ATLANTA – Not quite eight full months later, the Packers and Falcons meet again.
Here are five things worth keeping an eye on:
1. Cousins clash: Cousins Clay and Jake Matthews have gone head-to-head before, and they’ll almost certainly butt heads again on Sunday night, with Green Bay’s edge rusher trying to beat Atlanta’s left tackle. Clay had a sack against the Falcons in Jake’s rookie season of ’14, but the younger Matthews is a much more polished pass protector now. Clay missed the regular-season meeting last year and was dealing with a banged-up shoulder in the playoffs, so this one might be as even a matchup as they’ve ever had. “It’s grown a little bit bigger than us going against each other. It’s more so the teams and what’s on the line,” the Packers’ Matthews said. “I’ll get to see him at the game, obviously. He doesn’t share a lot of information with me, and likewise, so we’ll keep it close to the vest. We’ve had good battles. I’ve beaten him on occasion, and he’s put me on my butt before. I think it’s a good battle out there.”
2. Two TDs away: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw one touchdown pass in Week 1 vs. Seattle, so he’s at 298 for his career, two shy of 300. With 4,699 career pass attempts, Rodgers will get to 300 faster – by a longshot – than any other QB in NFL history. Peyton Manning is currently the fastest, reaching 300 TDs in 5,306 pass attempts, so as long as Rodgers throws two TD passes within his next 606 attempts, he’ll be the fastest to the milestone.
3. Packers’ pass defense: Green Bay surrendered just 135 net yards through the air to the Seahawks (158 passing yards minus 23 yards in sacks), but the Falcons and Matt Ryan are a whole different challenge. Ryan’s passer rating jumped roughly 20 points over his career mark in winning league MVP honors with a 117.1 rating last year. But the Packers bring a different cornerback group into this game than the one Ryan faced, with new additions Davon House and Kevin King, plus a healthier Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins.
4. In the red zone: One of the biggest reasons Chicago nearly upset the defending NFC champs last week was the Bears held the Falcons to field goals three times when they got in scoring range, including twice in the red zone. Red-zone defense was also a key for the Packers against the Seahawks, who were stopped twice inside the 20, including once in goal-to-go.
5. Issues up front: The Packers head into this game with some uncertainty on its offensive line, with LT David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and RT Bryan Bulaga (ankle) both questionable and Atlanta edge rushers Vic Beasley and Brooks Reed waiting to see who they get, or how healthy their counterparts will be. Meanwhile, the one new starter on the Falcons’ offensive line, RG Wes Schweitzer, had a rough debut in Week 1, when Green Bay’s interior linemen Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark dominated against Seattle.