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Patriots vs. Falcons preview: 4 matchups that could decide Thursday’s game

Related: How the Patriots and Falcons have changed since their last matchup

NFL: SEP 26 Saints at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There has been a lot of “trap” talk in the three days that the New England Patriots have had to prepare for the Atlanta Falcons.

Looking as strong as they have in at least two years, the Patriots are rolling right now, and have just one more game to get through before they receive a much needed 10-day rest. The Falcons are in a much different spot, recently losing their grasp on the NFC’s last wild card spot, as their stretch of three one score games caught up to them in a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The “trap” talk we mentioned, stems from where these teams are headed after this Thursday night game. While both teams will get 10 days to recuperate, the Falcons have already seen their bye come and go, while New England’s core of veterans is certainly looking for that much needed rest they have yet to find. Atlanta also needs this win to stay in the aforementioned playoff race, and will be especially focused as they find themselves facing a much deeper and more talented football team. The Patriots, well they can’t seem to do anything wrong right now, so you may find that much of that roster sees this game as a walk in the park. To avoid falling into that trap, Bill Belichick will have to keep his squad focused, and follow the formula to facing a team with such a large disparity in talent, win the matchups. Here are those matchups that could decide Thursday’s game.

Shaq Mason vs. Grady Jarrett

This is one of the very few matchups —if not the only— matchup in this game involving two players that have some familiarity with each other. Some of you may remember that game played down in Houston about five years ago, I believe they call it Super Bowl LI.

In that game, a young defensive tackle by the name of Grady Jarrett almost won the MVP trophy with a three sack performance for the ages. His victim? Shaq Mason. Later that same calendar year, Mason got his rematch against Jarrett, holding the defensive tackle to zero total pressures in a runaway win. I can already tell you know where we are going with this one... rubber match!

With Jarrett lining up as a classic three technique, (shaded over the guard’s outside hip) Mason should see plenty of chances against the former Pro-Bowler. Their battles should help determine what kind of day New England will be having on the ground, as Jarrett serves as Atlanta’s top run defender and best defensive player overall. New England is best served running the football in-between the tackles, meaning they will be running right at Jarrett early on. If they have success, that should lead to them being able to control the pace of the game.

The Belichick’s vs. Cordarrelle Patterson

Cordarrelle Patterson is a true game-time decision for Thursday’s game so we’ll keep this one quick.

Bill and Steve Belichick both witnessed the evolution of Patterson first hand when he was with the Patriots. A mix of Josh McDaniels’ creativity and the need for a new reserve running back saw the Patriots utilize Patterson as more of an “offensive weapon” than a traditional wide receiver. When Patterson made his way to Atlanta, head coach Arthur Smith revolutionized that idea and has turned Patterson into one of the best overall weapons in the NFL, all on the back half of 30.

Bill and Steve will certainly be ready for the weapon that is Cordarrelle Patterson, but only if they can match the right personnel for where Patterson will be lining up on a certain play. If they can keep rotations tight, they can be successful.

Mac Jones vs. Duron Harmon

Duron Harmon made a name for himself in New England as a “closer.” Always in the right spot at the right time, Harmon put forth 17 interceptions as a Patriot, nine of which came in the fourth quarter or overtime. Now playing more of a strong safety role, he can still drop back and make a play on the ball, they just come less frequently. Mac Jones has done a great job of keeping the ball out of harms way (pun intended), but as we all know he’s succumb to a few rookie mistakes.

The point here, is to win this matchup by doing what Jones does best, and that is recognizing each individual coverage and make the smart play. There’s no reason to think Jones would do anything other than that because he’s been incredibly well poised and made smart decisions. Continuing to follow those trends and preventing a dangerous from changing the game is the focus here.

J.C. Jackson vs. Kyle Pitts

Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts is by far the most dangerous play maker the Falcons have on offense. With Patterson still working back from his ankle injury, and Calvin Ridley taking tome away from football to address his mental health (all the best to him), Pitts has quickly become Matt Ryan’s best option on offense. Who do the Patriots pit up against their opposing offenses best option? Mr. INT himself, J.C. Jackson.

We talked about Kyle Pitts all throughout our draft show last Spring. He was, by far the best tight end prospect that anyone has seen in well over a decade. His skills relay too that of a wide receiver, his size fits the usual mold of a tight end, his skill is leaps and bound ahead of anyone else's. That is what makes him so special, and that is why New England should think long and hard about forcing him to beat their best defender.

There is also the option doing this to him in the red zone.

The Patriots roll through a pretty large rotation of DB’s on any given day. This makes it likely that we see guys like Joejuan Williams, Jalen Mills, and even Kyle Dugger line up against Pitts, but make no mistake, he will be J.C. Jackson’s responsibility on Tuesday.