Green Bay Packers Unit Grades vs. Atlanta Falcons

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIOctober 13, 2011

Green Bay Packers Unit Grades vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    Every week, I do a report card of the previous performance of the Green Bay Packers. Every unit is graded based on production and difficulty.

    Up until now, this has been reserved for my PackerChatters audience. You can see some of my work over there through that link to form a broader view of my analysis.

    Every team follows their leadership, and the head of every team (both in authority and their role as its brain) is the coaching staff.

    The Atlanta Falcons coaching staff came out with a great gameplan that enabled the team to get up 14-0 on the Packers through the early part of the second quarter. But the Packers coaching staff responded by making brilliant adjustments that led to the road team taking control the rest of the way.

    Those adjustments would have been sufficient to give the coaches an A for their efforts. They are detailed throughout the slides that follow for the units they benefited...

Quarterbacks: A

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    Atlanta Falcons fans have to be absolutely sick of Aaron Rodgers.

    In three games against them in a period of just over 10 months (all at the Georgia Dome), he is 83-for-110 for 1,106 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He has also run 15 times for 63 yards and two touchdowns with just one fumble lost while being sacked seven times for 50 yards.

    Not surprisingly, the Packers have outscored the Falcons 90-55 in those games, even though Atlanta has one win. He has had at least a 114.5 passer rating, 344 yards and 26 completions in each game.

    Sunday night was only Rodgers' second-best performance in Atlanta, wherein he went 26-for-39 for 396 yards and two scores without a pick. His legs helped him avoid pressure caused by having two starting tackles out, but he was still sacked four times for 27 yards. His only "run" was a kneeldown for a one-yard loss.

    Rodgers completed passes to a team record-tying 12 receivers. He had a 117.0 passer rating and an 82.2 Total QB Rating, a 0-100 scale rating devised by ESPN to give more weight to a 20-yard pass for a game-winning TD than such a pass ending a half at midfield.

    Only five players ranked ahead of Rodgers for this stat. With 32 quarterbacks and five grades, that would place six or seven players in each grade, giving Rodgers an A-. I remove the minus because he had multiple passes dropped, including an inexcusable one by Jermichael Finley that would have put Rodgers over 400 yards and with three scores.

Running Backs: D

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    Despite a pathetic 95 total yards on 24 touches, Packers running backs were effective in the first half when the team really needed them to be.

    After the injury to Chad Clifton, McCarthy looked to protect his young tackles by running the ball more, especially inside the ends they blocked. This allowed play-action to be very effective in the second half and slowed the outside rush angles the ends took.

    However, Ryan Grant had a key fumble in the first half (his first in 325 touches) and ran for just 18 yards on seven carries (2.6 average), half of it coming in one run. He added one catch for six yards, as did Alex Green and John Kuhn. James Starks looks like the Packers top back now, but 12 carries for 40 yards (3.3) and two catches for 19 yards, but showed an inability to pick up pass rushers.

Receviers: B

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    Packers receivers obviously had to have big games for Rodgers to be so successful. They caught 21 passes for 359 yards (17.1 average) and both touchdowns.

    James Jones had the big play, a 70-yard touchdown, to turn the tide of the game and force the Falcons secondary to loosen coverage in the second half. Even outside of that catch, he had an outstanding day for a player fourth in playing time among wide receivers, with four other catches and 70 yards, giving him a 28-yard average overall for the game.

    Greg Jennings continued his steady play with four catches for 82 yards, including a 39-yard play and a touchdown. Jermichael Finley also had four catches for 67 yards (16.8), but dropped an easy touchdown pass and had another pass he should probably have caught, as well.

    Jordy Nelson had three catches, but just 17 yards (5.7), and Randall Cobb added two for 26 (13.0). D.J. Williams had an important seven-yard catch after pancaking a defensive end in a one-on-one block, Tom Crabtree added a 15-yard catch, and Donald Driver had just a five-yard completion.

Offensive Line: D

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    Considering Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton went down with an injury early in the game and the Packers were already without right tackle Bryan Bulaga, the line played great. However, if we were going to grade on a curve based on talent, most units on most teams would simply earn a C.

