Pats Backfield vs. Falcons Defense by Andrew Hernandez
The Atlanta Falcons defense is looking busy this upcoming Sunday as they will be tasked with stopping a New England Patriots backfield that is comprised of three valuable playmakers.
The Patriots’ backfield of LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White contributed to turning the Patriots’ backfield into a top-10 rushing offense in the 2016 regular season.
New England ended the regular season with 1,872 total rushing yards, 117 rushing yards per game and 19 rushing touchdowns. Each total had a top finish in the league at seventh in total rushing yards, seventh in rushing yards per game and fifth in rushing touchdowns in the league.
Nonetheless, the Patriots’ backfield has been able to keep up their regular season success in the postseason as they have averaged 77.5 rushing yards per game and have two touchdowns.
Blount led the league in rushing touchdowns with 18 this year and has one touchdown in the postseason. Blount has served as the go-to back for the Patriots’ offense, but Lewis and White have been able to positively affect the offense with their own unique skill sets.
Lewis, the smaller scat back, has only gotten better since coming off of an ACL injury earlier in the year and is a big play threat due to his mix of speed, agility, and elusiveness.
While Blount and Lewis will most likely see a large share of touches, White has proven he can come up clutch in situations when given the chance as well.
Atlanta’s defense has been below average against the run this year as it allowed 15 rushing touchdowns and 104.5 rushing yards per game, making them 19th in touchdowns allowed and 17th in rushing yards per game. Despite their regular season trouble, the Falcons base nickel defense has not allowed a rushing touchdown this postseason.
The Falcons’ young defense is looking to continue their success as players like Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley Jr. and Deion Jones are defensive playmakers who can put a dent into the success of the Patriots’ trio of backs. Their defense should be well prepared to try and stop the versatile Patriots backfield.
However, I feel the Patriots’ amount of offensive weapons in both the pass and rush game will be too much for the Falcons to handle, leaving the opportunity for the New England backfield to shine. I predict the final score will be 31-28, with the Patriots hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy once again.
Pats WRs vs. Falcons Secondary by Elliot Thornton
While they might not compare to Atlanta’s stellar duo of Julio Jones and Mohammad Sanu, the New England Patriots’ core of wide receivers can mean the difference in another championship banner or empty-handed defeat approaching this year’s much anticipated Super Bowl matchup.
Operating under Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniel and his slot-schemed offense, the Pats’ spread of receivers Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola will be a primary concern for a strong and ball-hawking Falcons’ secondary.
Eight-year veteran and Super Bowl XLIX hero Julian Edelman is the first impact player Head Coach Dan Quinn and his Falcons must attend to. Epitomized for the big moment and for being Tom Brady’s go-to guy in crunch time, Edelman has been known for thriving under pressure and making big plays when it matters.
His go-ahead grab that put the Patriots up against the Seahawks in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX is a prime example as well as his eight receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown in the Patriots 36-17 AFC Championship win over the Steelers this postseason.
Edelman had a solid regular season as well with 98 receptions, and a career-high 1,109 receiving yards as well as hauling in three touchdowns. The eighth-year receiver is also coming off his best year in the postseason, averaging eight catches and 127 yards per game in his games versus the Texans and Steelers.
Monmouth product Chris Hogan is also another liability on offense for the Falcons. Coming off the game of his career, Hogan has proven to be a target that can catch the deep ball, recording 180 yards and two touchdowns in New England’s match against the Steelers.
In terms of Atlanta’s defense, the Falcons’ pool of cornerbacks will match up well and pose a big test on New England’s athletic receivers. Corners Robert Alford, Jalen Collins and Brian Poole play an integral part in Atlanta’s coverage scheme. They are able to make the sure tackle and jam up their opponent combining for 28 total tackles and five pass deflections this postseason.
Safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen serve as the stronghold for the Falcons’ secondary. Neal’s 17 postseason tackles and Allen’s two interceptions lead the team.
Overall, this matchup between the Patriots’ receivers and Falcons serves as an enticing pair that everyone should keep their eyes on.
