The latest edition of Monday Night Football offers a very interesting matchup between the 3-0 Green Bay Packers and the 0-3 Atlanta Falcons. These are two teams that started the season with sky-high expectations. Yet, they’ve headed in opposing directions since the campaign started in mid-September.
The Packers have been one of the most convincing teams in this early season with a perfect 3-0 record after three strong performances. Thus far, they’ve defeated two playoff teams in the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, in addition to beating another divisional opponent, the Lions. All three of these teams are average-to-good at worst and the Packers had little trouble beating them. Aaron Rodgers has completed 67 percent of his passes while managing a clean 9-0 TD/Interception ratio.
Meanwhile, Aaron Jones has provided the highly-productive ground game the Packers boasted last year with 6.1 yards per rush on 50 carries. The defense also ranks in the top half of the NFL. Green Bay has certainly been beyond impressive throughout one of the tougher slates on their schedule. For a top NFC contender, it seems mind-boggling to state that they could face a challenge in an 0-3 team. However, they have a lot to prepare themselves for ahead of their clash against Atlanta.
But the truth is that the Falcons’ record doesn’t reflect their talent and performance, at least offensively. Despite losing three in a row and allowing two double-digit comebacks, Atlanta is one of six NFL squads averaging 30-plus points a game while ranking eighth in total yards. These last-minute meltdowns are indeed a problem but it’s not as though the Falcons are terrible either. Their status as seven-point underdogs seems absolutely reasonable. So do the chances of them covering it or even winning at Lambeau Field.
Jones up against the Falcons rushing defense
Aaron Jones has been absolutely stunning through his team’s first three games. The Packers running back isn’t just the second-most productive running back so far (after Derrick Henry). He has also been a very useful weapon in the passing game. This has provided much-needed reinforcements with top wideout Davante Adams suffering injury woes. Jones nodded that he doesn’t plan on slowing down in Week 2 against the Lions. He caught 65 yards through the air as well as 168 yards from 18 rushes.
However, the only slightly good defense against the run that he and the GB running unit has faced was the Saints. While Jones ran wild on the Lions, which rank as the second-worst rush D, Jones recorded fewer than 70 yards against both a great Vikes run D and an elite NO run D. On Monday, he faces a group that resembles the Vikings more closely that Detriot.
Despite the Falcons’ defense failing to retain leads each and every game, the running game could be the core that the team builds around. The group is currently 18th in fewest surrendered rushing yards per carry, allowing 4.5 yards per rush on 76 faced rushing attempts. This is close to the Vikings’ mark of 4.2 yards per rush. Jones only posted a 66-yard performance against Minnesota so this might seem like a very comfortable matchup for Atlanta.
This would be an overstatement. Firstly, the Falcons have only faced 76 rushes, which is 30 fewer than the Vikings, for instance. If playing up to the same workload as the Vikes, there’s going to be a regression to the mean. That way, the Falcons could very well move down the table. Secondly, even if Aaron Jones has a quiet day, he doesn’t nearly take on the same workload as other star backs. Out of the seven top RBs, only Dalvin Cook has fewer carries (48). With Jamal Williams rushing 21 times, he takes nearly 22.6 percent of the workload.
While the Packers remain one of the NFL’s most-run heavy teams, the workload seems in a 2-to-1 split situation. On the one hand, Jones could end up having a worse year but contributing more to the unit’s overall improvement (4.4 in 2019 to 5.5 in 2020). This would take him being efficient, which he’s doing very well thus far with 6.1 yards per rush. On the other hand, the Falcons’ workload discredits their position, meaning this could prove to be a mismatch on Monday at Lambeau.
Offensive versatility could be a problem for Green Bay’s defense
In contrast with the team’s form, the Atlanta offense looks stronger than ever. The passing game is running through red-hot Calvin Ridley. However, there are five players in total with 10-plus targets in the club’s three games. Julio Jones, interestingly enough, isn’t amongst the team’s top two, indicating just how deep the Falcons are. Russel Gage has stood out with 24 targets, catching 17 (70.8%) for 10.9 yards per catch. He and Hayden Hurst have been great assets in the intermediate game which the Falcons have lacked in recent memory.
Todd Gurley is not the most prolific version of himself. Nevertheless, the Falcons are running the offense through the air raid and they’ve experienced great success. This could turn out to be a problem for the Packers on Monday Night. The Packers’ passing defense ranks right near the middle of the pack, having allowed 247 yards per game through Week 3. Kevin King has mightily struggled with an allowed passer rating of 123.6. This might be a factor for success in the Falcons downfield passing game – a department Ridley and Jones are the best in the league in.
Naturally, The Falcons’ long threats both have a catching percentage under 70. This means it would be difficult to only exploit difficulties by targeting them down the field, which would result in an inconsistent ball movement and quick deficit. Therefore, Russel Gage’s matchup with hot corners Jaire Alexander and Chandon Sullivan could determine the outcome of the game.
Do not count on another comeback
Despite what the Falcons went through recently, they are unlikely to allow another win slip through their fingers. One reason is that the Falcons might not even get is such a position considering the quality of their opposition. On the other hand, it is absurd to focus on the comebacks as a component of their game.
Every league, even every sport, suffers from marker and observation inefficiency. Some of the most common mistakes are, in fact, common for most sports. These include overvaluing player character, work ethic, and even win-loss record. One could argue that all these virtues are shared by most professional players. Without those, one simply doesn’t join the business. Teams and organizations in difficult times get caught up in this wrongful valuation instead of exploring the supply/demand trends of their market. This leads them to draft and sign players who fit the media narrative but who eventually underperform.
This mistake is regularly made by most team staff in all pro league. The leaders who stay composed and follow the economical path are a minority. If the Falcons get rid of Dan Quinn and Matt Ryan because they trust the non-experts, they would set the franchise even further behind. If Thomas Dimitroff wants to establish a winning team, he should focus on improving the secondary rather than getting so-called “players with attitude”.