There is one match-up advantage for the Patriots defense and that comes from the interior. The Falcons are dealing with an injury to their All-Pro center and their right guard is the weak link on their line in pass protection. The Patriots have quality players at the defensive tackle position with veteran Alan Branch, 2015 1st round pick Malcom Brown, and a promising rookie Vincent Valentine. Throw in 2nd year defensive end Trey Flowers as an interior pass rusher on obvious passing downs and the Patriots have a recipe for attacking the pocket.
With Matt Ryan, the best way to rush him is to attack the pocket from the interior. The Falcons are a better run blocking unit than pass blocking. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have not allowed a 90+ yard rusher in 25 games and ranked 4th in run defense in terms of DVOA on Football Outsiders. The Patriots control the line of scrimmage approach, asking their defensive tackles to man two gaps instead of one.
The Patriots will use this approach to stop the Falcons run game with the edge defenders forcing the run inside, where the DTs will have all the rushing lanes clogged up. Strong execution on the early downs should force the Falcons to play right into the Patriots hands in long 3rd down situations.
When the Patriots do get into those 3rd and long situations, the key will be moving Matt Ryan off the spot. That means the defensive tackles need to walk the guards right into Ryan’s lap. Branch and Valentine are the Patriots best two DTs rushing the passer, although we could see Trey Flowers kick inside as well to create a favorable match-up. The key won’t necessarily involve sacking Ryan, but collapsing the pocket and make him throw with guys around him.
If the Patriots can affect Ryan in that way, that will give the Patriots secondary a chance to get a turnover and give Tom Brady and the Patriots offense a chance to make that turnover sting. If Branch plays his usual game, while Malcolm Brown and Vincent Valentine also play well, I like the Patriots chances of winning this one.