Fal­cons’ skill play­ers too much to han­dle for Pack­ers


There’s a tal­ent gap be­tween the At­lanta Fal­cons and Green Bay Pack­ers, and un­til the Pack­ers close it they’re go­ing to have a hard time win­ning the NFC.

The two teams have met three times in the last year, and the Fal­cons have won all three. The games all have been in At­lanta, so that’s an ad­van­tage for coach Dan Quinn’s team.

But the greater ad­van­tage is at the skill po­si­tions on of­fense. In Julio Jones, the Fal­cons have the best re­ceiver in the game. Their No. 2, Mo­hamed Sanu, might be as good as any of the Pack­ers re­ceivers.

And the Fal­cons also have the best run­ning back on the field when these teams meet. Devonta Free­man is a cre­ative and dy­namic run­ner who’s also a good re­ceiver. As fast as Ty Mont­gomery has de­vel­oped for the Pack­ers, Free­man is the bet­ter player.

So for the Pack­ers to beat the Fal­cons, quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers has to be a lot bet­ter than his coun­ter­part, Matt Ryan. And he’s not, or at least hasn’t been. Ryan, the league’s MVP last sea­son, has gone toe-to-toe with Rodgers and won all three with a cu­mu­la­tive passer rat­ing of 128.0 to Rodgers’ 101.0.

The Pack­ers sim­ply can’t match the tal­ent of Jones, Sanu and Free­man. On of­fense, they haven’t had the fire­power to keep up, and on de­fense they haven’t shown the abil­ity to slow those three down.

There’s not much to say about Jones. He’s the best re­ceiver in the game and over­whelms with his com­bi­na­tion of size and speed. On Sun­day night he had four catches rang­ing from 15 to 34 yards. Those big-chunk plays win games and open things up for oth­ers.

His run af­ter the catch is just as im­pres­sive as his abil­ity to get open. Jones broke a Quin­ten Rollins tackle to con­vert one big third down, and picked up about 12 yards af­ter break­ing a tackle by Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall on the 34-yard catch.

Sanu no doubt ben­e­fits from play­ing op­po­site Jones, but he’s a big (6-2, 210 pounds), strong re­ceiver in his own right. He runs pre­cise routes, is hard to tackle and plays faster than his pedes­trian 4.67sec­ond 40 sug­gests.

Sanu had three ex­plo­sive plays him­self in the first half: a 24-yarder against Jake Ryan in zone cov­er­age; a 24-yarder when he spun Rollins with a move, then broke tack­les by Rollins and Ken­trell Brice; and a 21-yarder when he beat Ran­dall in­side even though the cor­ner­back was lined up to take that away.

Free­man’s stats were OK Sun­day night – 19 rushes for 84 yards (4.4-yard av­er­age). But where he hurt the Pack­ers was creat­ing yards when none were there. That helps keep the chains mov­ing.

The Pack­ers have plenty of tal­ent and are go­ing to win their share of games. They are con­tenders to win the NFC. But At­lanta is the one team they haven’t been able to beat.

To have a chance if the teams meet again in the post­sea­son, the Pack­ers have to de­velop their top draft pick, cor­ner­back Kevin King, as the sea­son goes on.

At 6-3, King has the length and ath­leti­cism to match up with Jones bet­ter than any­one else on the Pack­ers’ ros­ter. He showed a glimpse of that Sun­day night in the sec­ond quar­ter when he dived to break up a short cross­ing route that Jones might have turned into a big play.

King did enough in a re­lief role Sun­day night to as­sume he’ll be a starter from here on out. With a sea­son’s worth of snaps in the bank, he should be the Pack­ers’ best chance to slow down Jones if the teams meet again in Jan­uary. Jones at line­backer

The Pack­ers need to find a way to get their other sec­on­dround pick, Josh Jones, on the field also. And one way to do that is to play him at in­side line­backer in the ni­tro pack­age and leave Mor­gan Bur­nett at safety.

