FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons hope to string together back-to-back wins for the first time all season when they travel to Green Bay.
The Packers playing without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) takes some of the luster out of the matchup. But the home team is still dangerous, particularly with standout pass-rusher Clay Matthews back to form.
Here’s what to watch for Sunday at Lambeau Field:
Tackling the issue: The Falcons have missed 28 tackles over the previous two games, including two critical whiffs that led to explosive plays by the Buffalo Bills last week. As they prepare to face bruising rookie running back Eddie Lacy, the Falcons have to rectify their tackling issues. "I think, No. 1, is getting 11 guys to the ball,’’ safety William Moore said. "I don’t care if you have to run from the other side of the field, man. Most of our explosive plays allowed come from [yards after the catch]. Upon first contact, there should be 10 more guys to explode up on the runner.’’
Next in line: The coaches have raved about the potential of undrafted rookie offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder, who is finally getting a chance to show he can contribute. Offensive line coach Pat Hill promised Schraeder would get plenty of looks against the Packers, who boast a formidable pass rush led by Matthews. Although Schraeder was praised for his effort against the Bills last Sunday, he was far from perfect. "There are things, technique-wise, assignment-wise … I wasn’t perfect and I’ll admit that,’’ Schraeder said. "But I did some good things. I moved some guys off the ball. I feel like I pass protected pretty well when I was out there. The more snaps you get, the more things there are to critique.’’
In a rush: Diminutive running back Antone Smith seems to make a play every time he touches the ball. He has four carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games. But Smith had just 17 total offensive snaps in those games. Although everyone seems to be lobbying for Smith, the reality is he’s still listed as the fourth-string running back. "My mindset isn't going to change whether it’s one carry, two carries, three carries or no carries,’’ Smith said. "I’m going to have the same approach every week, preparing like I’m the guy but just going out and doing my job. You paying [Steven Jackson] Jax a lot of money. I mean, he’s here to run the ball. And that’s obvious respect. He’s a great back, man. I don’t take no carries from a guy like him.’’
Out in the cold: The Falcons have played nine of their 12 games indoors this season, and the coldest outdoor game was 62 degrees at Carolina. Come Sunday, they could be looking at temperatures in the teens with a 50 percent possibility of snow. "What I see with the cold weather is that it’s all up to you,’’ Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez explained. "It’s in your head and it’s how you deal with it. And some guys are different. … Obviously, we’re a dome team and we play in some warm weather. So I’m anxious to see how we respond. I think we’ll be OK. Hopefully, it’s not going to have any type of bearing on how we perform.’’