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Ryan Gets Final Draw In Duel Against Rodgers, Packers – Week 8 Recap

Matt Ryan - NFL Mike Morbeck via Flickr


Ryan Gets the Better of Rodgers in Shoot-out

This week’s match-up between Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Matt Ryan of the Falcons was a high scoring shoot-out that even Wyatt Earp would’ve been proud to be a part of. However, differing from Earp’s classic duel at the OK Corral, this time the good guys weren’t the ones left standing after the dust cleared.

Also unlike Earp’s legend, there were no casualties in Sunday’s game. That is unless you count the ideology of defense, that was certainly at least wounded a bit.

In total, the Packers and Falcons accumulated 698 yards and 8 touchdowns (7 passing, 1 rushing) before all was said and done in Atlanta’s 33-32 win. Both teams faced little resistance from the opposition on offense, especially through the air.

Matt Ryan ended the game completing 28 of 35 (80%) passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, while Aaron Rodgers was equally as impressive, connecting on 28 of 38 (73.7%) passes for 246 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Rodgers performance was especially impressive considering the key missing pieces across the Green Bay offense.

Just hours before the game, wide receiver Randall Cobb and running back Ty Montgomery, two of Green Bay’s most dangerous weapons, were both ruled out. Montgomery due to illness, and Cobb due to a lingering hamstring problem that kept him out of practice all week. These injuries were coupled with the still absent running back duo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

The key inactives meant that Aaron Rodgers would have to put his trust in last week’s standout Davante Adams, All-Pro Jordy Nelson, and a trio of young, untested wide-outs.

Fan favorite Jeff Janis, rookie Trevor Davis, and newly promoted practice squad player Geronimo Allison were thrust into a position to have to make plays, and the trio did not disappoint.

Rodgers first found his most familiar target, Nelson, on the fourth play of the of the opening Green Bay drive after a Falcon field goal for a 58-yard gain down the sideline. Just two snaps later the two would hook up again for a five yard touchdown, giving the Packers an early lead.

Matt Ryan would answer Rodgers with a touchdown pass of his own.

After hitting All-Pro receiver Julio Jones two times in a row for 12 yards each, Ryan tossed Taylor Gabriel a beautifully thrown ball down the middle of the field over the outstretched arm of corner Demetri Goodson for six. Just like Rodgers, Ryan only needed three passes to reach the endzone on the drive.

The rest of the half would belong to two of the Packers aforementioned young wide-outs looking to make a name. Rodgers would find both Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis for their first career regular-season touchdowns in the 2nd quarter. First up was Allison.

In the midst of a 14-play drive, resulting in seven first downs, the Packers faced a 3rd and goal on the four yard line. They were looking to take a 14-10 lead and avoid settling for a field goal like they had done so many times so far this season in the redzone.

With Jordy Nelson lined up next to Allison, all attention was given to Nelson. As Rodgers escaped the pocket and rolled to his right, Allison broke off his route to the middle of the endzone and rolled back around to provide a target. He gained just enough space from his defender for Rodgers to fit the ball in for not only Allison’s first touchdown, but first catch as well.

Rookie Trevor Davis would up the ante and catch his first touchdown, as well as put the Packers in a position to do so through the return game.

Davis, who returned two kicks for touchdowns at Cal in his college career, has shown glimpses of big return potential this year. Sunday, with Green Bay needing a play only up 14-13, he took a punt down the middle of the field before cutting it outside for a 55-yard return down to the Falcons 15.

Three plays later Rodgers would reward Davis for giving the offense the outstanding field position.

Just as Allison had done earlier in the quarter, Davis made an adjustment to his route when Rodgers veered out of the pocket yet again. He would set his feet near the right pylon and catch a dart just before falling out of bounds.

The touchdown came at a crucial point in the game, giving Green Bay a 21-13 lead, seemingly a reasonable cushion.

Matt Ryan had other plans.

The Falcons offense would score the next two touchdowns, both courtesy of running back Devonta Freeman, one through the air and one on the ground.

