|A picture from the Atlanta visitors' guide.|
- Wear breathable clothing – this is obviously less of a concern in January, particularly since the Southeast just got hit with a winter storm themselves. But there is no place on earth hotter than Atlanta. The National Weather Service named Atlanta #1 on their list of the nation’s “Most Miserably Hot Places to Live.” I once sweat through a suit jacket in Atlanta. By that, I mean sweat circles that penetrated a t-shirt, dress shirt and full suit coat. At the end of the day, I had to ask the hotel staff to peel my clothing off with kitchen tongs and spray me down with a garden hose. It wasn’t pretty. Heat shouldn’t be a concern this time of year, but you never know. Best to be prepared.
- Bring something to read – approximately two-thirds of the total time I’ve spent in Atlanta have been in the back seat of a taxi cab stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. What’s different about Atlanta’s urban gridlock is that nobody seems to be going anywhere. What is there to do, after all. The Atlanta Bureau of City Planning actually received an award from Exxon Mobil for their contributions to global fuel consumption.
- Don’t mention the Civil War – still a touchy subject down there. Georgia was the first state to secede and the last to come back. I suppose if General Lee had done a “March to the Lake” and burned down everything from Madison to Milwaukee, we’d probably not think it was very funny either. So let’s just keep my General McCarthy analogy to ourselves. I don't want some Confederate nut job mailing me a pipe bomb.
Follow those tips and you should be good. I also have three tips for the Packers as they visit Atlanta this Saturday:
- Stop Michael Turner – everything the Falcons do stems from Turner. They are 7-0 when he rushes for over 100 yards this season, including the 110 yards he racked up against the Packers in week 12. Just as the Packers focused on taking away Vick’s scrambling ability against the Eagles, Dom Capers needs a game plan that takes away Turner. Having Jenkins back to full-speed will definitely help. But I would supplement the run defense by using Woodson, a great run stuffer, in some rush blitzes, and leverage Matthews for back-side pursuit, which he excels at. The Falcons obviously have other weapons – Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez particularly. But I think you force them to beat you with their passing game. I’m pretty comfortable with Tramon matching up against White one-on-one, and Collins or Peprah picking up Gonzalez. Plus, I think Matt Ryan’s ability as a passer is a little over-rated. He’s benefitted enormously from manageable down-and-distance situations, and when asked to put things on his shoulders in close games he’s struggled – including an interception in the final minutes of their loss to Pittsburgh and an inability to orchestrate a game winning drive with 3:24 left against a weak New Orleans defense at home. Even if Ryan lights it up, I think a passing shoot out favors the Packers because we have more receiving weapons and it would shorten Atlanta’s possessions.
- Rush the ball effectively – I’m not saying James Starks needs to put up 123 yards rushing again (though that would certainly be nice). The Packers just need to have a credible rushing game so that the Atlanta secondary honors it and that, in turn, opens up the passing game. As we witnessed, the Packers couldn’t run the ball at all against Atlanta last time. If we can at least get 3-4 yards per carry that will create many great side effects – in particular, longer time of possession, shorter third-down conversions, and more effective play action. I’d love to see the kind of balance the Packers had against the Eagles, although it will be harder against Atlanta’s front seven. Of course, the tempting alternative attack plan for the Packers’ offense would be to just give up on the run and air it out against the league’s 27th ranked pass defense. But I think that would be a mistake – even crappy defensive secondaries are decent when they know you have to pass. Keep it balanced, control the clock, and finish long drives.
- Play mistake-free football – two mistakes in the Packers’ previous meeting against Atlanta cost them the game – Rodgers’ fumble at the goal line and Matt Wilhelm’s flagrant facemask on the final Falcons kick return. Take either of those plays away and the Packer likely win that game. One thing Atlanta is extremely good at is error avoidance. Any big mistake by the Packers – a big turn-over, another James Jones dropped ball, a costly penalty, etc. – could be a huge momentum change in the game, particularly playing on the road in the Georgia Dome. It was mistakes against the Eagles – Rodgers’ fumble, Jones’ drop, Underwood’s foot fault – that made that game closer than it probably should have been. I don’t think we’ll be so lucky if we make the same type of mistakes against Atlanta, because they won’t make many.
If the Packers can do those things, I feel optimistic about their chances. A victory would be the third leg of a sweet playoff redemption trifecta, and send the Packers to their second NFC Championship game in four years. Can’t wait for Saturday night.
By the way, one more tip for visitors to Atlanta, they don’t do the “Dirty Bird” down there any more. Team owner Arthur Blank banned the signature dance move after rupturing a disk shooting the NFL Play60 commercial.