The Green Bay Packers will host the Atlanta Falcons on "Monday Night Football" in a matchup of teams headed in entirely different directions. Both entered the 2020 NFL season with high hopes, but just three weeks into their respective campaigns, the Packers are undefeated and the Falcons are winless. Nevertheless, a showdown between two of the league's most potent offenses should make for an intriguing matchup.
The first three weeks of the season have been nothing short of brutal for the seemingly snake-bitten Falcons, who fell to 0-3 with last week's 30-26 loss to the Bears. Following Week 2's shocking collapse against the Cowboys, the Falcons now have the unfortunate distinction of being the first team in NFL history to squander a fourth-quarter lead of 15 points or more in back-to-back games. The last two weeks also have conjured up painful memories of the Falcons' colossal meltdown against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
A rash of injuries and a struggling defense have played significant roles in Atlanta's early-season demise. If there is a silver lining, there are plenty of games left on the schedule for arguably the most dangerous 0-3 team in the league. But if head coach Dan Quinn has any hope of getting off the hot seat, now is the time to reverse the curse. An upset win on the road against the red-hot Packers might do the trick.
The Packers are sitting pretty at 3-0 on the young season following last week's 37-30 road victory against the Saints. They also made NFL history last week, but for all the right reasons, becoming the first team to score 35 or more points in each of their first three games without committing a single turnover. Matt LeFleur's offense is clearly hitting on all cylinders, averaging an NFL-best 6.9 yards per play and 40.7 points per game. However, there is plenty of room for improvement on the defense, where Green Bay is giving up an NFL-worst 6.6 yards per play. That should make for an interesting dynamic as the Packers look to keep their perfect record intact against the upset-minded Falcons and their high-powered offense on Monday night.
Monday Night Football: Atlanta at Green Bay
Kickoff: Monday, Oct. 5 at 8:50 p.m. ET
Spread: Packers -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Green Bay passing game
Despite injuries along the offensive line and in the receiving corps, Aaron Rodgers has managed to make easy work of all three defenses that he's faced so far this season - completing 67 percent of his passes for 887 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. The two-time NFL MVP will be tasked with going into Monday night's matchup a little shorthanded in the supporting cast department as well.
After posting career-best numbers against New Orleans, wide receiver Allen Lazard became the latest Green Bay pass catcher to fall victim to the injury bug. The hope now is that star wide receiver Davante Adams can return this week after sitting out Week 3 with a hamstring injury. Adams practiced on a limited basis this week, which is promising, but he also claimed that he would need to be 100 percent to take the field on Monday night.
If Adams does return, Aaron Rodgers should have little trouble carving up a depleted Atlanta secondary. The Falcons have been atrociously bad against the pass through the first three weeks - allowing 350.3 yards per game (31st in the NFL), nine touchdowns (tied for the most in the league), and 15 pass plays of 20 yards or more (tied for 31st).
If Adams is unable to play, Rodgers will be forced to lean on a skeleton crew of wide receivers, led by inconsistent deep-threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Darrius Shepherd. A tight end committee - consisting of Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger, Mercedes Lewis, and Josiah Deguara – will need to step up to help fill the void, along with running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams out of the backfield. But Rodgers should find a way to keep the Green Bay passing attack afloat against the beat-up Atlanta defense on Monday night.
2. Atlanta passing game
The Falcons' shortcomings so far this season have been well documented. However, quarterback Matt Ryan has maintained the high standard that we have grown accustomed to seeing from the former MVP. Through three games, Ryan ranks third in the NFL with 961 passing yards to go along with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. But much like Rodgers, Ryan's top targets are dropping like flies.
The good news is that Julio Jones returned to practice this week after missing last week's game against the Bears with a hamstring injury. The bad news is that the elite wide receiver stopped short of declaring himself 100 percent healthy. To make matters worse - Calvin Ridley, who ranks second in the NFL with 349 receiving yards and is tied for the league lead with four touchdown catches, is also questionable for Monday night with ankle/calf injuries. And it hasn't been determined if Russell Gage, the Falcons' No.3 receiver, has cleared concussion protocol. Tight end Hayden Hurst (9 rec, 111 yds., 2 TDs) is Atlanta's fourth-leading receiver and the only top option for Ryan that isn't currently nursing an injury.
The Packers have allowed the third-highest passer rating (113.4) in the NFL through three games and rank near the bottom of the league in yards allowed per attempt (8.4) and touchdown passes allowed (7). It's a favorable matchup, but Ryan will need to have his top weapons on the field (and reasonably healthy) to take full advantage of Green Bay's suspect pass defense on Monday night.
3. The run game
With injuries threatening to hamper both of these high-powered passing attacks on Monday night, the Packers and Falcons may need to lean more on the run game to help carry their respective offenses. There's also reason to believe that both teams can find success in that regard.
The Falcons' 18th-ranked rushing attack hasn't been anything to write home about so far this season, averaging 109.7 yards per game. But Atlanta is coming off its best performance on the ground to date, rushing for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Chicago. Todd Gurley showed flashes of his former self with 80 yards and a score on just 14 carries, while fellow running back Brian Hill added 58 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. It is an encouraging sign heading into Monday night's favorable matchup against a Green Bay run defense that will be without leading tackler Christian Kirksey (shoulder). A defense that was already giving up a very generous 5.5 yards per carry with Kirksey in the lineup.
The Packers currently boast the No. 2-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 171.7 yards per game. Running back Aaron Jones spearheads the Green Bay ground assault. He ranks second in the NFL with 303 rushing yards (6.1 ypc) and is tied for the league lead with four touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, Jamaal Williams has picked up 98 yards on 21 carries.
The Green Bay backfield will be paired against a Falcons' run defense that has been middle-of-the-road so far this season, giving up 113.0 rushing yards per game. Atlanta has also allowed five rushing touchdowns through three games. Even with tackling machine Deion Jones roaming the middle, it will be a tall order for a dinged-up Atlanta front seven to slow down the potent Green Bay run game on Monday night.
The Falcons should be 2-1 right now and a dangerous Atlanta passing attack is more than capable of racking up yards and putting points on the scoreboard against a suspect Green Bay defense. But with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage all nursing injuries, Matt Ryan may not have the firepower he needs to drive the Atlanta passing game to explosive levels on Monday night. Even if Ryan does get the passing game hitting on all cylinders, along with help from Todd Gurley and the run game will it be enough to keep pace with a Green Bay offense that is averaging 460 yards and an NFL-best 40.7 points per game? If the last two weeks are any indication, the answer is no.
Aaron Rodgers may also have to make do with a somewhat depleted receiving corps if top target Davante Adams is unable to go on Monday night. But even if Adams does sit this one out, Rodgers shouldn't have too much trouble exploiting a paper-thin Atlanta secondary. The Packers also have Aaron Jones and an elite ground attack to lean on. That will prove to be too much for an injury-riddled Atlanta defense that has allowed the most points in the NFL (36 ppg).
Prediction: Packers 38, Falcons 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.