Super Bowl 51: When the Patriots are on Defense
When the Falcons have the ball…
I've been a bit annoyed with the media this week. All I've been hearing in the media is "Falcons offense this, Falcons offense that, second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf, blah blah blah.” Rightfully so, these guys are legit. But to advertise this game as "The #1 offense vs the #1 defense", like we just have some scrub offense on our side or something, is just misleading. I would have never predicted the Falcons would be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl this year, but they have that potent offense to thank for it. Even though we played the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, this will undoubtedly be the best offense we've faced all year. They're efficient, start fast, diverse, and can hit homeruns with at least 4 of their skill position players anywhere on the field. So it's no secret that our defense will have its hands full on Sunday.
I'm a fan of Matt Ryan. He's a hometown product of Boston College, he's low key, and there really isn't shit not to like about him. Seeing him take that jump from above-average QB to likely MVP of the league was an ascension no one saw coming, but it seemed like things finally clicked when Dan Quinn became Head Coach. I don't need to tell you about Julio Jones; even my mother knows he's cold. I tend to lean a little bit closer to Antonio Brown when the convo of "Best WR in the league" comes up, but Julio has done enough this season to sway my opinion. The biggest difference for Julio has been the fact that he finally has help on offense, and everyone can't just focus on him. I know he's played with the likes of Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez both on the tail ends of their careers, but Jones has never been surrounded with offensive weapons like he has now.
The connection of Ryan and Jones makes the engine go, but that's definitely not where the buck stops. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are as good as a backfield combo you'll find in the league. It sort of reminds me of our backfield to be honest, where you have RB's who are capable of doing multiple things which forces the defense to stay honest. Mohamed Sanu isn't your average #2 WR either. It's not often you see second options have fade routes called for them down on the goal line. Taylor Gabriel is just yet another example of the Cleveland Browns failing to identify or completely misusing talent on their roster. So between Jones, Sanu, Gabriel, Freeman, and Coleman, it's inevitable that the Falcons are going to move the ball and score some points. But just as it was with the Steelers, the question is whether they can score 7 in the red zone or if they'll have to settle for Field Goals. Because our defense is designed to let you move down the field, but not be able to close the deal.
The Falcons thrive off of the big play. We're the best in the league at stopping big plays. Y'all won't even see our FS Devin McCourty on your screen because he's gonna be playing center field so deep to stop Julio from going off. More often than not, when the Falcons get a big play it's in the middle of the field. That just happens to be the strength of our defense at all three levels. So I expect our secondary to try to force Matt Ryan to make his throws outside of the numbers, something any QB would rather not do. Julio will be double teamed at all times, and possibly even triple teamed, with the combination of Butler/Ryan and McCourty/Harmon. Patrick Chung is our Strong Safety and spends most of his time in the box for run support or covering the opposing team's Tight End. Luckily for us, nobody on the face of the Earth even knows who plays Tight End for the Falcons, so Chung will be able to help stop Freeman and Coleman. (By the way, I just looked it up and their tight end is some cat named Austin Hooper…who the fuck is Austin Hooper???).
Our defense mixes in both Man and Zone concepts, so it's hard to tell what coverage we'll be in the majority of the time against an offense like this. But what I do know is the Falcons use a lot of motioning pre-snap and intricate play actions to try to catch defensive eyes guessing. But the way our defense is set up (in my Kevin Hart voice), we're taught to be disciplined and wait for the play to come to us as opposed to being aggressive. Just watch our interior defensive lineman; their job on run plays is to engage the o-line, stand in place with their arms fully extended, and be disciplined in their gap assignments. I know this shit is boring, but I'm telling you it's the game within the game. That's why this game will come down to whether or not the Falcons can get their ground game going with Freeman and Coleman. If they do, we're screwed. Because we'll have to have our secondary cheat up to help stop the run, and that's when Ryan will go over the top.
The Pats haven't allowed a 90-yard rusher in like 25 games or something like that, so I'm confident in our run defense. The thing that really worries me is their backs matched up against our LB's in the passing game. I feel like that's really where Atlanta can get something going. If there's one glaring weakness on our defense, it's that our LB's not named, Dont'a Hightower aren't too good in coverage. It will be interesting to see if our defensive line, rushing only 4 the majority of the time to account for their strong pass game, can generate pressure consistently. Center Alex Mack, probably Atlanta's best free agent acquisition this offseason, is a bit hobbled from what I remember. We tend to put our best pass rusher, Trey Flowers, in the middle of the line on passing downs, so that could be a key matchup to watch.
Atlanta is going to score points, there's no doubt about that. But I think our defense coupled with the fact that a coach of Belichick's caliber has two weeks to prepare for the game will be enough to limit them just enough to win the game.