1) Can the defense slow down Julio Jones?
The All-Pro wide receiver caught 9 passes for 180 yards and 2 TDs in the NFC Championship, but most of that damage was done against corner Ladarius Gunter, who was cut a few days ago. Davon House should be a much better matchup for the Packers. The veteran has the size and the physicality to at least stand a chance against Jones. That said, Dom Capers will still need to do a better job than he did in January. You can be sure new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will look to create mismatches by moving his receivers all over the field – something his predecessor, Kyle Shanahan, did brilliantly eight months ago.
2) Will Ty Montgomery be used more in the passing game?
He needs to be. The former wide receiver caught only 4 passes for 39 yards in the opener against Seattle. Both the coach and the quarterback were to blame. Mike McCarthy wasn’t very creative with the way he used Montgomery and Aaron Rodgers on multiple occasions passed up easy first down throws to try and extend the play until a wide receiver got open further down the field – something that just wasn’t happening. In the screen-shot below, the ball should’ve been thrown to Montgomery at the 12. With Randall Cobb blocking, this could’ve been a big gain. Instead, Rodgers wound up scrambling for only 5 yards.
3) Will the pass rush be as dominant as it was last week?
Very unlikely considering the quality of Atlanta’s O-line. Tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are solid and Alex Mack is a stud at center. It’s safe to assume Mike Daniels and Nick Perry aren’t going to be in Matt Ryan’s face all night. That means other people will have to step up. The most likely candidates are Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry, who should be able to take advantage of all the attention being paid to Daniels and have success against average guards Andy Levitre and Wes Schweitzer. If the pass rush isn’t significantly better than it was in January, the defense will get torched regardless of how much better the corners play.
4) Could the offense survive without David Bakhtiari?
Not a chance. The Pro Bowl left tackle, who was limited in practice all week by a hamstring, needs to play. There’s no way the protection will hold up without him – even if right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle/flu) returns to the lineup after sitting out last week. The noise, the lightning-fast track and the speed of the Falcons edge rushers would be too much for gritty but slow-footed Kyle Murphy. If both Bakhtiari and Bulaga don’t play – which is possible but highly unlikely – the Packers would be better off putting Rodgers on the first flight home to Wisconsin and letting Brett Hundley take the inevitable pounding (just kidding, kinda).
The pick: You can count on one hand the number of good teams the Packers have beaten on the road in the past five regular seasons, and despite a less than impressive showing last week against the lowly Bears in Chicago, the Falcons are a good team. That said, this is a very winnable game.
It won’t be easy opening a new stadium or slowing down QB Matt Ryan, but the Packers’ defense is healthy and feeling good about itself after holding Seattle to 9 points and 225 yards a week ago. That might be enough to keep the Falcons under 30 points and give the offense a chance to win it late. GREEN BAY 34-28 (Season record: 1-0)