One of the biggest assets of the New England Patriots' offense is its quickness. Not only are the skill position players able to quickly make moves in the open field, the unit is also led by a quarterback known for his speed – at least when it comes to recognizing defenses and releasing the football.
No other player in the NFL is as good in those areas as Tom Brady. One quarterback, at least this season, has come close, though. And New England will see him on the field on Sunday: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
The former Boston College passer is coming off the best season of his professional career and has been able to establish himself as the frontrunner for the MVP trophy by doing what Brady usually does. Ryan has limited mistakes to a minimum, has shown an ability to quickly make smart decisions and has been able to negate the impact of opposing defenses by quickly releasing the ball.
The Patriots defensive staff and players need to prepare for this. Luckily, they have a quarterback with just the right skillset to help them do that – and avoid mistakes other teams have made when playing the Falcons’ offense. Namely, not accounting for its speed.
With Ryan getting the ball out as quickly as he does, the chances of consistently impacting his game with an aggressive pass rush are minimal. Instead, the Patriots will likely need to rush smartly: Not rely on blitzes, not have any technique breakdowns, not allow him to buy additional time by exposing gaps or seeing him climb the pocket. As New England witnessed two years ago, in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks, rushing aggressively might lead to some success but ultimately tires the defenders and leads to breakdowns by the fourth quarter.
With a quarterback as fast to pull the trigger as Ryan, messing up timing routes as much as possible and taking away the quick receiving option out of the backfield seems like a more sustainable way to approach this game. Of course, a) mixing up coverages and pressure packages is equally important and b) this is all easier said than done, but the Patriots know that blitzing or an all-out rush are not always the way to slow down a highly-talented quarterback.
After all, they have one of their own; one who operates his offense in a similar way to how Ryan operates his.