This Super Bowl match-up will feature the NFL’s #1 scoring offense going against the #1 scoring defense. History has been on the Patriots’ side, as the #1 defense has beaten the #1 offense 4 of the last 5 times, most recently in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Patriots will be going against MVP favorite Matt Ryan and his deep cadre of receivers that starts with Julio Jones. Jones is complemented by Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel in the air, while the Falcons have two very good running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. With the challenges the Atlanta offense presents, head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have their work cut out for them.
Rich pointed out that the Falcons offense operates very similarly to the Patriots offense in terms of personnel and formations. Belichick and Patricia won’t have to look very far to craft a potential game plan, although in the Super Bowl execution is even more important. In terms of who they want to take away, the Patriots are going to try to scheme out Julio Jones’ impact like they did to Antonio Brown in the AFC Championship game. I expect the Patriots to double him in man coverage, using Rowe’s 6’1” height to counter Jones underneath and leave Duron Harmon or Devin McCourty over the top against the deep ball. The next thing they’re going to try next is stop the Falcons running game between the tackles. The Patriots will need a repeat performance from their defensive tackles to achieve this, as the Falcons have a very good offensive line.
Assuming the Patriots can take out Julio and stop the run, the Falcons still can hit them with Sanu, Gabriel, a TE, or a RB out of the backfield. When the Falcons go 3 WR, I think the Patriots should utilize Malcolm Butler on Gabriel and leave a safety deep to stop the deep passes to him. That could mean the key match-up will be how the Patriots handle Sanu and Coleman/Freeman in the passing game. Logan Ryan and Patrick Chung will need their A-game against those guys. The Falcons’ 3rd through 5th options (Gabriel, Freeman/Coleman, Austin Hooper/Levine Toilolo) are better than what the Steelers (Eli Rogers, Jesse James, Deangelo Williams) had on Sunday, so the defense will have to play even better in the Super Bowl.
The Falcons will be the toughest offense the Patriots defense will face in an NFL game that I can remember. The good news for the team is the best coach in the league will have two weeks to figure out the best way to slow down the Falcons offense. Regardless of game plan details the Patriots will need to play their most physical game of the season in order to trump the Falcons at NRG Stadium on February 5th.