Matchups abound in Falcons-Packers rematch

mlough@macon.comJanuary 14, 2011 

ATLANTA -- Michael Turner is proven and gives Atlanta an advantage.

James Starks is untested but how has confidence and could be an unexpected spark.

Charles Woodson is a veteran cornerback, and Roddy White has emerged as an elite receiver.

Tony Gonzalez is a clutch tight end destined for the Hall of Fame, and Clay Matthews is already one of the game’s top linebackers despite being in only his second season.

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to be his team’s leading rusher again, and John Abraham is focused on trying to accommodate him.

A.J. Hawk wants to live up to his last name and melt the performance of the quarterback known as Matty Ice.

Figuring out the key matchups when Green Bay visits Atlanta in the NFC divisional playoff game Saturday night is an indicator of how even the teams are.

“It’s two good offenses, and at the same time, I think it’s two very good defenses,” Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said. “I’m just hoping that we have one more point than they do at the end of the game.”

It’s also a sign that the second meeting of the year should mirror the first one, which came down to a Green Bay touchdown and Atlanta field goal in the final minute, the Falcons surviving a huge day by Rodgers with a 20-17 win.

“They’re a better team this time around,” Atlanta fullback Ovie Mughelli said. “It’s going to take our best effort to beat them.”

The new element in the rematch is Green Bay getting a running game going in last week’s wild-card win over Philadelphia.

Starks, a rookie from Buffalo, gave the Packers only their second 100-yard game of the season, going for 123 yards in the 21-16 win.

Atlanta counters with Turner, who heads one of the NFL’s top ground games with 1,397 yards and an average of 4.1 yards per carry.

Green Bay is using an inverted wishbone with two split backs behind the quarterback and another back behind all of them.

“It’s a balanced formation, for the most part,” Atlanta head coach Mike Smith said. “They have run it with a tight end and one wide receiver in the game, but for the most part, it’s two tight ends, so it’s a balanced formation which forces you to balance up defensively.”

Woodson and Tramon Williams will get their cracks at White, who caught five passes for 49 yards in the first game. Woodson and Williams teamed for 15 tackles in the game with safety Charlie Peprah getting nine.

Of course, Gonzalez is a major threat and he led the Falcons with six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in the first game. The Falcons will have to deal with Hawk and Matthews, a pair of game-changing youngsters.

“Clay Matthews is not only a Pro Bowl player, but he’s also a guy that I think has a chance to be the defensive player of the year,” Smith said. “Everybody talks about his ability to rush the passer, but he is a very active player in the run game as well.

“A.J. Hawk has done a good job as one of their middle linebackers. It’s a multiple defense that gives you all kinds of looks. They will get some penetration.”

Which puts pressure on Ryan to make quick reads and hope Mughelli and the offensive line can protect and establish the all-important run game.

“There are certain things you have to adjust to quicker than some other defenses that you play against just because there’s a lot of different looks that you get,” Ryan said. “They’ve been really good against the run and really good in terms of pass rush the last five or six weeks.”

Most eyes will be on quarterbacks Rodgers, who passed for 344 yards in the loss, and Ryan, who completed 24-of-28 in the win – and what happens around them.

“He’s really smart, and the thing about him I think he doesn’t get enough credit (for) – his athleticism,” linebacker Desmond Bishop told reporters in Green Bay about Ryan. “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.”

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