Super Bowl LI Preview

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We have arrived.  After another great NFL season, the Super Bowl is finally here.  Many expected the New England Patriots would make it here again, but not many had Atlanta here.  In fact, there were plenty of people who had the Falcons missing the playoffs, citing that they weren’t ready to take the next step on defense.  It ended up not making a difference.  The Falcons offense has dominated all season long, and they get a chance to prove how dominant against the number one scoring defense in football.  This game has a real chance to be a Super Bowl that we will remember.  Let’s get into the final preview of this NFL season.

How Do The Defenses Get Stops?

If you read my X’s and O’s article, you know the defenses will have their hands full early.  The Falcons have so many weapons and can be explosive down the field, but they can also control the clock and have long, successful drives.  The Patriots, on the other hand, aren’t as explosive, but they have receivers who separate well in the short passing game, and have dynamic running backs coming out of the backfield.  They also aren’t afraid to dive into their bag of tricks, as the flea flicker against the Steelers in the AFC championship game shows.

For the Falcons, the answer to stopping the Patriots is simple yet complicated.  In reality, the only way to get the Patriots off their rhythm is to hit Brady early and often.  The Giants beat the Patriots twice in Super Bowls by having a very strong front four.  Atlanta doesn’t possesses a super strong front, but they do have the league leader in sacks coming off the edge.  Atlanta needs to move him around to find favorable matchups along the line.  If Beasley can get pressure early, the Pats may double him, leaving one on one matchups elsewhere.  Atlanta might need to send the occasional blitz, which they do either with Deion Jones in the A and B gaps, or with a corner off the edge.  Disguising blitzes like that will also throw off rhythm.  Also, and this might be the biggest thing, they need to be disciplined.  They need to stay in their gaps in the run game, and don’t fall for the play action or trick plays.  The Pats love to get you out of position and make you pay.  Staying disciplined is extremely important.

For the Pats, the task is not easy.  The Falcons have a multitude of ways to beat you, and they have no issue with Julio Jones not being involved.  If he has four catches total, they can still beat you.  If he gets 150 yards, they probably will beat you.  So, obviously, you will see a lot of two deep safety looks, making sure they limit the big plays.  Julio Jones will probably be shaded underneath and over the top at times, so Atlanta will look elsewhere.  The Patriots have a lot of versatile cover corners, so they can mix and match how they see fit.  Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe are more physical corners, and guys like Logan Ryan are more suited to take on receivers like Taylor Gabriel and Aldrick Robinson.  In the run game, it’s all about gap discipline.  The Pats did an excellent job two weeks ago against the Steelers in that department.  If the Patriots stay downhill and do their job, they could make the Falcons one dimensional, which is a huge deal.

Keys for Each Team

Patriots: Run the Ball and Force Turnovers

The Pats need to find a way to keep the Falcons offense off the field as much as possible.  One way to do that is to have a consistent running game.  LeGarrette Blount has been solid all year, and he should be able to take advantage against Atlanta, as their run defense is one of the worst in the league.  The more they ground and pound, the more they can open things up with their other backs.  On defense, forcing Matt Ryan into bad throws by disguising looks can set up short fields for the offense.  The Pats can keep up with Atlanta even without turnovers, but forcing one or two could open the game up even more.

Falcons: Attack the Middle and Get to Brady

The Falcons will see a variety of looks against Julio Jones outside, so their best shot to sustaining drives and getting the ball down the field will be to attack the middle of the field.  Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, and cover specialist Kyle Van Noy will patrol that area of the field, but they will have a tough time covering guys like Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper.  Gabriel has the quickness to move around in that area to separate down the middle of the field, and since the Pats will play a lot of two high safety, the middle of the field will be open.  Getting to Brady was an obvious key, but if they don’t, this game could get out of hand.  The Patriots run the short passing game well, and you can’t expect the secondary to cover forever.  The Falcons know they need to stop the run, but getting to Brady cannot be overstated.

Matchups to Watch

1. Pats defensive line vs. Falcons offensive line

This will be a battle in the trenches.  We know about New England’s gap discipline, and if their big guys can get a push, the Falcons could have serious trouble running the ball.  Watch the matchup between Falcons linemen Andy Levitre and Alex Mack and defensive linemen Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch.

2. Pats RBs vs. Falcons LBs

The Patriots have two dynamic running backs in Dion Lewis and James White, and they are not afraid to split them out wide in the passing game.  In those situations, Deion Jones and DeVondre Campbell will be asked to cover the running backs.  Jones and Campbell have speed the Patriots haven’t seen at linebacker, so they might need to look elsewhere.

3. Julio Jones vs. Patriots DBs

I’m putting this one down here because I know everyone is excited to watch Julio Jones and Malcolm Butler go toe-to-toe.  But, I am more intrigued to see the types of coverage they roll Julio’s way.  They will shade him over the top a bunch and he could see the likes of Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan underneath him.

The Pick

I think the offenses will come out hot early.  Usually on the first two drives, the offense has a set of plays they want to call, and they usually work.  In past Super Bowls, you typically see offenses struggle early, but I think both offenses will get points in the first quarter, and the defenses will eventually adjust and settle in.  The Pats and Falcons will go back and forth the entire game, and a blowout seems unlikely (however, if someone gets multiple turnovers early, that’s out the window).  So, it will come down to who makes more plays down the stretch.  I trust Belichick and his staff in these games, and I think they will force a key turnover late that decides the game.

Patriots 27, Falcons 24

Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and the NFL Draft for The Sports Guys.  Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 today for his thoughts on the Super Bowl. 

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