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What to watch for in Falcons-Packers on ‘Monday Night Football’

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Hosting a Monday Night Football game sans the Lambeau faithful will be an odd sight, but those are the circumstances for Green Bay (3-0) as it looks to continue its roaring start.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons (0-3) are still looking to make some noise and shake off some dreadful play en route to notching their first win of the young season.

When these teams last met on MNF in 2014, Aaron Rodgers’ Packers edged Matt Ryan’s Falcons, 43-37. Since that game, Rodgers and Ryan are a combined 10-0 under the prime-time spotlight of Monday night. With both teams featuring stellar offensive talent — and questionable defenses — this matchup has the potential to feature several Lambeau leaps.

Here are four storylines to watch for when the Packers and Falcons clash on MNF (9 p.m. ET, ESPN):

Can the Falcons close the deal?

Over the past two weeks, Atlanta has blown two separate 15-point fourth-quarter leads, making them the first team to ever do so in consecutive games, per NFL Research. Taking a foot off the gas is one thing, but Atlanta has been closing games as if it’s vacated the driver seat entirely. Ryan’s conservative play with a lead of eight or more points in Weeks 2-3 translated into fewer air yards per attempt (9.9), compared to his 11.2 AYPA when trailing, tied or leading by seven or fewer points, according to Next Gen Stats. Of course, poor defensive play also factored into the collapses, as Atlanta has allowed a league-high 36 PPG and the second-most total YPG (463.3). Against the Cowboys and Bears, the Falcons were outscored a combined 36-10 in the final 15 minutes. If this team has the chance to close versus these Packers, they better do so expeditiously.

Packers go as Rodgers goes

At 36 years young, Rodgers is embodying carpe diem to the fullest. The captain of the league’s No. 1 scoring offense (40.7 PPG), Rodgers is one of two players (Mahomes) in history with nine-plus pass TDs, zero INTs and two or fewer sacks through the first three games, per NFL Research. He is also enjoying a 121.1 passer rating nearly a decade after setting the league record (122.5) during his 2011 MVP season. His efficiency on play-action passes (72.7 comp. rate) has been a major key; against the Saints, Rodgers went 13 of 17 for 160 yards and three TDs on play-action, per Next Gen Stats. Having Aaron Jones and his 6.1 YPC certainly helps with that. The explosive back will be relied upon even more with Davante Adams out again and Allen Lazard missing extended time.

Can offensive talent swing this one Atlanta’s way?

Although Julio Jones (hamstring) and Calvin Ridley (ankle) were questionable entering Week 4, both are set to play, making them major threats regardless of what percentage they’re operating at. Jones has dominated Green Bay (103.6 rec. YPG, five career games) in the past so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares this time around, especially considering that he is returning from an injury that sidelined him in Week 3. So far, his running mate Ridley has held his own in 2020; the third-year receiver is the only player in the NFL with 100-plus receiving yards in each of his first three games. With Jones likely to still garner extra attention just for existing, Ridley should have more 1-on-1s to capitalize on. If Todd Gurley (49 carries, 197 yards, 2 TDs) and the ground game get going, Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked pass attack could turn this into a shootout.

Offense excites but Packers D needs to tighten up

The Packers have scored 35-plus points three straight times and can make it four (a franchise first) in Week 4, but, let’s assume the scoring levels off at some point. And when that happens, the team is going to need a stronger effort from its defense to win games. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s group has been getting to the QB (8.0 sacks), but generating takeaways (three) and limiting big gains (8.4 pass YPA, 113.4 passer rating) have been issues. The Packers are one of six teams in history to start 3-0 and allow over 28 PPG (28.3), per NFL Research. Of that group, only the 2000 Rams (29.4) have allowed that many points per game and still made the playoffs. If they’re not careful, the reeling Falcons, who are averaging 30 PPG, could bring the rolling Packers to a screeching halt.

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