After coming off a bye in week nine, many wondered if Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons still had it in them to make a playoff push. At the time, they had a 2-5 record and were fresh off a second-half collapse to the Detroit Lions 22-21 in London. Fast forward to the first week of December, and the Falcons are 5-7, and winners of three out of the last four games, and are fresh off a 29-18 victory over one of the NFC’s best teams in the Arizona Cardinals.
The Falcons have another chance to make a statement to the rest of the NFL on Monday night football, where they will be taking on the NFL’s hottest team: the Green Bay Packers (9-3).
The Packers have been the hottest team in football, riding a four-game winning streak, and they’re an outstanding 6-0 at Lambeau Field. Despite the records, S-Jax and Co. are not phased about playing primetime under the lights, and they know if they stick to their game plan, they should pull out a victory.
"We always have pressure on ourselves to have a good run week, so of course Aaron Rodgers, one of the best to play the game," he said. "But our job, no matter who’s the quarterback on the other side of the ball, is to be productive, be efficient and that what we want to do."
In seven games against the Packers, SJ39 is averaging 18.3 carries for 89 yards and 0.3 touchdowns. The last time the Falcons took on the Packers was last season in Week 14, again at Lambeau Field. Atlanta only lost that contest by a single point, 22-21.
As a team, Atlanta tallied 83 rushing yards, and SJ had 72 of those on 16 carries. For the Falcons to win on Monday night, the running game must continue to flourish as it did last Sunday against the Cardinals.
"Just another day at the office," SJ said. "I need to be more consistent, and that's what I strive to do. We're going into the month of December where the games are going to be more challenging. We've set the bar now, and now we need to do it consistently."
Last week against the Cardinals, SJ39 had 101 rushing yards on 18 carries. This week, he and the ATL running corps will have an opportunity for another big day against a Green Bay defense that is allowing 132.3 rushing yards per game, good for No. 28 in the NFL.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan commented this week on how the running game has been a key this season.
"I think running the football for us has been key. I think one of the things that’s really benefitted us is that we’ve had the same five guys up front for the last five weeks. I think the continuity on the offensive line those guys starting to come together and play with an edge, and then our running backs, playing physical and running behind those guys up front. We’re a better offense when we’re balanced, and that’s important for us as we move forward."
With the ground attack behind him, Ryan identified Green Bay’s star linebacker, Clay Matthews, as the biggest roadblock to his team’s success.
"Obviously, Clay (Matthews) is a really good player, and kind of the last four or five weeks they’ve kind of moved him inside a little bit, but they still get him onto the outside and pass rush, and use him in a bunch of different ways because he’s such a versatile player," Ryan said. "He’s got a skill set that can pretty much line up anywhere, and so we’ve got to identify where he’s at."
Last Sunday, the Patriots put up 84 rushing yards against the Packers defense with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 58 yards on 10 carries.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons defense will be tested by an explosive Green Bay Packer offense, which has been blowing teams out early. During its four-game win streak, the Pack attack has scored 109 points in the first and second quarters—an average of 27.3 first-half points.
Against that attack, the Atlanta defense will look to force Aaron Rodgers and Co. into as many mistakes as possible. Falcons’ safety William Moore knows that in the NFL if you win the turnover battle, you win the game, and that is what they will have to do against GB.
"When you win the turnover battle, you can come out great in the win column," Moore said. "As long as we cause turnovers, it will get us off the field and get the ball in our offense's hand."
Ryan and Moore both have respect for Rodgers, who is looking like the NFL’s MVP at this point in the season.
"He's lights-out right now," Moore said. "His percentage is way up. His turnover margin is way down, and he's balling out this year. He's playing smarter. He's extending plays. He's being Aaron Rodgers, so it's going to be important for us to prepare for those extended plays this week. I've seen a few of their losses come against teams who matched their intensity in extended plays."
Rodgers has ridiculous numbers this season with 3,325 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
"I’ve known Aaron since I came into the League, and he’s a great guy," said Ryan. "Really, really great competitor, and he’s playing at a really, really high level, but he’s been doing that for a long time. Always have had the utmost respect for him, and how he handles himself and how he goes out there plays, and he’s continuing to play great."
The Packers stretched their streak to four by knocking off Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 26-21, just a week ago. The Falcons come into the game with a 5-7 record and know that they control their destiny from here on out.
"We are number one in the south and you know we got to keep it that," said SJ. "Whenever you can control your own destiny that’s the way you want it so long as we continue to take it one week at a time and continue to find a way to win, we’ll be okay."
Kickoff from Lambeau Field is slated for 8:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on ESPN.
- Steven Jackson keeps Falcons in the running (ESPN NFL Nation, Dec. 1, 2014)
- Thursday Press Pass: Falcons at Packers (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 4, 2014)
- TRANSCRIPTS: SMITH, RYAN PRESS INTERVIEWS (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 4, 2014)
- MOORE: FALCONS MUST MATCH GREEN BAY'S INTENSITY (AtlantaFalcons.com, Dec. 4, 2014)
- How Green Bay Will Lose On Monday (The Falcoholic, Dec. 4, 2014)
- Don't sleep on the Falcons offense (SB Nation, Dec. 5, 2014)