Packers-Falcons: Dom Capers' 3-4 Defense Prepares for Georgia Dome Test
Two days away from December, and you best believe it's getting cold in Green Bay.
As if the plummeting drop on the local thermometer isn't enough to indicate a quick change in the weather, when numerous "Snuggie" advertisements begin to appear on TV, you pretty much know that the entire state of Wisconsin is bracing themselves for their usual end-of-year change.
But while many loyal Packer fans stay rugged back home in Green Bay, their beloved team prepares for a rare and unusual trip to the Georgia Dome in Week 12, as Dom Capers takes his explosive defense on the road to the Atlanta Falcons.
If it is cold in Green Bay right now, than perhaps the Packers are providing the only warmth throughout the city. Packer Nation's beloved team is 7-3, and after a tough overtime loss to the Washington Redskins over two months ago, most folks weren't all that confident heading down south to Atlanta.
I guess the times have changed.
Instead of being mildly frightened of a trip to the Georgia Dome this weekend, despite what many experts have predicted for the Packers' affair with the Falcons, Green Bay stands a legitimate shot to pinch a victory on the road to bump up to a sturdy 8-3 record.
It may not be very often that a "theme" as such is selected for a big-time game, but this time around, the topic of youth can't go unnoticed.
In case you are only just now discovering the new-look Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons, both teams feature young quarterbacks. The year 2008 was Matt Ryan's stand out rookie season, followed by a 2009 campaign from Aaron Rodgers that left Brett Favre's shadow forgotten about in Green Bay (much to the delight of Lambeau Field).
So now Roger Goodell has decided to tee off his fountain of youth, and place them in a game that could resemble Tom Brady and Peyton Manning's meeting a week ago, if you discount the age factor entirely.
Starting off with Matt Ryan, he has had a very underrated season in 2010. Hogging the spotlight isn't a familiar trait of the Atlanta Falcons, and more often than not, the Dirtybirds go unmentioned throughout most of the year, at least until postseason football arrives.
With 2,518 yards, 18 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions on the year however, overlooking Matt Ryan's season would be like taking a trip to Arizona, only to never visit the Grand Canyon at all, and sit in your hotel room for the entire stay.
Not to be outdone, Aaron Rodgers has also had a come together season. To be perfectly straight here, a select group of Packer fans were stressing out toward the start of the year as Rodgers looked uncharacteristically wobbly.
Luckily that feeling was replaced with the usual "Quick Draw McGraw" performance toward the end of the year, with No. 12 passing for 2,601 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Like many Hall of Fame running backs may willingly tell you though, it isn't all about the quarterback position. What does that mean for Green Bay's running corps? Not much, but Michael Turner of Atlanta deserves a mention.
Yes, believe it or not, Michael Turner isn't just a fabulous rusher in Madden 11, he can also play quite well in real life, too.
In comparison to the Adrian Petersons of this league, 864 yards and 6 touchdowns may not seem like much, but for a pillar-to-post back like Turner, these are considerably decent stats.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Mike McCarthy can't exactly match Mike Smith's team on the ground. Replacement running back Brandon Jackson has shown the odd flash of brilliance during the season, but the duo of himself and John Kuhn is about as slow as a steam train this season.
Where the Packers make up for this lack of ground and pound, though, of course stems from the wide receivers. Aaron Rodgers may have won the FedEx Air Player Award last week, but none of that would have been possible if it wasn't for Greg Jennings' 152 yard, 3 touchdown effort.
Also keep in mind here, that James Jones has been a standout, posting 458 yards and 3 touchdowns on the year, outmuscling the aging but oh-so-competent Donald Driver on paper.
On the topic of offense, the most scary statistic entering into this game is how close both teams are in the 'average points scored' category. Just for the record, Green Bay's offense stands at a solid 25.2, while Matt Ryan's crew average a tough higher at 25.6.
At the end of the day, you do the math, because this equation should mean that the scoreboard will be well-exercised this Sunday.
But what about the defense? Surely that needs to be spoken about, right?
Funnily enough, the defensive side of the ball has gone a little unnoticed in the lead up to this game.
Last week, both teams managed to dominate the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams respectively, and seeing as though both sides managed to record interceptions, who knows what will occur in Atlanta?
Yet for those looking for an indication, it may be wise to expect a very tightly played game. Packer fans, look back to the New York Jets match up for an example, because this is the type of football that is likely to be on display against the Falcons.
Cornerback Tramon Williams has become one of the biggest shining points from the Packers' season, and even though Clay Matthews has enjoyed unimaginable success in the past eleven weeks, young Matt Ryan has the skills to wear out the big man if pressure is applied.
Once again, just for the record, in the past 18 years the Packers and Falcons have only met up twice. What does Mike McCarthy think of his team's chances? As per normal, he kept it short and to the point.
"It's a game we are looking forward to, and it's a big-time challenge," McCarthy said. "Atlanta is playing very well."
Aaron Rodgers on the other hand, lets just say he has found his voice heading into the playoffs.
"We're right where we want to be," Rodgers said. "We're playing the way we feel we're capable of playing. We're 7-3, and the biggest thing offensively is, we haven't turned the ball over the last three games, and that's how we're going to win."
On the right track: Aaron Rodgers makes a valid point. The absence of Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant on offense looked likely to doom the Packers this season, but in fact the lesser-known players have stepped up to the plate.
Rodgers isn't missing, interceptions are occurring once in a blue moon, and although a run game would be greatly appreciated, No. 12 really does get by with a little help from his friends.
Maybe this weekend, none of this will mean anything. If one thing is for sure, the Chicago Bears still pose a threat, and with Green Bay heading into hostile yet unfamiliar territory, the Packers may become accustomed to some Southern cooking if they don't make the most of this opportunity.
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Ryan Cook is an Australian Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also an NFL columnist for Real Sports Net and a Green Bay Packers writer for Fan Huddle and PackerChatters, plus a contributing writer for Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Generation Y Sports.
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