During the two drives, Ryan was able to complete 10 of 11 passes for 85 yards and the touchdown to Freeman. The second one coming in the 4th quarter and giving Atlanta a 26-24 lead, their first lead since the 1st quarter.

Freeman’s rushing touchdown didn’t come easy though. He was actually stopped short on consecutive plays from the one by the stout front 7 of the Packers before he found a slight hole on the crucial 3rd and 1 play

With most of the game taking place through the air, the Green Bay rush defense again held a team below 100 yards rushing, and without Tevin Coleman to take pressure off, Devonta Freeman struggled  all game. He managed to rush for 35 yards on 11 carries (3.2 yards per carry) with half of that coming on a single rush.

After the Freeman score, Rodgers and the Packers offense looked to find their first half rhythm. This came from integrating Nelson and Davante Adams back into the mix. Adams was overlooked because of the breakout games from Davis and Allison, but still managed double-digit catches (12) for the second game in a row, mostly due to him taking on some of Cobb and Montgomery’s snaps in the backfield.

On their way down the field, the Packers offense also had to rely on Rodgers arm as well as his legs.

Once Atlanta made the commitment to go entirely with man coverage, it freed up Rodgers to get out and run a little more. Of course, in man coverage you leave yourself vulnerable to a running quarterback, because he will be able to gash you for big gains due to so many players having their backs to the ball. Knowing this, Rodgers rushed for two big gains of 11 and 13 each on the drive.

Remarkably, with Lacy, Starks, and Montgomery all out, Rodgers was the games leading rusher with 60 yards.

He obviously used his arm as well, completing 6 of 7 passes for 45 yards on his way to finding the remaining member of the young fill-in trio, Jeff Janis, in the back of the endzone.

The play featured yet another example of Rodgers excellence in the redzone that has been missing this season. Like his previous two touchdown tosses, he maneuvered in and around the pocket just long enough to find an opening. Janis, seeing that Rodgers was looking his direction and scrambling, used his speed to get around his defender toward the goal posts and slide into a perfectly thrown ball moments before the Atlanta safety reached him.

With time winding down and in Green Bay in need of a clutch play, like he has done so many times, Rodgers made the play. Unfortunately, he left Ryan and the Falcons offense nearly four minutes to win the game.

In true “Matty Ice” fashion, Ryan found his target on 9 of 11 passes for 75 yards on his way to a record 32nd game-winning drive since coming into the league. Receiver Mohamed Sanu caught five passes for 50 yards on the drive, including the game-winning score with 31 seconds remaining from 11 yards out over the hand of linebacker Jake Ryan.

The usually sound linebacking group for Green Bay had a rough day covering the middle of the field, especially in short yardage situations. In defense of Jake Ryan on the final play, it did seem like safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was suppose to be in the middle of the field to prevent the Sanu touchdown.

Since I’m a fan of silver linings, I’ll leave you with a positive.

On Ryan’s game winning drive he failed to complete a pass to the NFL’s top receiver Julio Jones, as he did many possessions throughout the game.

When it was made official that all three of the Packers top corners would again miss Sunday’s game, many thought Jones was set to have another monster game against Green Bay.

Ladarious Gunter didn’t let that happen.

On the game, Gunter only gave up three catches on six targets for 29 yards against Jones. He was actually so good against Jones and Alshon Jeffery of the Bears in consecutive games that according to PFF, Gunter has been ranked the 15th best cornerback in the entire NFL the past two weeks. Matt Ryan also recorded just a 64.6 rating when throwing into Gunter’s coverage, opposed to his overall rating of 129.5 the rest of the game.

As a whole, the Packers fell into the trap of playing the Falcons brand of football, the one thing they couldn’t afford. Now they will welcome in a Colts team to Lambeau field this upcoming Sunday, that could at any moment explode for a big game like they did against Detroit.

The Vikings loss to the Bears Monday night should at least provide a jolt of energy, and in a wide open NFC North, my cup of positivity is still half full, and yours should be too.