Super Bowl 51: When the Patriots are on Offense
I'm going to do the best I can over the next couple of installments to predict how I think the game will go when we have the ball and when the Falcons have the ball. Anytime we play a team we don't often see (like the Falcons), Belichick often points out that it requires lengthier film study because we're somewhat unfamiliar. The same goes for writing about these guys; because I don't watch the Falcons play that often. It's hard to predict what's going to happen without knowing style of play and their rotations at certain positions, so I'm going to have to go off of the few games I've seen Atlanta play this year. I've seen enough Patriots games over the years to know which defenses we're going to struggle against and which defenses we'll play well against. I say that to say this: there's no doubt in my mind that Brady is going to carve the Falcons up.
I know what you're thinking; did you just see what the Falcons did to Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship? Did you see what they did to Russell Wilson the week before that? Yes, indeed I did. But there are a few reasons why they won't have the same success against us. First, when it comes to personnel, the Falcons defense is "fast and physical" as Dan Quinn would say. A lot of their key players (Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, etc.) are first and second year players, but they've all been key contributors. Beasley has just been a menace all season, leading the league in sacks with 15.5 while also forcing 6 fumbles. Luckily for us, he will be lined up against arguably our best offensive lineman RT Marcus Cannon. He's the defense's calling card, but you also have big-hitter Keanu Neal back there at safety making sure no one wants to come across the middle. This Falcons defense is young and it's definitely on the way to being elite under the leadership of Quinn, but it's a year or two away from reaching that status.
For those of you that don't know, Quinn was Seattle's defensive coordinator during their prime years, so Brady and Belichick are quite familiar with his scheme. He's carried that same scheme over to Atlanta because, well, if it ain't broke don't fix it. But there's one glaring difference between the two defenses: Atlanta's personnel isn't nearly as talented as that Seattle defense. There's no Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, or Michael Bennett over there. I love playing against a Dan Quinn defense because they don't try to trick you or disguise anything at all; they just line up and play. They basically sit back and say "you know what we're in, but we're going to execute on defense better than you can execute on offense". That's all fine and dandy when you have the players with the skill set to do it, but when you're fielding a bunch of first and second year players it could get tricky against a veteran like TB12. Consider this: Atlanta was 27th in the league in scoring defense and gave up a whopping 25.3 points per game this season. That's an AVERAGE.
There are a few things to keep in mind, like the fact that Atlanta scored so many points during the season that they probably went into prevent mode most of the time. But still, Brady probably can't wait to face a defense that's full of young players who gave up that many points a game. I'm going to bet money on the fact that the Falcons probably won't blitz all that much. They will probably do what everyone else does when they beat us which is try to get pressure by rushing 4 and dropping everyone else in coverage. But we're not the same offense as the Packers or the Seahawks at all. Our offensive line is actually elite, and every play isn't deep patterns for every WR like it is for those two teams. Brady is going to get the ball out quick to cancel out any pass rush that Beasley might present, and when we do throw it deep it will be off of play action with additional blockers. Tom also likes to send our RB's on crossing patterns against LB's in zone coverage, and young players often have a tough time passing off crossers to someone else. Like any clutch game, Edelman is going to get a lot of targets. Brady goes with what he knows and likes when it’s the big moment, and there's no one in that Falcons secondary that can stick Jules.
Establishing a ground game will be important for us, because then we will be able to control the pace with possibly some hurry up offense. From what I've read, Dwight Freeny only comes on the field in passing situations, and Brady might go no huddle to prevent their defense from making substitutions. We've also never lost a game in which Dion Lewis is playing and he just happens to be playing Sunday. When Blount is on the field, you know we're going to run. When James White is on the field, you know it's a pass. But when Lewis is in the backfield, you don't know what exactly we're going to do.
Don't get me wrong, we'll have our struggles, especially is Atlanta can generate pressure up the middle. Pressure on the edge doesn't really faze Brady, because he just steps up in the pocket. But when a team can get interior penetration, that's when we're fucked. But all in all, I see Brady doing to ATL what he did to Pittsburgh. Seattle had arguably the best defense of all time in 2014, and he went out there and threw for 300-something yards and 4 TD's against them. You give him two weeks to prepare for a defense, especially one littered with young players, and he's going to ball.
Next I'll tell y'all about when ATL has the ball.