If there is one weakness in the Falcons explosive offense, it’s their interior offensive line. LG Andy Levitre is their most healthy IOL, but C Alex Mack is playing through a fibula and ankle injury and RG Chris Chester is the weak link of the Falcons OL. I wrote on Thursday that the Patriots interior defensive line play will be a huge part of attacking the Falcons offense. I believe the game will come down to the play of the interior lines on both sides of the ball.
The 5-1 defense, where there are 5 players on the line of scrimmage (3 DL, 2 ED) and only 1 second-level defender has its benefits and risks. The benefits are there are 5 players on the line of scrimmage and 6 potential rushers. The Patriots don’t blitz often, but the threat of a Cover Zero blitz forces the Falcons to keep in an extra blocker and takes away from the number of receivers the Falcons have.
It also creates the possibility for the Patriots to isolate the Falcons IOL in 1-on-1 matchups, with all 3 DL covering the guards in either a 2i or 3-technique alignment and a nose. The key to rushing Matt Ryan will be attacking the interior of the pocket and disrupting him from there because he’s good at avoiding edge pressure.
The Patriots will have 2 DTs on the field along with Chris Long or Trey Flowers playing the 3-technique. With the Falcons zone-based running scheme, Long and Flowers have to be able to hold up against double teams. In pass situations, the Patriots will take one of the DTs off the field and sub in another hybrid edge-linebacker like Kyle Van Noy or Jabaal Sheard. Like the Giants have done to the Patriots in the two Super Bowls that will never be mentioned again, they utilized an edge rusher vs. interior lineman match-up with Flowers doing a lot of his damage inside.
The drawback to that defense is the 3 interior DL have to be able to control the line of scrimmage so the other 8 players can flow to the ball. If the Falcons are able to get past the first level, then with only 1 second-level defender that player needs to be able to make the tackle. One missed tackle opens up the possibility of a big run, which is what the Patriots can ill-afford in this game.
The Patriots need to be able to stop the Falcons rushing attack because it opens up the rest of the Falcons offense. The Steelers only meaningful TD drive came when Deangelo Williams came in for an injured Le’Veon Bell and sparked the Steelers to a score before the Patriots adjusted to him.
If the Patriots are able to beat the Falcons interior offensive line, that will help slow down the Falcons offense to a point where the Patriots offense can outscore them. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots IOL has to execute as well.