Falcons need big offensive showing against Packers
Dec. 05, 2014
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — An impressive win over Arizona's strong defense was a confidence-booster for running back Steven Jackson and the Falcons' offense.
Atlanta will need to build on that win to help give the Falcons' defense a chance in Monday night's game at Green Bay.
Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers rank second in the NFL in scoring. The Packers (9-3) have scored more than 50 points in two of their last three home games. Rodgers has thrown 20 TD passes with no interceptions at home this season.
That's scary for the Falcons, who rank last in the league in total defense and against the pass.
The best hope for Atlanta's defense will be minimizing Rodgers' time on the field. That puts pressure on the Falcons' offense, led by quarterback Matt Ryan. The Falcons had 500 yards in their 29-10 win over the Cardinals on Sunday.
"I think it gives you confidence that you can go out there and play with anybody in this league," Ryan said. "But I think even before last week we had that."
Jackson ran for 101 yards against the Cardinals — his first 100-yard game in his two years with Atlanta. The 240-pound back gained more than half of his yards on a 55-yard run — his longest since 2009.
"He's a big guy," Packers linebacker Nick Perry said Friday. "We know at the end of the day we've got to tackle. That's going to be a big emphasis going up to this game, just getting all hats to the ball."
Ryan is hoping Jackson and Atlanta's other running backs, Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman, provide offensive balance against the Packers.
"We're a better offense when we're balanced and that's important for us as we move forward," Ryan said.
Jackson said one reason for Atlanta's improved production is the growth of a young, rebuilt offensive line. The current version of the line, which has had four starters suffer season-ending injuries, has had five weeks to play together.
"We've been playing with a changing of the guard up there but right now we have a unit that has been together for the last few weeks," Jackson said. "They're starting to jell and understand each other. We're starting to get comfortable as runners with that unit. Hopefully going forward, we can continue to have an explosive running game."
One of the few constants on the line has been rookie left tackle Jake Matthews, who will face his cousin, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
The line includes another rookie, center James Stone, who signed as an undrafted free agent.
"I feel like our line is getting better every week," Stone said. "We've come together and we're trying to get better as a unit."
Stone is Atlanta's third starting center, following Joe Hawley and Peter Konz. Tackles Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes also are on injured reserve.
The Falcons had the big day against Arizona even without wide receiver Roddy White, who was held out with an ankle injury. Julio Jones was Ryan's top target, catching 10 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown.
White has not practiced this week. Coach Mike Smith said Friday he hopes White can practice on Saturday and play on Monday night.
The Falcons (5-7) have won three of four and remain in first place in the NFC South.
Atlanta players have heard all the jokes about the woeful division. Jackson said the bottom line is they remain in control of their playoff hopes — just like the Packers.
"We are relevant," Jackson said. "We're No. 1 in the South and we've got to keep it that way. Whenever you can control your own destiny, that's the way you want it. As long as we continue to take it one week at a time and find a way to win, we'll be OK."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
AP Sports Writer Genaro C. Armas in Green Bay, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.
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