Seahawks kick returner Leon Washington takes back a punt deep into Falcons territory Sunday before he is tackled by Atlanta’s James Sanders, left, and kicker Matt Bosher. Atlanta’s special teams and defense weren’t great Sunday in the Falcons’ narrow 30-28 win, and are just a few of the lingering questions the team must work on in the next six days with the defending champion Packers up next.
FLOWERY BRANCH -- The Atlanta Falcons are still trying to find their groove.
With the defending Super Bowl champions coming to town, this would be a good week to do it.
The Falcons (2-2) are coming off another Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, racing out to a big lead on struggling Seattle, then barely hanging on for a 30-28 victory against the Seahawks.
WHO: Green Bay Packers (4-0) at Atlanta Falcons (2-2).
WHAT: Huge NFC showdown, rematch of last year's playoffs.
WHEN: 8:20 p.m. Sunday.
LINE: Packers by 5 points.
In many ways, the win typified the first quarter of the season for Atlanta, which was projected as a Super Bowl contender but had yet to put together a complete game.
The offensive line had been the biggest concern, but it did a good job Sunday. Matt Ryan wasn't sacked once after going down 13 times during the first three games.
Now, coach Mike Smith is worried about the defense, which was burned for four touchdowns and 372 yards by a Seattle team that had scored just 30 points coming into the game. That won't do against high-powered Green Bay, which visits Atlanta on Sunday for a prime-time rematch of last year's playoff rout by the Packers.
"They have a great pedigree," Smith said Monday, still looking a bit bleary eyed after the overnight flight from the West Coast. "They have an outstanding quarterback with a lot of weapons. That's the biggest concern for us, being able to slow these guys down. In all four games, they have moved the ball and put a lot of points on the scoreboard."
Indeed, the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers (4-0) are averaging a league-best 37 points a game, looking just as prolific as they did in January blowing out the Falcons 48-21 in a division-round playoff game.
Atlanta has stewed over that game ever since, making a major deal on draft day to land receiver Julio Jones and signing Ray Edwards shortly after the lockout ended to bulk up the pass rush that kept letting Rodgers slip away.
But those moves have yet to transform the Falcons, who actually appear to have taken a slight step backward instead of another giant leap forward.
"I felt we played a solid game through the first half," Smith said. "In the second half, we didn't play as well as we needed to play. There's a lot we need to fix. One thing I will say about our team is we responded to the challenge. We held up in the fourth quarter when we had to."
Given the way they ran all over Atlanta last time, the Packers present a daunting challenge. Rodgers has far and away the best rating of any quarterback, completing 73 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards, with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
He must be licking his chops thinking about the prospects of going against Atlanta's secondary, which ranks 24th in the league defending the pass. Tarvaris Jackson, who's never been mistaken for someone of Rodgers' caliber, burned the Falcons for 319 yards and three touchdowns on a 25-of-38 day (he was picked off twice, however).
"We gave up a lot of passing yards," Smith said. "Each and every day you have concerns, and this one is obvious (going into the Green Bay game). We've got to make sure we have a plan on how to stop these guys. We've got to try to slow them down. They've been outstanding on the offensive side, especially in the passing game. Aaron Rodgers is playing about as effectively as you can. It's a challenge."
Getting some pressure on Rodgers would certainly help. Atlanta has only five sacks this season -- just one other team has fewer -- and Edwards is still looking for his first takedown of the quarterback since signing with the Falcons.
Edwards was supposed to take some attention off the other end, John Abraham, but that hasn't worked out so far. If Rodgers can move around like he did last season in that playoff game, allowing himself extra time to throw, the Falcons will have little chance of slowing the Packers.
"We've got to make sure we put some pressure on him," Smith said.
Coming off a 13-win season and NFC South championship, the Falcons know they haven't come close to reaching their potential. When an opponent is down 27-7 -- as the Seahawks were early in the second half -- Atlanta can't let them get back in the game.
That certainly won't do against a team such as Green Bay.
"There's still work to be done," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "We need to be able to keep a cushion and keep a team out of the end zone when we need to."
Abraham realizes the Falcons still haven't found their groove.
"Definitely not," he said. "This game started off good, but we've got to be able to finish. It should have been a little more comfortable at the end of the game."