The Green Bay Packers look to stay undefeated against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5 on Sunday Night Football. A chance to improve to 5-0, the Packers get to play in Atlanta for the third time since last season's November 28th, Week 12 matchup. The Falcons look to get above .500 for the first time this season and build momentum after beating the Seattle Seahawks 30-28 last week.
The game features the return of Aaron Rodgers to the scene of the crime where he put up one of the best individual performances the NFL has ever seen in the divisional playoff game. With as close to a perfect day as possible, Rodgers will look to continue his incredible play this season against the Falcons.
Here are five things to watch for during the game Sunday night.
Both times the Packers played the Falcons last season, Jermichael Finley was on injured reserve following his season-ending knee injury suffered in Week 5. This will be the fourth time the Packers have played the Falcons since drafting Finley in 2008, but the first time that Finley will see the field.
Over the last two weeks, the Packers have seen two completely opposite approaches of trying to slow down Finley. The Bears attempted to play Finley straight up and were beaten for three red zone touchdowns and over 80 yards receiving. Last week, the Broncos used the approach of doing everything possible to shut down Finley. They used two and even three defenders to limit Finley to under 30 yards.
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons defend Finley. Whichever way they decide to matchup with Finley, it should provide Rodgers with opportunities to hit Finley or other receivers. Rodgers had so much success in Atlanta in the last matchup and now gets another weapon back in Finley.
Just like the situation with Finley, this time around the Packers will have the added benefit of having a consistent and strong running game with both Ryan Grant and James Starks. Over the first four weeks of the season, the pair has combined for 367 yards.
In the last matchup, the Packers ran the ball 31 times, but only gained 96 yards behind 66 from Starks. In the regular season game that the Packers lost, the Packers ran the ball 23 times for just 77 yards while Rodgers lead the team with 51 rushing yards.
The Packers should be able to get more balance this time around, like they did in the playoff game, getting back Ryan Grant from injury to pair with James Starks. This should take pressure off Rodgers and provide even more chances for him to be successful against an already weak secondary.
Through the quarter mark of the 2011 NFL season, the Packers have the second worst defense in the league in terms of yardage allowed. So far, the Packers have given up 335.8 passing yards a game. The statistic is hard to believe after the Packers finished last year second in total yards given up.
One problem with the Packers pass defense has been the injury to Tramon Williams. Since hurting his upper-arm, Williams has been forced to play off the line of scrimmage and give opposing wide receivers a 10-yard cushion.
Another issue has been the lack of physicality and the missed tackles from Sam Shields. Struggling in only his second year in the league, he has vowed to be more physical and finish tackles better.
The Falcons have a great passing attack that can beat you any time with the big play. The duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones are threats to take any ball they catch to the house on any play. The Packers absolutely must improve if they are going to keep the Falcons out of the end zone.
A couple weeks ago, Roddy White made comments saying that the Falcons were the better team last January. Rodgers response according to ESPN:
"I know some of the comments that have been made this offseason have been border-line disrespectful about what happened in the game, but basically we went down there and beat them, and they were the No. 1 seed. I’m sure they’re upset about that.”
The latest comments come from White responding to Rodgers according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
“What am I supposed to say about last year. It was last year. If he wants to use that as motivation, let him use that as motivation. Anything to get you going? He’s reaching.”
While the comments aren't much, this is a game both teams desperately want to win. From the comments that were made by White to John Abraham mocking his championship belt celebration, there is no love lost between Rodgers and the Falcons.
These teams are getting awfully familiar with each other due to this being the third matchup in the last two years. Is a mini-rival brewing between the Falcons and Packers?
Aaron Rodgers has had an unbelievable start to his 2011 NFL season, outplaying every quarterback in the league, including Tom Brady. So far this season, Rodgers has gone 103/141 for 1,325 yards, 12 TD and two INT for a QB rating of 124.6.
With the Packers rolling, Rodgers appears to be the favorite in the MVP race. It would be the first in the career of Rodgers who already has a Super Bowl MVP. The closest player to Rodgers at this point would be Tom Brady, but his four interception performance against the Buffalo Bills has hurt him thus far.
As Rodgers returns to the place he put together one of the greatest playoff performances, he will look to continue his recent success and keep his Packers perfect through five weeks.
It should be another strong week for Rodgers on his resume with the Falcons defense struggling against the pass. Last week, they gave up a 300-yard performance to Tarvaris Jackson, so the numbers could reach the ceiling for Rodgers.