Up to now, the Pack­ers have been play­ing Bur­nett at in­side line­backer in their pri­mary de­fense (ni­tro), and replacing him at safety with Brice. The Pack­ers could just play Jones at safety in­stead of Brice, which is what co­or­di­na­tor Dom Capers did when Brice left Sun­day night’s game be­cause of a groin in­jury.

But go­ing for­ward, Capers might be bet­ter served play­ing Jones at ni­tro, and mov­ing Bur­nett back to safety. Jones’ size (220 pounds) is bet­ter for in­side line­backer than Bur­nett, and he’s a phys­i­cal and will­ing tack­ler.

The Pack­ers badly need his play­mak­ing po­ten­tial on the field some­where, some­how. They don’t have any­one on de­fense with his com­bi­na­tion of size and speed (4.41-sec­ond 40). They drafted him be­cause they needed to get faster. Now they’ve got to play him.

His phys­i­cal na­ture makes him best suited to play near the line of scrim­mage, and if he’s at line­backer his in­ex­pe­ri­ence would be less of a li­a­bil­ity than at safety. When he makes mis­takes, it will cost some yards, but when a safety blows a play it usu­ally means a big gainer. Ex­tra point

Re­ceiver Geron­imo Al­li­son had a rough night in his re­turn from a one-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s sub­stance abuse pol­icy. Al­li­son had two big er­rors.

On one, he slowed down on a go route down the side­lines that al­lowed Des­mond Tr­u­fant to in­ter­cept Rodgers’ pass.

Later, he was called for pass in­ter­fer­ence on a pick route that took a touch­down by Ran­dall Cobb off the board. The penalty was a bor­der­line call – the Fal­cons did the same thing on one of their touch­downs – but Al­li­son has to be more sub­tle with his rub route. He ran into cor­ner­back Brian Poole like he was set­ting a pick on the bas­ket­ball court. All he needs to do is brush him to cre­ate enough space to spring Cobb free. Grade card Quar­ter­back: With his start­ing tack­les out, Aaron Rodgers (90.7 rat­ing) has to get the ball out quicker. He’s not go­ing to last the sea­son tak­ing hits like he has the first two games. Grade: C Run­ning backs: With only 12 rushes by Ty Mont­gomery and Ja­maal Williams, it’s hard to get rolling. Mont­gomery (six catches, 75 yards) was ef­fec­tive as a re­ceiver but missed a dou­ble-team block that al­lowed a sack. Grade: C Wide re­ceivers: Af­ter Jordy Nel­son (quadri­ceps) left early, this group (Da­vante Adams, Ran­dall Cobb and Al­li­son) didn’t get a lot of sep­a­ra­tion to give Rodgers good looks. Grade: C Tight ends: Martel­lus Ben­nett had way too many drops (four). Grade: D Of­fen­sive line: Emer­gency back­ups Kyle Mur­phy at left tackle and Justin McCray at right tackle had rough nights. Grade: D De­fen­sive line: Af­ter Mike Daniels (ham­string) left early, the Pack­ers had no in­side pass rush. Grade: C Lineback­ers: The lone bright spot on de­fense with three sacks com­bined from Clay Matthews (1 1⁄2), Blake Mar­tinez (one) and Joe Thomas (one-half). Grade: B

Cor­ner­backs: Out­classed by At­lanta’s re­ceiv­ing tal­ent in al­low­ing seven passes of 15 yards or more to Julio Jones and Mo­hamed Sanu. Grade: C

Safeties: Ken­trell Brice missed a hole that al­lowed a 35-yard run, and Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix missed a chance at what would have been a huge in­ter­cep­tion in the first half. No turnover plays from this group. Grade: C- Ed­i­tor’s note: Mike Hart’s NFL Grapevine, which nor­mally ap­pears in this space, will re­turn soon.


Quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers, right, and the Pack­ers fell to Matt Ryan and the Fal­cons for the third con­sec­u­tive time.

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