GREEN BAY—If this game were being played six weeks ago, the Falcons might have a different game plan. As it stands, it's almost certain the Falcons plan to run the ball this Sunday, on what's forecast to be a cold and snowy day at Lambeau Field.
It's not just about the weather. It's mostly about the Packers' inability to stop the run. A run defense that was No. 4 in the league six weeks ago, is now No. 26. It has allowed three of its last four opponents to rush for more than 200 yards, and now it faces a Falcons team that is 29th in rushing but resurrected its running game last Sunday in an overtime win in Buffalo.
"We anticipate the way we're playing against the run that they're going to try to establish the run," Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said.
The Packers' inability to stop the run is at the root of nearly all of the team's problems. A defense that is No. 5 in the league in sacks per pass play and a respectable No. 17 in third-down defense is being betrayed by the most basic fundamental of defense: Stop the run.
"There's nothing more frustrating in football than when a team gets a run game going on you. It's the first area we have to get squared away. It affects everything you do," Capers said. "We were a top 10 third-down team until this past week. Five or six of those third downs were third and one or third and two."
Seemingly, all of the Packers' problems can be traced back to the broken collarbone quarterback Aaron Rodgers sustained on Nov. 4. Everything about the Packers' arrow was pointing up until then. Everything about the Packers' arrow has been pointing down since then.
Is Rodgers' injury reason for the defense's fall?
"No, I don't think that has anything to do with it. You can't concern yourself with areas you have no control over," Capers said.
"Your run defense, everything has to fit together. Everybody has a gap. You have to take care of that gap. So much of what you do as a defense begins with stopping the run. If you can't stop the run, you're playing uphill," Capers added.
On a cold and snowy day, another day the Packers will be without Rodgers' services, the hope is the Packers will be able to establish a running game that was exploding up the rankings when Rodgers was injured. Since then, the running has been ineffective, largely because opponents have concentrated their efforts on stopping it.
"Teams are going to try to take away your strong suit. We've been running the ball pretty well. We have to be able to run the ball when they know we're going to run it," Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "You can design certain plays to pick up everybody at the point of attack. All the runs aren't going to be pretty runs. You have to get two yards and push it to four, and get four and push it to six."
That's the kind of offense usually associated with cold-weather football. Sunday's game could be a test of wills.
"I think we're very capable. We just have to start this week," Capers said. Additional coverage - Dec. 6