Run­ning game key for both Fal­cons and Pack­ers

The Covington News - - Sports - Josh Briggs Sports Edi­tor

The last time the Fal­cons and Pack­ers met in the play­offs, Michael Vick handed Green Bay its first home play­off loss at Lam­beau Field. Both teams have gone through many changes from head coach to quar­ter­back so when At­lanta wel­comes the Pack­ers to town to­day for the di­vi­sional round of the NFL play­offs, his­tory means noth­ing. Re­cent his­tory too may be the win­dow.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom would say At­lanta has the ad­van­tage. After­all, the Fal­cons de­feated Green Bay ear­lier in the sea­son and have a sparkling 20-4 home record since 2008 and lost just one game at the Ge­or­gia Dome this year. But to say this game will be any­thing like Novem­ber's matchup is just flat wrong.

This is the play­offs. And as fans, play­ers and coaches know, things are dif­fer­ent when it's win or go home. Plus, what was At­lanta's strength and Green Bay's weak­ness the first time around — the run­ning game, may be more even than the num­bers show.

At­lanta's suc­cess is pred­i­cated on ball con­trol and the team's abil­ity to run the ball. Michael Turner bounced back af­ter an in­jury-plagued 2009 sea­son to lead the NFC in rush­ing with 1,371 yards — good enough for third over­all in the NFL. But in his last three games he's rushed for 82, 48 and 67 yards. More of a con­cern is Turner's re­cent strug­gles to hold on to the ball. The sure-handed run­ning back fum­bled the ball in­side the red zone in each of At­lanta's fi­nal two games af­ter not fum­bling at all the first 14 games.

For the Pack­ers, they made the play­offs de­spite much of a run­ning game. The Pack­ers fin­ished 24th in the NFL in rush­ing and re­lied on Aaron Rogers and the pass­ing game for much of the sea­son. In the reg­u­lar-sea­son matchup, Rogers was Green Bay's lead­ing rusher with 51 yards on 12 car­ries. That was then. The emer­gence of James Stark is a new vari­able At­lanta didn't see the first time around. Starks ran for 123 yards in Green Bay's 21-16 Wild Card win over Philadel­phia last week.

At­lanta is the more bal­anced team of­fen­sively and it's easy to think Green Bay has the ad­van­tage through the air. But that isn't nec­es­sar­ily the case. Rogers had a tremen­dous sec­ond half of the sea­son and is com­ing off his first play­off win. De­spite fin­ish­ing fifth in the NFL in pass­ing as a team though, Rogers (3,922 pass­ing yards) threw for only 217 more yards than Matt Ryan and each chucked 28 touch­downs.

Both teams have big­time weapons in the pass­ing game. Roddy White led the NFL and set a team record with 115 re­cep­tions. Tony Gon­za­lez is a fu­ture Hall of Famer at tight end and Michael Jenk­ins and Harry Dou­glas are ser­vice­able sec­ond op­tions in the pass­ing game. Green Bay has three re­ceivers catch at least 50 passes. Greg Jen­nings led the way with 79 catches for 1,265 yards and James Jones (50) and the age-de­fy­ing Don­ald Driver (51) give Rogers plenty of tar­gets.

De­fen­sively is where things get in­ter­est­ing. The Pack­ers were the fifth best de­fense in the NFL sta­tis­ti­cally and tied fifth over­all against the pass with guess who, At­lanta. The dif­fer­ence came against the run. At­lanta ranked 24th against the run where Green Bay was marginally bet­ter at 18th and each team cre­ates turnovers. The Fal­cons fin­ished fourth in turnover mar­gin while the Pack­ers were ninth.

Ryan is 20-2 as a starter at the Ge­or­gia Dome and that can't go over­looked. He'll look to do what no other Fal­con quar­ter­back has done and that's win a home play­off game for a top-seeded At­lanta team. The only other time the Fal­cons had home-field ad­van­tage in the NFC was in 1980 when they lost their opener 30-27 to Dal­las. The Fal­cons had to go through Min­nesota when it reached the Su­per Bowl in 1998. But to do so, Ryan will need help. And he'll need Turner to hold on to the ball.

An­thony Banks/The Cov­ing­ton News

Chug­ging along: Michael Turner ran for 1.371 yards for the Fal­cons who host Green Bay Sa­trur­day at 8 p.m.

NFC Di­vi­sional Round Green Bay Pack­ers at At­lanta Fal­cons

Satur­day, 8 p.m. Chan­nel 5, FOX

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.