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4 initial thoughts on Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl

The Patriots present an interesting match-up for the Falcons.

The New England Patriots will face the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bow LI and here are my initial thoughts.

1. The Falcons are an impressive offensive juggernaut because they need to be

Atlanta finished the regular season ranked #1 in points scored with 540. That is tied with the 2000 “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams team for 8th most in NFL history. For comparison, the Patriots finished the regular season with 441 points- nearly 100 points fewer than the Falcons.

That’s insane.

But what’s possibly more impressive is how much the Falcons have needed their offense to produce because their defense is not very good. The Falcons allowed 406 points over the regular season, 6th worst in the league. In other words, the Falcons defense made opposing offenses look like they were almost the Patriots on a weekly basis.

Imagine what the actual Patriots offense could do.

2. The Falcons struggled to win if the offense failed to score more than 30 points

The Falcons won just one game all year when posting 30 or fewer points: a 23-16 win in week 5 over the Denver Broncos. Atlanta lost 31-24 in the season opener to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 26-24 to the Seattle Seahawks in week 6; 33-30 to the San Diego Chargers in overtime in week 7; 24-15 to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 10; and 29-28 to the Kansas City Chiefs in week 13.

If the Patriots keep the Falcons below 30 points, they have a good chance of winning. The Seattle Seahawks (31 points) were the only team able to score more than 25 points against the Patriots all year and that game was a football lifetime ago. It was the first game without LB Jamie Collins, CB Eric Rowe and LB Kyle Van Noy did not play, EDGE Jabaal Sheard was in the process of getting benched, and CB Logan Ryan was still in a funk.

I don’t think the Patriots will hold the Falcons to 15 points, but they’re definitely better than when they lost to the Seahawks.

3. Patriots present interesting match for Falcons skill players

The Falcons offense is incredibly balanced. WR Julio Jones is a unique, elite #1 receiver. WR Mohamed Sanu and slot receiver Taylor Gabriel are both good players. RB Devonta Freeman is extremely productive back that can run and catch the ball, while RB Tevin Coleman is talented and productive on his own. The tight ends average a catch or two per game.

The Falcons skill player usage is similar to the Patriots offense. There is always a running back on the field- usually Freeman or Coleman. There are two wide receivers on the field (usually Jones and Sanu) and one tight end (shared by TE Levine Toilolo and TE Austin Hooper). The fifth skill player spot goes to a third receiver (Gabriel), a fullback (Patrick DiMarco), or a second tight end, roughly in thirds.

Just like against the Steelers, the Patriots will try to limit the running back and #1 receiver and force Atlanta to win with Sanu, a tight end, or that fifth skill player. Stopping these players are easier said than done, and Sanu and Gabriel are both better than the Steelers #2 receiver, but if the Patriots were able to shut down Pittsburgh, then there’s a chance they could limit Atlanta.

4. Patriots are familiar with Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his defense

Quinn has reached three of the past four Super Bowls, as a defensive coordinator with the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014, and now again in his second year as the Falcons head coach in 2016. The Patriots prepared to face a Quinn defense in Super Bowl XLIX and they should be able to use a similar game plan to take down the Falcons defense in Super Bowl LI.

Quinn carried over a lot of his schemes and defensive roles for the Seahawks, except he’s forced to play with younger and lesser talent. Atlanta ranks 27th in defensive DVOA, including 19th against the pass and 29th against the run.

Of the 11 Falcons defenders that played 50+% of the snaps against the Packers, four are rookies and three are in their second season. Four of the five starters in the secondary are in their first three years in the NFL. Both starting linebackers are rookies.

EDGE Vic Beasley has been a revelation this year with a league-leading 15.5 sacks and First Team All Pro distinction, but their #2 pass rusher Adrian Clayborn was placed on the injured reserve after tearing his biceps in the divisional round of the playoffs. If the Patriots can stave off the Falcons pass rush, Patriots QB Tom Brady should be able to use his quick and efficient passing to slice up the inexperienced Falcons secondary.