Pats Secondary vs. Falcons WRs by Tommy Pardini
An integral part of the high-powered Atlanta Falcons offense is their solid receiving core led by All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, who is consistently in the conversation for the top wide receiver in the NFL.
The Falcons’ passing attack through Jones has been killing teams all year long. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who surrendered 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns to the 6’3” 220-pound beast in the NFC title game.
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan loves to move players around in different spots on the field. For example, Jones or receiver Taylor Gabriel will frequently line up out wide by either sideline or in the slot depending on the play.
This means the defensive unit on the other side of the ball needs to be versatile and intelligent, traits that many New England Patriot players possess.
The secondary for the Patriots is comprised of Super Bowl veterans like cornerback Malcolm Butler and safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, who have both played in two Super Bowls. McCourty converted from cornerback to safety a few years back, which is evident with his versatile ability to line up with receivers when need be.
The New England coaching staff seems to always put their players in positions to succeed. Under Head Coach Bill Belichick, while playing in the postseason, the Patriots have only allowed one playoff touchdown to any first-team All-Pro receiver standing 6 feet or taller (Julio Jones), with the average stat line consisting of about five catches and 62 receiving yards as reported on NESN.com. This includes 19 players’ playoff games from only their All-Pro caliber seasons.
Over this entire year, Julio Jones is averaging 3.2 yards per route run, which is tops in the NFL by nearly half a yard per ProFootballFocus.com. The versatile Patriots’ secondary will undoubtedly have their hands full. Atlanta’s receiving unit has been tough to handle this season because they come at you in so many ways.
This fascinating matchup could be a big deciding factor in Super Bowl LI. A great performance from Jones and the rest of the Falcons receivers could give Atlanta their first ever Lombardi Trophy. The reverse would give Brady and Belichick the most Super Bowl victories by a quarterback-coach duo in NFL history.
Pats Special Teams vs. Falcons Special Teams by Spencer Ault
Heading into this Sunday’s Super Bowl, there’s been a lot of debate about Bill Belichick versus Matt Ryan and Tom Brady versus Vic Beasley Jr. Yet there hasn’t been a whole lot of debate about special teams.
That’s understandable; special teams often receive sort of a “redheaded stepchild” treatment when it comes to sports arguments. Just because it’s understandable, however, doesn’t make that lack of debate any less of a shame.
Most years, New England’s high ranking would lean heavily on their kicker, four-time Pro Bowler Stephen Gostkowski.
The 11-year veteran has succeeded for most of his career but experienced early-season struggles during the regular season. He ended with three missed extra points and four missed field goals to accumulate an 84.4 field goal percentage — the lowest in his career since 2012 — making Gostkowski less reliable than usual.
Matt Bryant, on the other hand, has been nothing but reliable for the Falcons this year. Bryant had the best season of his 15-season career, going 34-37 on field goals and 56-57 on extra points. Simply put, if this game comes down to kicking, Atlanta’s got the edge.
Kick coverage, on the other hand, is an easy decision.
The Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league in both kickoff and punt coverage, while the Patriots — led by Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner — keep returners pretty much silent.
New England’s strong kick coverage will be a crucial key in hindering the high-octane Atlanta offense, while the Falcons might have some trouble keeping the Patriots from enjoying consistently good field position.
In the end, the pivotal point between these two special teams is the return game. New England has struggled to find consistency with its returners and has been plagued by fumbles.
Dion Lewis remains a threat in the Patriots’ return game in which he showcased his ability with a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown in the Patriots Divisional Round win over the Houston Texans.
Meanwhile, Eric Weems holds things down for the Falcons and provides them with an ideal arrangement. Currently, in his 10th year, the veteran return specialist is sixth in the league in punt return average amongst qualified players and was the team’s leading returner during the regular season with 391 yards on 17 returns.
All in all, the Falcons seem to have the special teams advantage, thanks to Stephen Gostkowski’s inconsistency and Eric Weems’s consistency.
A version of this article appeared on page 7 of February 2nd, 2017’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.