Stopping the Patriots’ run game
This is the biggest key to the game. Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football, but the Patriots do not always lean on Brady. New England will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and if that means taking the air out of the ball, so be it. Atlanta has lost very few games in convincing fashion. Outside of a week 1 loss to the Bucs, a week 10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was the worst of the Falcons season. The Eagles dominated the Falcons on the ground, dominating time of possession and keeping the Falcons offense off the field. Atlanta only scored 15 points in that game, their lowest output of the season.
New England’s defense has been solid all season long, but nobody can completely stop this Atlanta offense. The Patriots will look to limit the number of the Falcons’ offensive possessions, but will only be able to do that if they can establish a running game. Atlanta has done a terrific job against the run this postseason, and that will have to continue if they want to win Super Bowl LI.
Incorporating numerous targets
Matt Ryan has been the best in football at spreading the ball around to his receivers. Bill Belichek and the Patriots are going to key in on Julio Jones in this matchup. They will not let the best receiver in the NFL beat them on this stage. However, Ryan has thrown touchdowns to a record 13 different receivers this season. He has done a terrific job at looking elsewhere when teams have decided to double or even triple Jones.
The Patriots will have at least four eyes on Jones at all times, so look for the Falcons running backs to have mismatches the majority of the night out of the backfield. The Patriots do a terrific job of staying disciplined, but do they have the athletes to match the Falcons speed on offense?
Atlanta is going to score, but Ryan also has to avoid forcing the ball to Jones. Ryan had a huge problem with this last year, but has avoided these kind of mistakes for the most part this season. The lights will be the brightest come February 5th, but I expect Ryan to be more than ready to seize the moment.
Yes it is obvious, but the Falcons have seen firsthand in their two playoff games how one play can change a game. Atlanta’s game versus the Seahawks turned on a Russell Wilson safety in which he tripped on his own offensive lineman. The NFC Championship completely turned after Aaron Ripkowski fumbled heading into the redzone in the first quarter.
The Atlanta offense has been flawless this postseason, but this will be their biggest test from a defensive perspective on the biggest stage of them all. It is going to be key that Atlanta keeps a level head and plays like they have all season. The Patriots have been here a few times. It is highly unlikely they beat themselves. This is going to be a hell of a matchup.