The Patriots' backfield remains the #1 storyline from a playing time perspective on offense.
For the second week in a row, it was mostly the Dion Lewis and James White show for at running back, but all four Patriots running backs played a role in this one. In all, each of the four running backs in the Patriots' backfield touched the football at least 7 times, adding up to 38 total touches for 202 yards of offense.
The running backs shined and it's easy to see that a lot of that success is due to the offensive line and fullback James Develin. We have now seen Develin play a major role in the last two weeks of the season, which also happens to coincide with the Patriots' two best rushing performances of the year.
Develin followed up his season-high 25 snaps last week with his second largest output of the season with 24 against the Falcons. The Patriots ran the ball with Develin in the game on 21 of his 24 snaps against the Falcons, but play-action is always a threat with Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Chris Hogan's 30-yard reception in the third quarter was the Patriots' longest play from scrimmage of the game, and it came on a play-action pass with Develin in the backfield (link: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000865807/Chris-Hogan-turns-upfield-for-30-yard-sprint-into-the-red-zone)
Finally, tight end Dwayne Allen, who still doesn't have a catch this season, was out there for a modest 20 snaps in Week 7.
Allen played a season-low six snaps against the Jets a week ago.
The Patriots defense delivered its best performance of the season against the Falcons, shutting out the high-powered Atlanta offense until Julio Jones' touchdown catch with 4:13 to play in the 4th quarter.
It was Malcolm Bulter (100% of snaps) and Johnson Bademosi (96.5%) that held down the corner positions once again with Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe sidelined, as second-year corner Jonathan Jones played just 19 snaps on defense (33%).
In one of the most surprising developments of the night, veteran linebacker David Harris played a season-high 19 snaps against the Falcons on Sunday night.
This is just the fourth time in seven games that Harris has been active this season, and he played just 7 defensive snaps prior to tonight.
The ankle injury to Elandon Roberts presented an opportunity for Harris, and he made the most of it, as he brought a lot of physicality to the middle of the Patriots' defense.
It appears that the 23-0 score may have been a factor in terms of how the Patriots used certain defensive players in the fourth quarter, as many of them didn't take on their typical workloads.
Trey Flowers, for example, played 95% of the Patriots' snaps on defense in the first six weeks, but was on the field for just 70.2% of the snaps against Atlanta, as the Patriots rotated defensive lineman late in the game.
Defensive tackle Lawrence Guy also played his fewest snaps in a game since Week 1 (26), as rookie Adam Butler played a larger role (49.1% of snaps vs. Falcons, 37.8% in first 6 games).
Lastly, there are also some injury storylines to monitor on the defensive side of the ball.
First, linebacker Dont'a Hightower played just 59.6% of the snaps on defense as he sat out a chunk of the second half with a shoulder injury, while defensive tackle Malcom Brown was limited to just 16 total snaps due to an ankle injury.
The injuries to Hightower and Brown are the only negatives to what was a truly stellar performance by the Patriots' defense.
(h/t Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)