GREEN BAY – The Packers’ defense had its chance to stop Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
A couple of times in his Monday press conference, defensive coordinator Dom Capers brought up cornerback LaDarius Gunter’s smart, well-timed break on a quick Ryan throw to the outside.
It came on the third play of Atlanta’s game-winning drive. Gunter came off his coverage on Julio Jones to jump in front of Mohamed Sanu but couldn’t quite snag the pass as the ball arrived.
“We have to find a way to close things out,” Capers said. “We have to find a way to make our plays. We had a shot at the interception.”
The missed chance would have been the perfect capper to an otherwise solid performance by Gunter on Jones. He had help from his secondary mates, too, and the Packers held Jones to just three catches for 29 yards.
Only once did the Falcons connect on anything over the top, but it was a big one, Taylor Gabriel’s 47-yard touchdown against single coverage from Demetri Goodson. That was the risk in doubling Jones most of the game, leaving Ryan’s other receivers one-on-one. It was a risk Capers felt he had to take.
“It wasn’t like they big-played us,” Capers said. “Earlier in the season we had some big-play issues. They hit us on the one post route. Nice throw, nice catch. The coverage was close.”
On Atlanta’s final drive, another risk would have been to bring more pressure on Ryan. But with the Packers digging deep into their depth chart at cornerback, leaving the secondary more exposed was playing with fire in Capers’ view.
“For 30 years I’ve been known as a blitz guy, and right now I don’t know that we can do it,” Capers said. Ryan was sacked just twice, on consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter, on 36 total drop-backs.
“To blitz just to blitz … obviously we didn’t get Matt Ryan out of his rhythm, but it’s a double-edged sword. We’ve certainly blitzed more around here in the past than we have the past two or three weeks.”
The final touchdown pass, to Sanu in the back of the end zone, was a mix-up on Green Bay’s part. Capers said when the offense bunches receivers to one side of the formation like the Falcons did on that play, the defenders are supposed to switch from man to zone principles, and that’s not what happened.
But not getting a turnover, especially when the opportunities were there, was most bothersome. Three plays before the TD pass, Jones tried to make a sliding catch down the seam, and the ball deflected up into the air just briefly with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix nearby, but he couldn’t get his hands on it.
“It’s always a tough way to lose a game, but we have to learn from it, have to pick up and move on,” Capers said. “We have to find a way to get more takeaways, plain and simple.”
On offense, the Packers may have found yet another backfield option in fullback Aaron Ripkowski. The second-year pro and former sixth-round pick churned out 34 yards between the tackles on six carries, most of them shotgun draws.
With Ty Montgomery’s health still in question and Knile Davis now released, the coaches know Ripkowski will do whatever is asked.
“He’s athletic for a big guy, one of those can certainly get the job done,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “He shows that versatility as a runner, those natural instincts.”
Had the Packers been able to get moving on their final drive of the game, they wouldn’t have had to cross midfield by much to give kicker Mason Crosby a shot to win it.
“He was hitting it pretty good yesterday,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “Perfect conditions. He could have pushed the 60 limit if an opportunity would have arose to try it.”