You’d think after all the success the New England Patriots have enjoyed these past 17 or so years we’d just get “used to it,” however, I find myself still floating on cloud nine. This season was so impressive in many different ways but to think that we started without Tom Brady for the first four games (not to mention Jimmy G getting injured and Jacoby Brissett coming to the rescue) and to come out 3 and 1 was truly amazing.
I know it’s almost cliche the way it sounds now but everybody stepped when it was needed and the Patriots have really developed into a tough team. The last time they lost, against the Seattle Seahawks, the Patriots had a few questions (and admittedly many of us did too) regarding their true identity. Since that fateful evening (and just around the Jamie Collins trade) they have luckily found their groove and then some.
We’ve grown accustomed to seeing great defenses from the Patriots over the years, however, this year has truly been something special. It seems like no matter who it is there is always a huge play each game and they are getting production from literally everyone. Leading the league in points allowed defense is no easy feat in any year and when you pair that together with the second best offense in the league? You can’t really complain. The Patriots come into this game soaring on offense. Even without the talents of the best tight end in the league, Rob Gronkowski, they still seem to make things look so effortless.
Two weeks ago we witnessed the offense absolutely eviscerate the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was a thing of beauty to watch. I’ve never seen Brady look so on the money down the field as he was in the game (and that flea flicker to Hogan was truly something to marvel at). That was the best I’ve seen the offense look all year. I’m confident the Patriots will continue that flare of play leading into the biggest game of the year this Sunday.
That being said they will have their hands more than full with the explosive Atlanta Falcons offense this Sunday. This is probably the most explosive offense the Patriots have faced in their Super Bowl runs since the “Greatest Show On Turf” St. Louis Rams, so the defense will absolutely have their work cut out for them. They are extremely talented on offense and while their defense was less than stellar during the regular season they also seemed to have peaked at the right time. I think they did benefit from Green Bay being gassed in that last game defensively (especially after GB seemed to spend every last bit of energy they had in defeating the powerhouse Dallas Cowboys) but that is not to take away from the extreme talent levels the Falcons possess.
I think the Patriots have done a great job of not underestimating their opponents this year and we will need that to continue heading into Sunday.
Atlanta is the underdog, has a young defense and a ridiculously talented offense but we’ve seen stranger things happen and that is why you never count anyone out, much less in the biggest game of the year. I’d say the matchup on paper favors the Patriots as they do have the #1 scoring defense in the league and the #2 offense in the league. That is a vicious combination to combat. The Falcons were #1 in offense, however, struggled mightily during the regular season as far as yardage and overall defense (371 yards and 25 points per game is not a stat to be proud of). The Patriots are coming off one of their more complete performances of the year against Pittsburgh and they will need to continue that beautiful recipe of back breaking plays, defensive excellence, forcing turnovers and protecting Tom Brady.
It’s been an amazing year watching these guys and I’ve enjoyed every second of it with Gronk Nation. Let’s Gooooo!!!!
For the final time this season, here are five ways the Patriots can beat the Atlanta Falcons:
1. Attack Their Best
Time and time again Belichick tells you what he is going to do and then does it. As we’ve seen before his usual method of attack it to suppress their one or two best players and go from there. Problem with that method against a team as offensively talented as Atlanta is you need to make sure your other coverages hold up their end of the bargain. The offense is multi-faceted, fast and can hit you from a million different angles. While Julio Jones is the most talented player on their team, they have plenty of firepower to go around and that is what makes them so dangerous. In a lot of ways they remind me of a Patriots offense when they are firing on all cylinders. They don’t need to hit just one star player over and over, they can spread the field and hit guys that are on weaker coverages when they feel like it because the best defensive players already have their hands full.
A) Julio Jones
I’d expect a double coverage on him all game. I’d honestly be shocked if Butler squares up against him because of the size difference, however, I’ve seen the Patriots go that direction a few times (Brandon Marshall comes to mind). Either way, if it’s Logan Ryan, Butler or anyone else on the team they will need help either way. The guy is a physical freak, he is bigger, faster and stronger than pretty much anyone on the field. That being said, the Patriots cannot be afraid to crash him off the line (much like opposing teams like to do with Rob Gronkowski). They can play physical and yards will be gained either way, but I think the Patriots must take away the ‘big’ play like he had last week in Green Bay. Belichick always says don’t let their best guy beat you. I couldn’t agree more here. He’s likely the best all around receiver in the league. Contain him as best you can and keep the big play away.
B) Coleman and Freeman
I’ve watched the team a few times this season and while many will say “Matt Ryan is the MVP” (I can see why with those numbers) I think the second most dangerous part of this offensive is their superior running game. Freeman has been ridiculous this year. When he goes out the defense does not get a break either as Coleman has been on fire as well. It’s what makes this offense tick. Matt Ryan has done a phenomenal of job spreading the field all year when he’s throwing / handing the ball off. It opens up a ton of options downfield and makes defenses scramble to handle their coverages. I’d say the Patriots run defense has been a true gem this season. They’ve been tough as nails on a few big backs and while Bell was hurt in the last game, I think it was a great performance to come off of into the big game. Stay low, crush the running game early and prevent the big runs. If there is one thing the Patriots would probably love it would be to diminish Atlanta’s dynamic offense into a more single faceted (throwing) approach. If the Patriots can smother the run it takes away a whole bunch of weapons for Matt Ryan and that is where (if done correctly) we may see him force throws into tough coverage.
