The following are five key matchups for Sunday night's game in Atlanta between the Packers and the Falcons:
1. Mike Smith and Brian Van Gorder vs. Aaron Rodgers—Smith and his defensive coordinator have been together for a long time. They share defensive philosophy and they'll try to author the first defensive game plan to stop Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers since Rodgers got hot late last season. Smith has long favored a gap-control defense that plays "Cover Two" and a lot of zone pass-defense behind a front that wants to penetrate and disrupt. Expect the Falcons to force Rodgers to throw underneath against zone and hit the "Honey Hole" against "Cover Two." That's long been the Smith way.
2. Clay Matthews vs. Falcons tackles—Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo have had their ups and downs this season. Trent Cole and Julius Peppers had big days against the Falcons and it's important to note that Cole posed massive problems "in space" for the Falcons, out of the Eagles' "Wide Nine" set. Matthews is an "in space" player and the potential exists for him to have a big night, too.
3. John Abraham vs. Packers tackles—The Falcons have only five sacks and are 30th in the league in sacks per pass play, and that's something Coach Mike Smith is no doubt desperate to fix. If it's gonna get fixed, Abraham's the guy who'll likely have to do it. He's a savvy veteran that knows how to influence a young tackle to overset and then beat him to the inside. The Falcons will move Abraham around. He'll try his speed rush on Chad Clifton and use his veteran savvy on Marshall Newhouse.
4. Packers secondary vs. Roddy White, Julio Jones—White and Jones are big, fast, game-breaking receivers that must be denied big plays. White and Jones will present the stiffest test the Packers secondary has faced this season.
5. Packers kick-coverage vs. Eric Weems—A long kickoff return by Weems set up the Falcons' game-winning field goal against the Packers in the regular season last year, and a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave the Falcons a 14-7 lead over the Packers in the playoff game between the two teams. Winning percentages favor teams that make big plays on special teams, so this is a matchup the Packers don't want to lose. Additional coverage - Oct. 7