game 3 of his rookie season (2014). He had merely one snap in the first half. With the season on the line, McCarthy went to Cook and injured WRs to fill out his spread formations rather than his former starting TE.
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OFFENSIVE LINE (2)
It’s hard to remember a game with fewer candidates to be named No. 1 star of the week. Almost by default, the choice was T.J. Lang. He only played 56% of the snaps (38) before bowing out with a foot injury. In his brief stint he didn’t allow a pressure or a “bad” run. Lang was replaced by Jason Spriggs, who played 25 snaps at right guard and the last five at right tackle. The later the season went, the worse the rookie from Indiana played. His scorecard included two pressures and 1 ½ “bad” runs. He’s too weak to sustain in the run game and is an easy mark to get walked back in protection. On a line that became synchronized in its movement, Spriggs gets into awkward positions and gaps are created. He’s turning defenders loose way too often. He has a long, long way to go. It was telling that when Lane Taylor went out for good after 18 plays because of what he said was a sprained knee, line coach James Campen waved in Don Barclay instead of Spriggs. In 50 snaps, Barclay’s longest stint since Game 9, he didn’t yield a pressure or “bad” run. He sat square, displayed veteran savvy and had a fine combo block on a successful 2-point conversion. DE Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks (15 ½) but, other than a flush against Spriggs, he didn’t hurt the Packers in either game. At times, Cook chipped Beasley on his way out to assist Bryan Bulaga. He allowed two pressures and one-half “bad” run but blanked Beasley. On the other side, David Bakhtiari closed with one of his worst performances. DE Dwight Freeney, 36, beat Bakhtiari with a spin, an up and bull rush for three pressures. Slow-moving but well-muscled Tyson Jackson slammed inside of Bakhtiari for a sack. With the Packers in shotgun for all but two or three plays, the heat was on Corey Linsley to deliver workable snaps. Several in the late stages were on the low side. He was partially responsible for the bull-rush sack by DT Ra’Shede Hageman and a knockdown by MLB Deion Jones. When Bulaga sat out the final five plays for concussion tests, the Packers were short another blocker so NT Letroy Guion volunteered at right guard. He had just one poor play.
QUARTERBACKS (1 1/2)
It was a mistake-ridden performance by Aaron Rodgers on a day when Matt Ryan was superior in every way. There was no reason for Rodgers to look or play tired. People have the flu bug all the time and nobody even talks about it. He wasn’t sharp throwing the ball or recognizing the 28% blitzing on passes that Quinn and his coordinator, Richard Smith, sent his way. On two plays he didn’t react properly to slot pressures by Poole. On the first, he threw a poor ball to Cobb on third and 2 so the gain was just 1 and the Packers had to punt. On the second, it seemed as if Rodgers didn’t even consider Poole would charge again. He did, this time from the blind side, and ran through the unsuspecting Rodgers on a 9-yard completion. It was one of his hardest shots of the season. He just threw his interception up there for the picking. Yes, Hageman bowled over Linsley, but all he did was grab Rodgers by what looked like the laces. He’s got to step out of that sack. He ran very well (4-46), including another zone-read keep that has become a play-calling staple in the last month. What few plays he made were on the edges, not the pocket. Rookie LB De’Vondre Campbell, a fast athlete, spied Rodgers about as effectively as any player has all season. Rodgers conversed with and seemingly complained to referee Bill Vinovich throughout the game. It probably irritated the Falcons’ defenders, who might have been even more eager to thwart him as a result. Super Bowl berths are hard to achieve with a franchise quarterback playing well below par.
RUNNING BACKS (1/2)
The Packers wanted to feature Ty Montgomery but he was in and out of the lineup several times with injuries and finished with just 23 snaps. A shot from SS Keanu Neal on the fifth play of the second half damaged Montgomery’s ribs and ended his afternoon. As a cold-weather team, the Packers need a big back with durability. They’ll have to decide if Montgomery fits that mold. Aaron Ripkowski is a fullback. He had to play far too many snaps (28) largely because the front office left flighty Christine Michael (15) as the only other alternative. There’s no doubt that Ripkowski’s lost fumble, the first by a Green Bay RB in 14 games, was a crusher. He had a strong 12-yard run going but by then four tacklers were almost on top of him. Ripkowski was bringing his other hand to the ball when Collins made the fateful strip. Making matters worse, he actually lost a second fumble but the officials didn’t call it and Quinn erred not to challenge the ruling. Both Michael and Ripkowski dropped passes. The routine pass in the flat to Michael clanged off his face mask. Once again, Michael demonstrated he was a poor fit for this team. There still are times he doesn’t know where to line up. Usually, all he looks for on his runs is the cutback. It would have to be almost impossible trying to block for him.
DEFENSIVE LINE (2)
No one could ever question the intensity of Mike Daniels (played 55 of the 73 defensive snaps). He powered through blocks by RG Chris Chester, LG Andy Levitre and LT Jake Matthews to make solo tackles on gains totaling 7 yards. He also beat RT Ryan Schraeder off the ball to set up a tackle for loss. Daniels lost a sack on one of LaDarius Gunter’s penalties but beat the guards for a total of three pressures. The Falcons’ game plan was to unleash an air barrage against the Packers’ porous back end. When the score swelled to 31-0, the Packers played 14 snaps of their 3-4 defense after not playing even one in the first half. This was the first game all season in which Kenny Clark (31) played more than Guion (26). Neither one generated a pressure but at least Clark was close a few times. Guion is a thrasher who can’t get off the line of scrimmage anymore. His nine seasons are catching up to him. The Falcons sent two rushes over Guion for 19. Clark makes mistakes, like when he rushed too wide and Ryan ran past him for a 14-yard TD. But there also was a play in which he strong-armed Pro Bowl C Alex Mack, knocking him from the game briefly. Dean Lowry (18) also played.
The best player on defense either was Clay Matthews (57) or Daniels. Certainly, more should be expected from a player of Matthews’ caliber. He had an excellent first half, registering three knockdowns and one hurry, but was shut out in the second half. Dom Capers, who blitzed 29.3%, used Matthews six times in his stand-up “rover” role. On Ryan’s second pass Matthews beat his cousin, LT Jake Matthews, around the corner and looked to be inches away from a strip-sack. Coordinator Kyle Shanahan double-teamed Matthews on 23.1% of his individual, non-stunt rushes. Others have bull-rushed Jake successfully, and Clay tried his best. On the other side, Julius Peppers (42, including 25 at OLB), Nick Perry (43) and Datone Jones (36, 23 at OLB) combined for five pressures. None, however, came at the expense of Schraeder, which gave Ryan a solid side all day. Jones has had a lot of hits this season because he plays bootlegs well. He struggles maintaining lane integrity as a rusher. Perry’s tackle for loss was his first since Game 9. On the inside, Joe Thomas proved once again that he just can’t play every snap, as was the case Sunday. He missed three tackles. He bit on play-action. He got knocked around. He couldn’t cover RB Tevin Coleman in the flat. He took a bad angle on Ryan’s TD run and then kind of gave up. There was improvement in the second half. He was making sure, solid tackles. Jake Ryan (36) departed early with a shoulder injury after biting on a play-action pass to Julio Jones. He’ll never forget whiffing on the second-quarter fumble recovery. Blake Martinez (18) replaced Ryan and played better than he has in weeks. He was decisive and physical.
Julio Jones seemed extremely motivated to show Gunter (67) who’s boss after the young corner contained him with ample safety help Oct. 30. This time, Jones devoured him. He was just too big, too strong, too fast, too good. Damarious Randall (69) didn’t have much to do with Jones until he came charging down the sideline. Yikes! Befitting Randall’s recent style of play, he made a feeble tackle attempt and off went Jones for a 73-yard TD. Randall acts like a stud corner but his performance down the stretch was more that of a reject. He rounds off his angles, plays soft, is late to line up, doesn’t recognize patterns and doesn’t want in on the action. Nickel back Micah Hyde (39) kept getting exploited before leaving with a shoulder injury. His replacement, Quinten Rollins (19), was maybe OK. Other than one breakup each, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (73) and Morgan Burnett (73) were no threat to Ryan. When Kentrell Brice played one of his three snaps from scrimmage after suffering a shoulder injury on the opening kickoff, he missed the tackle on TE Austin Hooper that would have been a desperately needed stop. He didn’t play after that, and he probably shouldn’t have been in the game at all after the injury. Fellow rookie Marwin Evans played 25 snaps, seven more than he had played all season. He misjudged a long pass that should have been an interception at the goal-line.
Mason Crosby, the most accurate field-goal kicker in playoff annals, missed early from 41. It ended his post-season streak at 23 and sent shock waves through the ranks. From the believe it or not department: when Clinton-Dix seemed confused about where to line up for an onside attempt, Crosby tried to direct him and then was penalized for delay of game. His two kickoffs averaged 71 yards and 4.14 seconds of hang time. Jacob Schum’s two punts averaged 54 (gross), 47 (net) and 4.47.
SPECIAL TEAMS (1)
All seven of Matt Bosher’s long kickoffs were touchbacks. Of the four punts, the only return was 14 yards by Eric Weems. Crosby’s two onside kicks were lousy. The first went just 8 ½ yards and, had it not been for Evans’ diving tackle, would have been a TD for Mohamed Sanu. His second, of 17 yards, was fielded routinely by Sanu.
STARS OF THE GAME: 1. T.J. Lang; 2. Jordy Nelson; 3. Don Barclay
OVERALL RATING: 1/2 football