Looking at the young defense of the Atlanta Falcons and their subpar numbers over the course of the regular season, it’s hard not to lick our chops at what could possibly go down in Super Bowl 51 from the throwing standpoint. That being said the Patriots need to manage their temptations and let the game develop by continuing a balanced assault to keep this young defense on their heels. It’s been interesting watching the Patriots this year and for the most part they’ve stayed away from the “hurry up” offense (not including last week when they torched Pittsburgh). It could be interesting to see whether or not they move to that style of offense but from the start I’d love too see them hammer runs through as well. Much like Atlanta I think New England’s offense runs best when everything is factored in (and as we’ve seen when Tom Brady has playaction calls at his disposal it can get out of hand quickly). If they can push for a lot of 1st downs, control the clock, break the backs of Atlanta with a high 3rd down conversion rate that is where we will undoubtedly see mismatches downfield and bigger plays will be able to take shape. Some other offensive options:
A. Dion Lewis
I’d expect him to see a fair amount of carries early. He has proven himself one of the more “shifty” guys in the league. He is fast, smooth and extremely hard to tackle. One of the glaring issues with Atlanta’s defense this year has been their missed tackles. If there is one guy I’d bet for a few to possibly miss on? It would be Dion. Don’t get me wrong Blount will see the ball as well, especially near the goal line, but I’d expect Dion to shine on Sunday.
Part of this may be wishful thinking, however, with the two week break I’m hopeful this is the most healthy Martellus has been in a few months. Not to mention his refreshing attitude off the field, I can’t help but think the Patriots have kept some of his plays in the dark until the time was right. With the two week break coming at a perfect time, I’d look for him to have a big game this Sunday in his first trip to the Super Bowl.
My dark horse for a TD catch from Tom Brady? James Develin. He nearly had one earlier this postseason and he seems to be the forgotten man on this offense due to the variety of weapons we house. I’d look for him to get the ball in the red zone at least once if Blount can’t cram it in. He’s big, he’s fast and he’s tough to takedown.
The Super Bowl is a place where anything can happen. I mean take a look at Malcolm Butler for goodness sake! While the Falcons are undoubtedly talented I think it is fair to say they are unproven at this stage. While I feel Matt Ryan and company will perform well this Sunday it is absolutely something to factor into the gameplan. One of the craziest stats concerning the New England Patriots inside their five Super Bowl appearances with Tom Brady is that they have never scored in the first quarter. Obviously when you are playing top tier teams that shouldn’t come as the biggest shock, however, this year I think it would be especially important to grab an early lead to build on. I think our defense is talented enough to contain Atlanta’s blistering offense so that it doesn’t turn into a full fledged shootout. That being said, I don’t want to lean too hard on our defense either. The Patriots are facing a young squad with the most decorated QB of all time with regard to Super Bowl experience so if the Patriots can manage to strike early and often it could spell disaster for the young Atlanta defense. Getting behind is always tough but then losing cool is a whole other issue. I’d love to see the Patriots get right to work on that young defense right off the bat and do their best to score early and work from there. If the Patriots could manage to dismantle the young Atlanta defense’s confidence early? Could be a long game for Atlanta.
4. Read Between the Lines
It’s no secret the best way to defeat New England is to somehow get to Tom Brady. This year it has been a truly fantastic effort from their offensive line. As we’ve said all year Marcus Cannon has been a revelation. He and others have really stepped their game up this season. On top of their excellent play, Atlanta struggles with pass rush mightily and I’d expect them their struggles to continue this Sunday when the teams face off. Cannon and company need to continue their dominance and hopefully Andrews has a big game after a few stumbles this postseason.
On the flip side, the Falcons line is a bit banged up. Their center, Alex Mack, may not even start due to a lower leg injury. That being said, their offensive line was ranked 4th best in the NFL by PFF by the end of this season. They had a few struggles over the course of the season with more dominant teams like Carolina, however, they are a solid bunch. I’d say the Patriots will be sending some interesting looks their way on Sunday (and at least one DB blitz to sneak in and nail Matt Ryan). I think the Patriots have done a tremendous job of coming up with some hug sacks at key points this season. As Atlanta struggled with bigger lines, I’d look for Brown and Branch to have a major impact in this game. Hopefully our pass rush finds a way to disrupt Matt Ryan as it would greatly slow down the offense and hopefully create a turnover or two.
5. Tom Brady
Piggybacking on 4, it’s always important to protect Tom Brady. This game it will be especially important as keeping him on the field will be essential in defeating the brutal offense of the Atlanta Falcons. I’d look for him to throw a good amount and I’m sure the way the coaching staff has shown this post season they’ve got a few trick plays still waiting in the wings. While running the ball should help spread the field I’d look for Brady to continue his surgical ways on quick short routes, high percentages of 3rd down conversions and if he gets a good matchup down field let it fly. He’s been a marvel to watch his entire career but I’m not sure the NFL has ever seen anything like they are watching this season at 39 years old. It’s literally unbelievable. Atlanta has struggled getting to the QB all season and our offensive line has been fantastic … if they can continue their dominance for one more game I’d expect Brady to have his chance to shine at the biggest stage per usual. He’s coming off maybe the most electrifying performance of his performance last week when he set personal and franchise records in yardage during a postseason game. While I assume he will spread the field with Edelman, Amendola and Hogan, he will also be looking to hit his bigger targets like Bennett. Brady is a monster with reading defenses before the snap and I wouldn’t be surprised if he manage to trick the young defense into a couple of penalties as well. If everyone does their job behind Brady it’s hard to believe he won’t be anything short of spectacular on Sunday.