Earlier this week, I said the Patriots need to be able to control the clock behind the running of LeGarrette Blount. While it sounds good on paper to mainly employ that strategy, that shouldn’t be the complete offensive strategy because that limits the amount of scoring the Patriots can do on their side of the ball while it’s still potentially a game. The Patriots will use Blount as part of their offensive game plan because of the Falcons young and light front. The Patriots need to be able to get the lead first before working on the clock because when trailing, the clock is not your friend.
One thing Atlanta likes to do with their defensive personnel is rotate them. On the Falcons defensive, the top percentage of snaps played was Grady Jarrett (73%) against the Seahawks and Vic Beasley (69%) against the Packers. The Patriots have a more complete offense than the Seahawks, who couldn’t block upfront, and the Packers, who had no running game. The key will be avoiding what those two teams did and that was falling behind big early. To see that end, the Patriots should try to receive the opening kickoff instead of defer and establish the lead first. With the Falcons’ reliance on a rotation, the key to beating it will be the no-huddle offense.
The no-huddle, up-tempo passing attack will serve two functions. First, it will prevent the substituting much otherwise they risk a 5-yard penalty or worse, a free play where Brady can take a shot with no risk of a turnover. The second will be to tire out the Falcons personnel that are trapped on the field and allow the Patriots to exploit certain match-ups. The Patriots are good at scheming against coverage, where it’s using formations and motions to force the defense to tip their coverage then re-adjust to that. When Brady is able to decipher the coverage of the opposing defense before the snap, he knows what match-up he’ll want and exploit it if he has a clean pocket.
The Patriots will be looking at isolating either James White or Dion Lewis against Deion Jones or De’Vondre Campbell out in space out of the backfield or out wide. Another good match-up is Edelman against a linebacker in zone on a crossing route, or the 6’1” Chris Hogan on the 5’9” Brian Poole or Robert Alford. If the Patriots continue to nickel and dime the Falcons with those match-ups, they will become frustrated and start trying to either send extra pressure or mitigate the one-on-one matchups with zones. That’s when the Patriots can really hurt the Falcons defense with either fewer defenders in coverage or open spaces between them to work on.
The key will be to score first, put the Falcons on their heels and make them doubt themselves a bit, and make them play from behind all night long. That same strategy worked incredibly well against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFCCG as the closest the Steelers got was 10-6 in the 2nd quarter. The up-tempo passing game may be exactly what the Patriots need to do in order to create match-ups that allow the Patriots to effortless move down the field, score, and put pressure on the Falcons to catch-up. Then when the Patriots establish a 2+ touchdown, lead is when it’s time to hammer them with Blount to drain the clock and limit the possessions the Falcons have to catch up.