Suspect secondaries will try to avoid being shredded in NFC championship game

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan directs a receiver during the first half of a game against the Rams on Dec. 11, 2016.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan directs a receiver during the first half of a game against the Rams on Dec. 11, 2016.

(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)
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Every surgeon needs a patient, and the same goes for surgically precise quarterbacks.

The operating room Sunday will be the Georgia Dome, and — with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan scrubbed up and ready to go — two suspect secondaries will be under the knife.

Green Bay had the NFL’s second-worst pass defense this season, allowing an average of 269.2 yards per game, and Atlanta was ranked 28th at 266.7. What’s more, both secondaries are banged up heading into Sunday’s NFC championship game.

Meanwhile, the two quarterbacks are scorching. Rodgers has directed his team to eight consecutive victories, throwing for 2,384 yards during that streak, with 21 touchdowns and one interception. Ryan had a passer rating of 117.1 this season, not only leading the league but registering the fifth-highest season rating in NFL history.


Ryan dissected Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary last weekend, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-20 victory. The Seahawks were at an extreme disadvantage without All-Pro safety Earl Thomas roaming the back end of their defense, thereby allowing the players in front of him to take more risks. (It was later revealed that star cornerback Richard Sherman played this season with a sprained knee that the Seahawks reported only after the loss to the Falcons. For hiding that, the club is facing NFL discipline and could lose a second-round draft pick.)

Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett isn’t the elite player Thomas is, but the Packers are more vulnerable without him. Burnett had to leave last Sunday’s game at Dallas because of a bruised thigh, and it’s unknown how effective he’ll be if he can play against the Falcons.

Late this week, Burnett couldn’t say whether he would be able to play.

“I’m just living in the now,” he said Friday. “If I could tell you that, then I probably should play the lottery tonight.”

The Packers had issues at cornerback, too, with Quinten Rollins recovering from a concussion. Both Burnett and Rollins are listed as questionable for the game. Burnett did not practice this week, and Rollins was limited.

If Packers defensive coaches get indigestion watching video from the Seahawks-Falcons game, Atlanta coaches have to feel the same way about Packers-Cowboys.

Dallas was reminded last Sunday of how dangerous Rodgers can be. In the waning seconds of that 34-31 Green Bay victory, the Packers quarterback spun away from pressure, rolled to his left, and fired a laser-beam pass to Jared Cook as he was falling out of bounds. That set up the winning field goal as the clock expired.


Falcons defenders know the mobility of Rodgers makes it perilous to breathe easy any time before the whistle.

“The extended plays could be a momentum shifter if you let something over your head,” Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins told reporters this week. “If you cover the first look and they get behind you and score six points, it’s tough. Once you get out in the field, there’s a lot of space… [Rodgers] can go anywhere.”

The Falcons have had to do their share of secondary reshuffling. When No. 1 cornerback Desmond Trufant was lost to a shoulder injury in early November, Collins stepped in for him. The team also lost safety Kemal Ishmael to a season-ending shoulder injury a month later.

Defensive backs from both the Packers and Falcons can take solace in the fact that neither team is at full strength in terms of receivers.

Green Bay is hoping that receivers Jordy Nelson (ribs), Davante Adams (ankle), and Geronimo Allison (hamstring) will be ready to go. All three are listed as questionable.

Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said if this were the regular season, he might already have declared Nelson and Adams out for this game.


“But obviously this is a different time, and this is a different point where we are in the season,” McCarthy told reporters. “Everybody understands what’s on the line here.”

Atlanta’s Julio Jones, a 6-foot-4 force at receiver, has been slowed by a toe injury and was limited in practice this week.

The team doctors have been busy this week. Now, it’s time for the Sunday surgeons.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer