Podcast greats Robert Mays and Nate Tice recently spent an episode comparing recent super bowl teams to the Chiefs and Eagles and landed on the 2016 Falcons as a comp for the Eagles. Packers head coach Matt Lafleur was on that staff, and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two teams. We’ll go a mile wide and an inch deep here.
The two defenses are actually fairly similar. Both are chock full of young super-fast players. Both are using the hot new zone-with-no-blitzing defense. Both have DeVondre Campbell at linebacker. Unfortunately, only one is good.
The Packers need to catch lightning in a bottle like that 2016 Falcons defense did. Get everyone playing fast and aggressive. There will inevitably be mistakes, but at least there will be big plays too.
If we’re talking 2016 Falcons offense specifically, Jordan Love might be a better option. Matt Ryan famously had a come-to-Jesus moment with Kyle Shanahan in the offseason prior to the 2016 season and then just ran the offense on schedule the next year.
Ryan combined veteran-level defense reading with about a thousand play-action roll-outs. That part of the offensive scheme is missing with Rodgers. As he has slowly bullied more and more of his favorite plays onto the call sheet, the offense has become less Shanahan and more McCarthy.
Both teams have two strong running backs with one as the clearly superior pass-catching back. In the Packers’ case, Aaron Jones was clearly superior in just about everything last season. AJ Dillon needs to step up next year to get the tandem close to what the Falcons could do with both backs in 2016.
That’s another thing that could improve with Jordan Love at QB. The Packers ran basically all shotgun this year, possibly because of Rodgers’ preferences. Dillon just doesn’t run the ball as well from the shot gun. Get back under center running wide zone with two tight ends and Dillon could thrive while Jones was able to take on more of the shotgun/pass catcher role than the lead back role he had to take this season.
Wide receivers is hard. The Falcons had the best receiver of his generation in Julio Jones and then a bunch of JAGs who were used perfectly in the offense.
Mohamed Sanu was the slot receiver do it all player who was like a tight end blocking in the run game. Taylor Gabriel was the gadget player who could take a screen to the house whenever. The Packers can recreate those guys. Any one of Samori Toure, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, or a draft pick could do what Taylor Gabriel did in the screen game and on deep routes. Allen Lazard was a version of Sanu last season, less veteran route running savvy but prob better run blocking.
As far as Julio, the best the Packers can hope for is that Christian Watson can provide the same type of gravity as Julio. We’re far away from him playing like Julio, but if he can be a thousand-yard receiver based on his speed, he can make defenses react to him as they did to Julio. If safeties are having to identify where Watson is at all times, it opens up underneath routes for guys like Doubs or Jones or (insert tight end here).
Offensive Line and Tight End
The Packers’ offensive line could be better than the Falcons’ with one key difference. The Falcons had one of the best centers in the NFL over the past 20 years running the show and the Packers have an inconsistent center whose peaks don’t match Alex Mack’s base level.
That’s the key along the offensive line for Green Bay. More consistency. A full year with Bakhtiari and Jenkins playing well, Tom at right tackle, and a more o-line-friendly scheme (with plenty of play action) could spell a massive improvement next season.
At tight end, the falcons had a young Austin Hooper and a veteran Jacob Tamme with Tamme doing most of the work. Tamme was nothing special athletically at that point, so the Packers may be able to duplicate his impact with a veteran who is able to run block, consistently find the hole in the zone, and catch 100 balls in the flat-off-play action.
Matt Ryan won MVP in 2016, but the biggest gap for the Packers is probably Julio Jones. Having a receiver who can go for 300 yards in a game changes everything. There’s more space for underneath routes, someone to go to on every third down, and there’s no way to gameplan against you.
And we should know it! Davante Adams at his peak was a version of that player. The Packers probably won’t reach 2016 Falcons levels on offense any time soon, but they can take a few lessons from that team: get back to the basics on offense, be multiple, play fast on defense, and stress the illusion of complexity.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.
More Packers News
Can the Packers Sign Free Agents?
The Packers are in a terrible salary cap situation. After the inevitable Aaron Rodgers trade, ...read more
Will the Packers Draft a Small Receiver?
The Packers draft strategy in the Ted Thompson/Brian Gutekunst era, and especially in the Brian ...read more