But Atlanta’s Matt Ryan shares a trait with Vick the Packers are keenly aware of. He’s tough to get on the ground.
Not in the same way the lightning-fast, scrambling Vick is, of course. But Ryan was sacked just 23 times in 16 regular-season games this year, and he stays clean by making quick decisions and getting the ball out in a hurry and “on time,” as Head Coach Mike McCarthy likes to say.
“I remember when we played against them, he didn’t hold onto the ball too much,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “He was getting it off in rhythm.”
The Packers actually did sack Ryan twice, which wasn’t bad. He wasn’t sacked more than three times in any game this season, and he was sacked only once or not at all in eight of the 16 games.
The key will be to disrupt Ryan’s timing, and that’s not just the job of the pass rushers. The defensive backs have to mix up their coverages and looks, and bump receivers off their routes if given the chance.
The guys up front can attack with a different mindset, though. Whereas it was a necessity against Vick to stay in the rushing lanes and not give him openings to escape, rushers and blitzers can go after Ryan with a little more reckless abandon, you might say.
“You have to switch up your thought process and your game plan for how you approach it,” said Jenkins, who had one of the two sacks of Ryan in the first meeting this season.
Unlike with Vick, if the pocket does break down, Ryan won’t look to run first. He rushed for more than 15 yards in a game just twice all season. His priority is to get the throw off, one way or another, and he does use his feet to help with that.
“He’s really smart, and the thing about him I think he doesn’t get enough credit (for) – his athleticism,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “He’s pretty mobile, and given the opportunity he can definitely run, scramble, buy time. So he’s got all the tricks of the trade. I guess he got his name from somewhere.”
That nickname is “Matty Ice,” for his penchant for being cool under pressure. It has served him well, especially in the Georgia Dome, where he is 20-2 as a starter in his career.
“We’ll try to get some pressure on him, but he’s going to make the quick throws,” said nose tackle B.J. Raji, a former teammate of Ryan’s at Boston College. “That’s just the type of quarterback he is. He’s very efficient.”
Just drop it, will ya?
While receiver James Jones was answering questions at his locker on Wednesday about his drop of a potential 63-yard touchdown pass on Sunday in Philadelphia, next-door neighbor Greg Jennings stuck his head into the fray and asked, sarcastically, “Was it the weather?”
Jones had his retort ready. “Was it the weather in Detroit?” The reference, of course, being to Jennings’ similarly egregious drop of a long ball against the Lions in Week 14.
That kind of chatter is nothing new with this bunch. Unfortunately, they’ve had a few too many drops to get on each other about over the past month, but getting on each other is part of how this close-knit group rolls.
“We can kid about stuff, but at the same time, we’re serious,” Jennings said. “It happens to all of us. It’s going to happen throughout our career, but it’s all about how you bounce back.”
Jones’ receiving mates have all the confidence in the world he’ll bounce back. He’s had his share of drops this year, including a potential long TD against the Giants in Week 16, but he also caught his sixth touchdown of the season in the playoff game in Philly.
The good-natured yet serious ribbing is a constant, whether it’s in the film room, in the locker room or on the practice field. But it serves a purpose.
“We give each other a hard time, but it’s all out of love and it’s all out of respect for the other guy’s craft and what he does,” Jennings said. “We know what he’s capable of doing. For our group, we hold each other to a high standard. Do we know we’re going to have drops? Of course. But at the same time, we try to eliminate those because we know we’re not the caliber guys that should have those type of plays happen to us.
“It’s all about lifting one another up, but at the same time holding each other accountable.”
Added veteran Donald Driver: “We’re very confident in ourselves, and we’re very competitive. When (any receiver) doesn’t catch it with his hands and catches it with his body, we talk about you. If you drop it, and you know you’re supposed to score, we talk about you. It goes back and forth. It’s one of the things we do on our side of the ball, and it makes us better.
“J.J. knows more than anyone else he can make that play. But the thing about him is, he can drop a ball, and the next week with everyone chewing him out, he can hit you for 150 yards on two catches and a touchdown.”
In the end, that’s all a receiver can do when it comes to a drop. Recognize it’s a hazard of the position, regardless of how hard anyone tries to avoid them, and worry only about the next play.
“It’s not like you go out there every day saying, ‘I’m going to drop a ball,’” Driver said. “You’re focused on the ball. It’s just sometimes when you try to make a play before it happens, you end up dropping it. Our goal right now is just to stay focused and make every play, because we have to make sure everything counts this week.”
For the longest time, the only NFL player from tiny Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania was Packers long snapper Rob Davis, now the team’s director of player development.
But on Saturday night, two more Shippensburg alums will be on the same field in the playoffs. Packers running back John Kuhn and Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes were teammates for three years at Shippensburg and both entered the NFL as non-drafted rookie free agents – Kuhn in 2005, Grimes in 2006.
Neither player made an active roster until his second year out of school (Kuhn was with Pittsburgh at the time), and now both have evolved into regular contributors for their teams. Kuhn, who was claimed by the Packers off waivers from the Steelers in 2007, has combined for 13 rushing and receiving touchdowns, including playoffs, over the past three years.
Meanwhile, Grimes has intercepted 11 passes over the last two seasons.
“It’s definitely something that we both take a lot of pride in,” Kuhn said of the road he and Grimes have traveled. “We’ll both talk to each other after the game and wish whoever is successful good luck from then on out.
“We chat every now and then. It’s been a little far and few in between because we’ve been so busy playing. But he’s a good player, and he’s a good guy too. I know he’s going to be ready for us and we’re going to be ready for him.”
Both teams released an injury report for the first time this week on Wednesday.
For the Packers, linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) continued to sit out and McCarthy said his chances of playing are “fading.” Zombo missed the last three games of the regular season and last week’s playoff game.
“If he doesn’t practice tomorrow, obviously he won’t be available,” McCarthy said.
Also, backup center/guard Jason Spitz injured his calf in Tuesday’s practice and sat out. McCarthy considers him questionable to doubtful for the game at this point.
Another newcomer to the injury report is rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who has some shoulder soreness lingering from the Philadelphia game and was a limited participant in practice. But neither McCarthy nor Bulaga is concerned about being available to play.
Fullback Korey Hall (knee) and safety Atari Bigby (groin) both continued their comebacks from injury and were limited participants. McCarthy said both would have a chance to be active on Sunday.
Other limited participants were left tackle Chad Clifton (knees), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) and Jenkins (calf). Full participants include Driver (knee), defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe).
For the Falcons, who haven’t played since Jan. 2 after receiving a first-round bye, six players were listed as limited participants: defensive end John Abraham (groin), defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux (shoulder), safety Thomas DeCoud (ankle), linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), center Todd McClure (ankle), and receiver Roddy White (knee).
Cornerback Brian Williams (knee) did not participate.
Additional coverage - Jan. 12