At 5-7 and sporting the NFL's most leaky defense, the Atlanta Falcons look like a mismatch against Green Bay star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan doesn't exactly agree.
If Atlanta can keep the score close early, Nolan believes his team has a chance to pull a big upset.
That doesn't mean he expects anything to come easily.
"If you let him sit there in the pocket, he'll take his time and do his thing, but if he gets out and gets flushed, he goes," Nolan said. "He's a very hard one to figure in that regard."
Conditions hardly seem to favor the Falcons on Monday night at chilly Green Bay (9-3).
The Packers rank second in scoring this year and have outscored their last five home opponents by a combined 128 points in the first half. They have a six-game winning streak at Lambeau Field.
Atlanta's defense is last in total yards, last against the pass, second-worst in sacks, fifth-worst in third-down percentage and 22nd in scoring.
It looks grim on paper.
Rodgers, the 2011 MVP, has physical playmakers who run hard and fast. His receiving corps, led by Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, creates problems for small cornerbacks. Running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks are tough to tackle.
Nolan considers Rodgers, though, to be among the best quarterbacks ever to play in a West Coast-style offense — an elite player who makes everyone around him better.
"He keeps plays alive all the time," Nolan said. "He's got a tremendous ability just to flick the ball and be accurate. When he scrambles, a lot of guys will bring their eyes down and try to find the open lane, (but) he's got a great feel for what's around him so he can keep his eyes downfield and still maneuver and stay alive.
"Without question he's an exciting player to watch."
For Atlanta, this week marks the first of three straight weeks against some of the NFL's best QBs. They host Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger next week and visit Drew Brees in New Orleans on Dec. 21.
Despite his defense's statistical shortcomings, Nolan likes how his young players have responded to a rough start to the season.
The Falcons never had their best defender, Sean Weatherspoon, after the standout linebacker suffered a season-ending injury last summer.
But they got safety William Moore, a 2012 Pro Bowl alternate, back from a seven-game shoulder injury absence last week.
And Nolan hopes that the defense builds some momentum with 12 interceptions in the last six games.
They'll need it against Rodgers, who has thrown no picks at Lambeau Field since Dec. 2, 2012 and 31 touchdown passes in that span.
"We'll make the effort to disrupt him in any way we can, but he's a difficult guy to disrupt because you might be asking for something that you don't want," Nolan said. "I don't think we really want Aaron to get out of the pocket, but at the same time you don't want him just sitting there and picking you apart. He can do that."
Moore says the defense must create takeaways, as tough as that assignment seems against a stingy quarterback such as Rodgers.
"It's proven when you win the turnover battle you come out with the win, probably," Moore said. "As long as we cause turnovers, it gets us off the field and puts the ball in the offense's hands."
Notes: Moore says the NFL fined him $22,050 for a crown-of-helmet hit on Arizona WR Jaron Brown last week. The fine was Moore's first of 2014, but he drew almost $75,000 in fines last season. There was no penalty on the fourth-quarter play. ... WRs Roddy White (ankle) and Harry Douglas (foot) were held out of practice on Thursday. White missed last week's game with the same injury.
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