Packers run defense faces another tough test vs. Atlanta RBs

Sep 10, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 10, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) runs the ball against the Carolina Panthers in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers defense held up well against the run in Week 1 against Chicago, but they will again have their hands full in that regard this week with the Atlanta Falcons on the schedule.

Against the Bears, the Chicago running backs averaged just over three yards per rush. The Packers deployed a massive amount of stunts throughout the game to cause some confusion up front. On top of that, the edge rushers did well keeping the running backs inside, while as a unit, the Green Bay defense was playing much faster, whether that was upfront in their ability to shoot gaps or with the players at the second and third levels swarming to the ball carrier.

"“I thought our guys, for the most part, were playing gap sound,” said Matt LaFleur on Wednesday. “Playing with good fundamentals. We did some movement up front and I thought that was helpful. But every week is another challenge and this one is going to be a really good challenge for us.”"

Similarly to the Bears, the Atlanta offense relies heavily on their rushing attack. Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier combined for 25 Carrie’s while quarterback Desmond Ridder’s 18 pass attempts were the fewest in the NFL Week 1. Allgeier averaged 5.0 yards per rush on 15 attempts, with two touchdowns, while Robinson, in his NFL debut, averaged 5.6 yards per rush on 10 carries.

The Atlanta offensive line was able to create some running lanes, but both Allgeier and Robinson were very difficult to bring down. Allgeier’s five missed tackles forced  were tied for the second-most among all running backs, according to PFF, while both he and Robinson ranked in the top 15 out of 43 eligible running backs in average yards after contact gained.

"“They’re extremely difficult to tackle,” said LaFleur, “and you can see the offense runs through those two guys…But I think both those guys are very, very good backs that you’ve got to try to contain the best you can. And I think their offensive line does a really good job of coming off the ball, creating movement up front, creating space for those guys to run.”"

After missing the first game of the season, it looks like the Packers will also have to contend with Cordarrelle Patterson, who was a full participant during Wednesday’s practice. As a ball carrier, Patterson averaged 4.8 yards per rush in 2022, and like Allgeier and Robinson, has proven to be very difficult to bring down.

"“All three of their backs are really dynamic and all of them can take it to the house,” said run game coordinator Jerry Montgomery. “It’s the scheme that they run. Those guys, they press the line of scrimmage and get you running and they’ll cut it back and get downhill. Whether it’s 7, 25 or 84, all three of those guys can take it to the house. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. So we will have our hands full all day.”"

Prior to the Bears game, Kenny Clark said that stopping the run was going to be priority No. 1 for the Green Bay defense, and while it’s a new week, I’m going to guess that mentality will remain the same.

If the Packers can slow the Falcons run game and have them playing from behind the sticks, it’s going to put that offense in obvious passing situations. That will allow the Packers pass rush – a strength of this team – to get after Ridder. While the Falcons’ offensive line was able to find some success as run-blockers, the Carolina defensive front was able to give them fits when in pass protection. By ESPN’s pass-block win rate metric, Atlanta ranks 21st out of the 32 defenses following Week 1.

Along with pounding the ball on the ground, the Falcons rely heavily on the quick passing game, in effort to get the ball out of Ridders’ hands and give his pass catchers the opportunities to make plays in space. Of Ridder’s 18 pass attempts against Carolina, only four traveled more than 10 air yards and only one of those four went more than 20 yards.

By slowing the run, it’s going to make moving the ball and picking up first downs much more difficult, helping to limit another aspect that this Atlanta offense relies on. Routinely trying to move the chains on third and long through screens, shallow crossers, and quick outs is likely not a sustainable approach.

With improved depth, added speed and versatility, along with a different game plan that consisted of a lot more post-snap movement, this has looked like an improved Packers defensive front, specifically against the run, for much of the summer. But this young unit and those changes are once again going to be put to the test in Week 2. And unlike last week, the Falcons now have some film to watch and adjustments that they can make.

"“They’re good,” said pass game coordinator Jason Rebrovich. “Their O-Line is really good. They’ve all been drafted in that scheme. They’ve all been drafted in that system. Every single one of those guys have been there and drafted to do the things they’re asked to do. And they’re a heavy zone team and they run it extremely well. So we have our hands full.”"