These two former NFC heavyweights - the Falcons and Packers - have fallen on hard times.
Since the Falcons historic win at Lambeau Field after the 2002 season, there was normally something on the line when the two teams played. Playoff positioning, the head-to-head tiebreaker or even a trip to the Super Bowl.
But on Sunday, when the Falcons (4-8) face the Packers (4-7-1) all they’ll be playing for is pride, respect and dignity.
For the Falcons, they can start taking inventory of who’s still on the Brotherhood Bus and who wants off. The Packers hope to take steps toward maximizing the end of the career of their great quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Falcons have a four-game losing streak and the Packers have dropped their last three and fired Super Bowl-winning coach Mike McCarthy after a listless loss to the Cardinals last Sunday.
Here’s a glimpse into the The Pride and Poise Bowl:
X-Factor: Stopping Rodgers
Rodgers’ stats look fine, but the offense is not scoring at a high clip.
Rodgers reportedly was not happy with McCarthy’s playing calling and he was fired on Sunday. Associate head coach Winston Moss took to Twitter to contend that Rodgers needed to held accountable, too. He was fired on Monday.
So there’s turmoil in Titletown and former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was promoted to interim head coach with the charge of placating Rodgers and getting the offense back on track.
“We just haven’t had that production,” Philbin said. “In the last two weeks, we just haven’t had the big plays. When you are not getting big plays and you’re not converting on third downs it’s hard to get into the scoring zone.”
The normally high-scoring Packers have scored over 30 points just twice this season and have averaged 17 points over the past two games, losses to the Cardinals and Vikings.
“We’ve got to do a better job against not only Atlanta this week,” Philbin said. “They do a great job. They have good pass rushers. They have different combinations of both pressures, zone coverages and man coverages that we have to really be on top of to execute and move the chains.”
The Falcons still consider Rodgers a formidable foe.
“Aaron is guy who can beat you with his feet and definitely with his arm,” Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley said. “So, we definitely have to get pressure on him. Get him off the spot and alter the game up front.”
The Falcons are expected some curveballs with a new play-caller in Philbin.
“I know there are going to be some unscouted looks with the change in the coaching staff,” Beasley said. “We have to expect the unexpected and just go out there and play with some discipline.”
Hot seat: Running back Tevin Coleman
After busting loose for 156 yards from scrimmage against Washington, Falcons running back Tevin Coleman has been stymied.
Over the four-game losing streak, Coleman has gained 53 yards against Cleveland, 85 against Dallas, 23 against the Saints and 11 against the Ravens.
To Coleman’s defense, a speedy runner with pass catching ability, there has not been much room to run and the pass protection has been shoddy. Also, the Ravens elected to get into their pistol formation and play keep-away from the Falcons’ offense after getting a 13-10 lead.
“It’s definitely been frustrating,” Coleman said. “We just have to keep working. Keep coming out to practice and practice hard to get to the level we need to.”
The Falcons got off to a good start on the opening drive against the Ravens. Ito Smith had an 11-yard run on the first run from scrimmage. It turned out to be the longest run of the game. On Coleman’s six carries, he was dropped for losses on three.
“It’s always tough when we can’t get the running game going and giving the offense some balance,” Coleman said. “We are still working hard to get that going.”
3 key matchups: Falcons at Packers
Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Falcons LT Jake Matthews: Clay Matthews is in his 10th season and the former defensive player of the year has 2.5 sacks. He’ll be matched at times against his cousin Jake Matthews. The Packers appear set to let Clay Matthews become a free agent after the season.
Packers S Tramon Williams vs. Falcons QB Matt Ryan: With all of the injuries in the secondary, the Packers have moved the veteran cornerback to free safety. Williams, 35, provides a steady presence to a young secondary which features rookie Jaire Alexander. He’ll make all the calls and match wits with Ryan.
Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Falcons CB Desmond Trufant: Adams, who is having a monster season, has moved into the upper echelon for receivers in the NFL. He has 85 catches for 1,115 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Packers move him around. Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel doesn’t plan to shadow him with Trufant and said that all of the cornerbacks have to be ready for Adams. “This is a high-character, smart football player and great locker room guy,” Philbin said. “A guy that is really starting to exude a lot of confidence. Brings a lot of positive leadership to the locker room. I’m very impressed with him.”
QB Corner: Matt Ryan on the Packers
On his impressions of the Packers’ defense: “They do a good job with rotating and giving you different looks with personnel. That’s probably the number one thing for us from a communication standpoint … what personnel groupings (they’re in).
On former cornerback Tramon Williams at safety: “Played a lot against him in the past. He’s a great player. He’s done a nice job of adjusting to safety. Very talented, very smart player. He has done a good job moving into that free safety position.”
On Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews: “He’s still playing really well. He has a knack for getting after the passer, he has a knack for getting after the ball. He’s a savvy football player and is smart both against the run and the pass.”
ABOUT THE PACKERS
»The Packers named Philbin the interim head coach on Monday after firing McCarthy on Sunday after an embarrassing loss to the Cardinals.
»Philbin was 24-28 as the head coach of the Dolphins from 2012-15.
»This will be the 30th regular-season meeting of the Packers and Falcons. The Packers hold a 15-14 lead. The Falcons won the last meeting 34-12 on Sept. 17, 2017.