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Rob Kelley is the Lead Writer for Atlanta Falcons blog, DirtyBirdSouth.  You can find him on twitter at @RobKelley24.

The Atlanta Falcons Keys To Victory

When the Atlanta Falcons host the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night, they will have to adopt a few different strategies than when the teams last met in week 12 if they expect to come out on top and advance to the NFC Championship. While the Falcons were able to beat the Packers, 20-17, with a game winning 47 yard field goal by Matt Bryant with 9 seconds remaining, they did so while Green Bay had very little semblance of a running game. That has since changed with the emergence of James Starks.

The Falcons still have a great run defense, which should not change in this game. The only backs who have caused them a certain degree of difficulty have been some of the more bruising backs in the game, including LeGarrette Blount of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thankfully, Michael Turner is the most bruising running back in this game, and he is on our team!

Here is my top five list of what the Dirty Birds will need to do if they are to be successful against the Pack on Saturday night in the Dome:

1. Establish the Run Game to Open Up Passing Lanes

When these teams last met in late November, Michael Turner was able to rack up 110 yards on 23 carries while reaching the end zone. The Falcons need to get him going early on in order to help out Matt Ryan and the passing game. Turner does not necessarily have to rack up big yards from the start, but he needs to pound the ball and attack the Packers up front to wear them down as the game progresses. The more he can wear them down, the longer Ryan will have to find the open receiver, especially later in the game. In the first contest, Ryan completed an astonishing 24 of 28 passes. If Turner can help Atlanta run their “old-school offense” by pounding the football, Atlanta can expect plenty of success.

2. Slow Down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ Aerial Attack

I say slow down because I’m really not sure of many teams that can actually stop the Packers’ pass game. Last time they met, Rodgers torched Atlanta’s secondary for 344 yards. Green Bay had three wide receivers record more than 50 passes this season for the first time in franchise history. Those receivers were Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones, who combined for 12 catches for 189 yards in week 12. Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson have been more effective since these two teams last met, and they will be counted on in a big way. We all know that John Abraham did an excellent job in pass rush this season by recording 13 sacks, but the Dirty Bird defense will also need a big effort from Kroy Biermann on the other side. If Atlanta fails to deliver pressure against Rodgers, it could be a long day for their 27th ranked pass defense.

3. Keep Clay Matthews in Check From the Opening Drive

In the first game, Matthews finished with just 3 tackles and made only a minor impact. But we all know that he is an absolute beast on defense. Tyson Clabo and the offensive line have done an excellent job of protecting Ryan this season, allowing a league low 23 sacks. Matthews, however, finished the season with 13.5 sacks and became the first Packer in franchise history to begin his career with double figure sacks in his first two seasons. The Falcons will not be able to allow Matthews to get to Ryan, as he will need time in the pocket to try and exploit Green Bay’s secondary, most notably across the middle of the field with Tony Gonzalez. Dom Capers has never been one to shy away from blitzing early and often, so the offensive line, tight ends and running backs will need to pick it up and keep Ryan on his feet.

4. Roddy White Will Need to Look More Like the Receiver He Was in the First Half of the Season

White finished the game against Green Bay with 5 catches for 49 yards and no touchdowns. Charles Woodson will draw the unenviable task of covering White for most of the game, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it will be Woodson. White led the league with 115 receptions on the season and was targeted more than 11 times per contest on average. He will need to have more than 7 balls thrown his way, which is how he finished the first game.

5. Win the Battle on Special Teams, Penalties and Turnovers

This may simple, but it is absolutely crucial to victory. Atlanta has one of the most dangerous kick returners in Eric Weems, and he may need to play a big role in the battle for field position. He may not need to rip one off for a touchdown, but it was his big kick return after Green Bay had tied the football game last time that put them in a position to win the game. Both teams were penalized fairly big in game one, with Green Bay being flagged 8 times for 66 yards and Atlanta drawing 4 penalties for 50 yards. Matt Bryant and Mason Crosby are two of the most reliable kickers in the game, so both will be given the opportunity to play an important role on Saturday. These are some of the fundamentals of football, but generally the most critical to victory.

This is going to be a battle for each team. For a #1 vs. a #6, you might expect a bigger point spread, yet the Falcons are just a 2.5 point home favorite over the Packers. It was a close game the first time these two met, and nothing different should be expected the second time around. The fact that the Dirty Birds are 20-2 at home under Matt Ryan will hopefully make the ultimate difference when deciding the final outcome.