The Atlanta Falcons defense ranked 27th in the league in points against and were often lambasted by the analysts for their performance. The Falcons hold a 1-5 record when the offense fails to score more than 30 points, which is a major indictment on the defense being able to win a game.
As far as the Falcons defenders are concerned, though, their defense has brought them this far- and they’re not going to change it for the Super Bowl.
“No, I would say if we go out there and try to start throwing all kind of blitzes from different angles, that would be making things up and that would be going away from our game plan,” Falcons LB De’Vondre Campbell said. “So, I don’t think that we have to do anything different. We just have to continue to do the things we’ve been doing thus far.”
The Falcons defense shares an identity with the Seattle Seahawks, thanks to Falcons head coach (and former Seahawks defensive coordinator) Dan Quinn. They want to run fast, execute quality tackles, and remove the big play. They execute a similar Cover 3 to the Seahawks, but have integrated more man coverage concepts as the season wore on.
Such an execution- and communication-reliant playbook could be a lot to ask of a young squad, but the Falcons feature seven rookies or sophomores in the defense and they’ve improved on a weekly basis.
The Patriots have had some success against the Seahawks-style defense in recent years, averaging 26 points and 381 yards in two games against Seattle, which boasts superior talent to the Falcons defense, and also scoring on all nine drives versus former Seahawks DC Gus Bradley and the Jaguars in 2015.
The Falcons are confident that their defense will be able to hold up against the Patriots offense.
“What else are we going to do?,” Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox asked rhetorically. “What somebody else does? You can’t be anything but yourself. What are we going to make up something now? We are going to come out here and say that we are going to go “6-2, stack Monster.” What the hell is that? We do what we have done. If it is good enough to get us here, then why won’t it be good enough to help us win.
“It isn’t what they do, it is what we do, so we are not getting caught up and getting mesmerized and listening to the noise. We are just preparing ourselves to go and play a game on Sunday and that is the way we know. That is our process, that is a part of our brotherhood, that is what we believe in and that is what we are to the core and that is what we preached for 22 weeks now.”
The Falcons have a clear goal of trying to pressure Patriots QB Tom Brady as much as possible to get him off his mark, just like the Houston Texans accomplished in the Divisional Round.
“You put pressure in his face, getting a couple hits on him and get him frustrated,” Falcons EDGE Vic Beasley said. “Get him frustrated in his line and just try to frustrate him as much as you can.”
“I think with any quarterback you have to put pressure on him,” Falcons EDGE and long-time Patriots nemesis Dwight Freeney said. “For him, he’s so great at recognizing blitzes sometimes it’s hard to fool him. I do know if you have a great defensive line and you can put pressure on any quarterback with just four guys you have a lot more success.”
The Falcons know that Brady is going to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible, so playing tight man coverage and sticking to receivers through traffic is paramount to defensive success. But the Patriots are versatile enough to counter.
If the Falcons play man, then look for the Patriots to run a lot of rub and pick routes, along with setting up mismatches for running backs on the sideline. If the Falcons play zone, then the Patriots are going to dink and dunk their way down the field.
“What they do offensively is they really take advantage of you and your weaknesses,” Freeney added. “They are a match-up type of offense. They’ll change what they do based on who they play and that’s what makes them so unique is because of their preparation going into the game. As far as how do you stop them? You have to pretty much do what you do. You don’t know what they are going to come with. You have to go with your fundamentals – the things that you have been doing all year.”
The Falcons can’t get too caught up in trying to counter the Patriots offensive alignments because New England will just flex their players into a different arrangement to take back the advantage. Atlanta needs their defenders to play sound football, to play quickly, and to tackle well to avoid yards after the catch.
Blitzing Brady would probably be one of the worst things the Falcons could do. The real question is whether or not the Falcons will be able to generate pressure by sending just three or four players- something they’ve struggled with all season. We’ll find out on Sunday.