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Super Bowl LI: Patriots, Falcons focus on picking up, preventing yards after catch

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Ignore the headlines, the Falcons are actually pretty good at preventing yards after the catch.

At some point over the next couple of weeks, you’re going to see a headline or story that reads, “The New England Patriots rank #1 in yards after the catch; the Atlanta Falcons allowed the most yards after the catch in the NFL.” This will be an attempt to paint the Falcons defense as a hopeless entity versus the Patriots offensive machine.

And it’s true- kind of. Some analytics have the Patriots are #1 in yards after the catch per completion (YAC/C), but each outlet will have a slightly varied point of measuring at what yard line the catch is made.

According to sportingcharts.com, the Falcons rank ahead of Patriots with 6.37 YAC/C, a hair ahead of the Patriots with 6.34 YAC/C. However you measure it, though, the Patriots and Falcons both rank towards the top of the league in generating YAC.

The difference is on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots rank #1 in the league in preventing YAC and it’s not even close. Sportingcharts.com has the Patriots allowing 3.98 YAC/C, with only the Chicago Bears (4.35 YAC/C) and Dallas Cowboys (4.48 YAC/C) allowing less than 4.50 YAC/C.

The Falcons defense allowed 2,126 YAC in the regular season, the highest total in the league. This is where the “Falcons rank 32nd” narrative starts. But it’s also where it should end.

Atlanta faced 655 pass attempts this year, 20 more than the second ranked team. In comparison, the Patriots faced 596 pass attempts, or almost 4 fewer attempts per game.

The Falcons give up 5.04 YAC/C, which actually ranks 13th in the league. The defense is still worse than the Patriots, but they’re not “32nd in the league” bad.

The Patriots should still be able to generate yards after the catch against Atlanta, and should be able to limit the Falcons offense better than most other defenses. But the advantage for New England is less than some might advertise.