    The players who are out there have to perform, and Mike McCarthy allowed them to settle in. Inside runs kept the defensive ends from taking outside rush angles to Rodgers, and extra blockers gave the tackles support. By the end of the game, they had confidence, and he was able to use big plays from the playbook.

    However, before that, the inside linemen were getting beaten. Josh Sitton, Scott Wells and T.J. Lang were all either beaten for sacks or took holding penalties. The line gave up four sacks of one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the game and opened virtually no holes for the running game, leading to backs getting only about three yards per carry.

Defensive Line: C

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    B.J. Raji had some unkind words for the Falcons after the game.

    I would prefer he let his play do the talking, but he had just one tackle and two assists without a sack. Ryan Pickett added a tackle and C.J. Wilson had a tackle and an assist.

    Of course, defensive linemen in a 3-4 alignment do not pile up stats, especially if the opposition only runs the ball 18 times. The fact that a top-tier running back like Michael Turner got just 56 yards on 16 carries (3.5) raises the unit's grade a little, even if one of his carries was a touchdown.

    Still, the other two running backs got 13 yards on two carries, giving the Falcons 95 yards on 22 carries (4.3) as a team. Moreover, Matt Ryan got only enough pressure to keep him from being comfortable, and the lack of line push kept him from being hurried.

Linebackers: B

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    The linebacking corps as a whole had just 14 tackles, three assists and a sack. They would be more responsible than most for Matt Ryan's runs and for containing Julio Jones on the reverse, and they got 26 yards on four carries between them (6.5).

    However, the Falcons completed only two passes to their backs for 21 yards. This might seem an easier task given Michael Turner's long-established lack of effectiveness in the passing game, but things change. Turner came in with 90 receiving yards, more than any Packers back. Moreover, dump-offs just go to other backs in the Atlanta offense.

    True, Ryan rarely was under enough pressure to require dump-offs, but might have preferred them to throwing into the coverage downfield. Packers linebackers also did well in helping to keep Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez to 60 yards on his six catches.

    Once Dom Capers made an adjustment to allow the linebackers to free-flow to the gaps on running plays, this corps took over.

    Desmond Bishop again led the way with seven tackles and the team's only sack. A.J. Hawk returned to his element with three tackles and an assist, but was baited into a personal foul penalty. The Packers are also still getting almost no production out of the outside linebacker position, with Clay Matthews and Brad Jones managing just one tackle each and Erik Walden adding two tackles and two assists.

Secondary: A

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    The Packers secondary gave up some yards on the Falcons first two possessions, helping them get 125 yards through under 18 minutes. After that, they were instrumental in holding them to 126 more.

    Part of that was the adjustments made by Dom Capers. He began trusting his corners more man-to-man and added a few blitzes in to give Matt Ryan less time to work. Ryan finished the day just 18-for-32 for 167 yards with one score and two picks largely because of the play of this unit, a 55.1 passer rating. Ryan's 28.8 TQBR was seventh-worst in the league last week.

    As previously mentioned, Gonzalez did manage 60 yards receiving on six catches. But Charlie Peprah showed again the Packers depth at safety after losing Nick Collins, registering five tackles and three assists while also tipping a pass up into the air and getting under it to all but end the game.

    Jarret Bush also had a pick, and Morgan Burnett added two tackles and two assists. The corners played their best game of the year, with Sam Shields getting a tackle and both Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams adding three more with an assist. They also held 2010 NFL-leading receiver Roddy White to 50 yards on six catches (one touchdown), first-round pick Julio Jones to one for 16 yards and Eric Weems to one for four.

Special Teams: A-

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    This was the best performance for the special teams all season.

    Mason Crosby still has not missed a field goal, but his 56-yarder (tying his own franchise record) provided a rare test and gave him four on the day. He added seven kickoffs into the endzone, six of which were touchbacks; the Falcons had a 28-yard return on the other, pinning them inside the 25.

    Tim Masthay had two punts for a 42.5-yard average. One pinned the Falcons inside the 20, and the other had just a three yard return. The only blemish was Green Bay's own return game, with three below-average kick returns of 22, 22 and 23 yards and three- and one-yard punt returns.