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Falcons Destroy Packers To Reach Super Bowl LI – NFC Championship Recap

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The Atlanta Falcons booked their place in Super Bowl LI in dominant fashion with a 44-21 victory in the NFC Championship, signing the last ever game in the Georgia Dome off in style by disposing convincingly of a Green Bay Packers side that had won 8 straight coming into the game.

The game will mark the Falcons’ 2nd ever appearance in the Super Bowl, having previously fallen to the Denver Broncos 18 years ago. In contrast, the New England Patriots, who earned their spot as AFC champions with a 36-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be appearing in their 9th Super Bowl, with the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick combination appearing in their 7th.

Offense

As expected, the game came down to which offense was better able to move the ball. Matt Ryan completed 27 of 38 passes for 392 yards and 4 touchdowns while also rushing for 23 yards and a touchdown, showing why he is the front runner for the NFL’s MVP award.

The scariest part for Belichick and company, assuming that they are now aware of their opponents is that the Falcons were a one-dimensional offense for the majority of the game. The Packers’ run defense was able to restrict Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, arguably the best running back tandem in the league, to just 61 yards on 25 carries. While Matt Ryan was still able to convert for 1st downs more often than not, the Packers have one of the worst pass defenses in the league and the Falcons are unlikely to be as fortunate in the Super Bowl.

Following a 48-21 defeat to the Packers in the playoffs 6 years ago, General Manager Thomas Dimitroff made the decision, at great expense, to trade up to take a physical marvel at wide receiver out of the University of Alabama. Fast forward to the present day and Julio Jones has proven to be worth the investment and much more. He ripped through the Packers’ secondary with 9 catches for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 74 yard catch and run in which he looked as if he was playing against children.


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With the Packers’ best chance of slowing down the Falcons’ offense always going to be their pass rush, the offensive line continuing to perform at a high level was crucial. Luckily, outside of a couple of false start penalties from left guard Andy Levitre, they played a relatively clean game and afforded the offense the time that they needed, allowing only 8 quarterback pressures on 40 passing snaps as per Pro Football Focus.

Despite looking incredibly impressive, there are areas that Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan will want to work on in the next 2 weeks. With a scheme that relies so heavily on speed and misdirection, there is always the risk of miscommunication and mistakes, but on another day the direct snap to Taylor Gabriel on an end around play that ended up being fumbled could have been recovered by the defense.

Whether it was down to a mistimed throw or a poor route, Matt Ryan’s deep throw to Aldrick Robinson looked wild and should have been intercepted by rookie defensive back Marwin Evans. Later in the drive, his pass to Mohamed Sanu in the end zone could so easily have been picked off by LaDarius Gunter, but again the ball ended up on the ground and the Falcons ended up scoring on the next play.

Once again, the Falcons’ biggest weapon was Ryan’s trust in such a deep receiving corps. 8 different players caught the ball, with 6 of them having multiple receptions. The sheer number of options allowed Pro Bowl fullback Patrick DiMarco to sneak out of the backfield on one occasion, catching the ball and evading pursuit on the way to a 31 yard reception.

The Falcons have clearly shown this year that they are comfortable driving the length of the field, but in what is likely to be a close game, Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong would like to see more productivity from his team in the return game. While he’s still valuable as a punt gunner, Eric Weems has struggled when asked to do more than take a fair catch and the Falcons will likely take a long look at Devin Fuller, who has spent his rookie year on injured reserve, in the offseason.

Defense

The fact that the Falcons only recorded 2 sacks during the game doesn’t come close to telling the story, as Aaron Rodgers spent the majority of the game under duress, being pressured on 20 of his 49 dropbacks per PFF. Head Coach Dan Quinn and Defensive Coordinator Richard Smith dialed up blitzes at perfect opportunities with nickel cornerback Brian Poole rocking Aaron Rodgers with huge shots a week after he sent a similar message to Russell Wilson.

Vic Beasley continued his quiet run of games, although he was able to knock down a pass late in the game. On the other side, Dwight Freeney rolled back the years as he hurried Rodgers on 6 different occasions and, if it wasn’t for the Packers’ quarterback’s expertise at escaping the pocket, he would have added to his sack total for the season.

Perhaps most surprising, and a good sign for the Super Bowl, was the amount of pressure that the Falcons were able to get through the middle. Tyson Jackson recorded his 1st Falcons sack in his 50th game for the team which, while unlikely to kickstart a late career renaissance as a pass rusher, showed the success that the defensive tackles were having.

Ra’Shede Hageman has been something of an enigma for the Falcons since being drafted as an athletic project out of University of Minnesota in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft. On 22 pass rushing snaps, he recorded 3 pressures and a sack and showed why fans still salivate at his potential.

The young linebacker corps looks to be coming together with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell looking like perfect fits in a defensive system relying on athleticism and instincts. Jones has played well enough to warrant Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration, while Campbell’s mental lapses have dried up and seen him looking impressive in coverage and a lot more comfortable and assured.

The defense plays with speed, intensity and hustle, which has helped them recover even when they are beaten. Jalen Collins’ determination to force and recover a fumble when Aaron Ripkowski had the end zone in his sight was typical of the way that they have been playing in the 2nd half of the season and the team would have likely been awarded a fumble recovery had Dan Quinn thrown the challenge flag after a Courtney Upshaw hit.

Summary

It’s been a long time coming for Falcons fans but few could deny that they are deserving of a trip to Houston. One of the highest scoring offenses of all time helped the team make the playoffs, while the defense stepped up to join them in the postseason in demolitions of two of the NFL’s heavyweights.

There will be plenty of time to analyze the Falcons’ chances against the Patriots, but for now let’s take a moment to appreciate what has been a truly special season so far. A lot has changed since the week 1 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – the Atlanta Falcons are now a victory away from being world champions.