The Packers and the Falcons will be facing each other on Sunday for the third time in a little more than 10 months, and the preseason expectation was that they might face each other a fourth time before this season is complete. Suffice to say, these two teams know each other well.
Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers knows the Falcons and their offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, well enough to know the key to stopping the Falcons on Sunday will be stopping running back Michael Turner.
"That's where it starts," Capers said. "You've got to be ready for a physical game with this running back. He gets stronger as the game goes on. You have to be ready to play a physical game for 60 minutes."
At 2-2, the Falcons have gotten outside their identity this season. Head Coach Mike Smith is a dyed-in-the-wool, run-the-ball believer, but the Falcons are 19th in the league in rushing this season and a big part of the problem with the Falcons' running game has been the defense's failure to deny points. Simply put, the Falcons fell behind early in their first two games and were taken out of their game plan. Quarterback Matt Ryan was able to rally the Falcons in a Week 2 win over the Eagles or the Falcons might be 1-3 and facing an early-season must-win game.
"Against the Bears, they got behind and it broke their rhythm. That's not how they want to play. They might be leading the league in 10-play drives," Capers said.
The Falcons are a ball-control team that used that formula to score a 20-17 win over the Packers at the Georgia Dome last Nov. 28. Then, in the Packers' blowout win in the playoffs, the Packers went out to a big lead just before halftime, and that was all she wrote.
"They did a nice job in the first game of controlling the ball on us," Capers said. In the playoff game, however, "We got up on them so much it became a different game."
It became a game the Falcons don't want to play and it'll likely be the Packers' offensive strategy on Sunday to attack early – ask the Saints, Bears and Broncos about that – and get a lead that would take the Falcons, again, out of their game plan.
"You look at their identity a year ago. They were able to control the ball with the running game. He's got all of the extra things to keep you off-balance," Capers said of Mularkey. "He does a good job of trying to control the tempo of the game. You can expect to see a no-huddle in there somewhere."
Expect to see a lot of Turner between the tackles and speed-receivers Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones down the sidelines.
"Big, physical guys that can run; great at the ball," cornerback Sam Shields said of White and Jones. "That's the key: not giving up big plays and not letting that run get started. If the run is going good, they continue to go with the run."
"Stop the run and make them one-dimensional, and then you can focus on that part of the game," cornerback Tramon Williams said.
Williams is the player that made the big play and turned the game decidedly in the Packers' favor in the playoff victory. His first-half, walk-off interception return for a touchdown was too much for the Falcons to overcome.
It's not only how the Packers beat the Falcons in the playoffs, it's the formula the Packers have used to score five of their six wins since then: Get out to a big lead and force their opponent out of its game plan.
Sunday's game will be a clash of opposing styles and each team's will to impose theirs. Additional coverage - Oct. 7