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Coaches prepared early for Falcons

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
January 12, 2011
— The Green Bay Packers don’t have many tangible advantages over the Atlanta Falcons this week.

The Packers didn’t get a week of rest. They won’t get to go home after practice and relax Friday afternoon before checking into their hotel. And they won’t get to dress at their own lockers and play in front of a favorable home crowd.


Such is life on the road.


But the Packers do have one advantage that may make the short six-day period before the game seem longer. The coaches and scouts started breaking down tape of the Falcons last week because they knew if they were moving on their opponent was guaranteed to be Atlanta.


So coach Mike McCarthy handled it like he would a Thanksgiving Day game, having a good deal of the scouting done in advance so the coaches could go right into game planning when they arrived home from Philadelphia on Sunday night.


“That in itself was a benefit,” McCarthy said. “I have been in circumstances where if you won in the first round you may be playing one of three teams, so that is a lot bigger challenge for your quality-control department and your support staff.


“So with that we were fortunate that we knew we would be playing Atlanta. We were able to start working on Atlanta Thursday night, Friday afternoon after the players left, and a number of coaches were working on Atlanta all the way up until Sunday morning. That has helped us from a preparation standpoint.”


The Falcons had to prepare for three teams—Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans—unsure who would be their opponent until the Packers game ended. It was down to the Packers and Seahawks after Seattle’s upset victory over the Saints on Saturday.


“As soon as it became apparent that we were going to be playing (the Packers), we went full steam ahead in terms of implementing our game plan,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.


Normally, the Packers coaches spend Monday reviewing tape of the Sunday game, correcting mistakes and then watching tape of the next opponent. All day Tuesday, they work on a game plan to deliver to the players when they arrive Wednesday.


This time, the game plan had to be handed over Tuesday.


One of the priorities for McCarthy is to make sure his team is rested. As the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Falcons had a bye last week, and Smith had them working mostly on fundamentals in the short amount of time they were on the practice field.


McCarthy estimated that he cut his practice time down 75 percent so the players would not be on their feet so much. They did not practice in pads Tuesday and were done with on-field work by 12:15 p.m.


McCarthy told his players to be smart about getting their rest and eating right, but he did not mandate that everyone must drink warm milk and be in bed by 8 p.m.


“We’re professionals. He knows each guy can handle his business,” cornerback Jarrett Bush said.


Injury update

The Packers weren’t required to give the NFL an injury report until Wednesday, so McCarthy declined to answer questions about injured players.


Everyone on the 53-man roster participated to some degree in practice Tuesday. Even fullback Korey Hall (knee) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) were on the field, though they didn’t do much.


Zombo mostly talked with position coach Kevin Greene.


“I give him a chance (to play Saturday),” McCarthy said. “Tomorrow will probably be a very big day for him.”


Safety Atari Bigby (groin) appeared to be moving well in the jog-through.


Wrap him up

The Packers tackled poorly in the first Atlanta game, allowing Michael Turner to run for 110 yards in 23 attempts (4.8 average).


The defense has made tackling technique a point of emphasis this week.


“You really have to make sure you are not trying to arm tackle (Turner),” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “The biggest thing for us on the D-line is to try to get as many hits on him as possible so he doesn’t make it to the second level.


“Once he gets rolling and gets into the linebackers and the secondary, that’s when he can create big problems.”


Linebacker Desmond Bishop said proper tackling technique needed to be emphasized, even this late in the season.


“I think sometimes your fundamentals can slip a little bit if you’re not conscious of it,” he said. “It’s just making a conscious effort at practice to come with the proper technique.”


Element of surprise

James Starks’ 123-yard rushing day against Philadelphia opened a lot of eyes—even among his own teammates. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers admitted after the game he was surprised by the rookie’s performance.


Did receiver Jordy Nelson see it coming?


“Honestly? I can’t say yes,” Nelson said. “I mean, the kid didn’t play his senior year in college. Some guys said they have YouTubed him a couple times and (he) looked pretty nice.


“We knew he had something, but for his first big-time game, to come out and have 123 yards, I think you’re crazy if you’d sit here and predict that.”


Handling pressure

It would help the Packers if the defense got to Matt Ryan a few times, but the Falcons are better at protecting the quarterback than most teams.


“With certain teams you’re not going to be able to get pressure as much as you’d like and this is one of those teams,” said linebacker Clay Matthews. “The fact that they do a good job with max protect, the fact that they do a good job getting the ball out.”


The Packers sacked Ryan twice in the first meeting.


“We’ve got to be able to stop the run to get more pressure on the quarterback,” Matthews said.



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