There will be a couple of huge momentum-changing plays. Who will be the hero, who will be the goat?
The Freak has been sifting through game film to provide a comprehensive look at this year’s matchup:
Falcons on offence:
OC Kyle Shanahan is great at game planning and coming up with new offensive schemes against the tendencies of a defence, which is one big reason Atlanta’s the NFL’s top offence. He needs his best work in this game.
-- Most impressive thing is Atlanta uses multiple formations that can lead to obvious mismatches. They can use one, two, three tight ends; two, three, four, five wide receivers; single back; I formation, and the wildcat with Mohamed Sanu, who was a triple option quarterback in college.
-- Pats will try and take out Julio Jones with double coverage, so Shanahan knows he will have single coverage on his running backs, who can catch and run like no other tandem. The wheel route underneath to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to Jones’ side of the field will clear it out for a linebacker-running back mismatch.
-- Run the ball to set up the pass – one-dimensional teams equal no success versus the Pats’ D.
-- Sanu and Taylor Gabriel need to win one-on-one battles, and Austin Hooper needs to be that big target down the seam to move that safety, which may open it up for Julio.
-- Control the clock to keep Brady off the field.
Patriots on defence:
Coach Belichick and defensive co-ordinator Matt Patricia have their work cut out in slowing down the high-flying Falcons’ passing game and two-headed rushing attack. Matt Ryan turned the ball over nine times this season, and the Patriots forced 28 turnovers in 18 games.
-- Limit Jones’s touches by covering with Malcom Butler and Devin McCourty over the top. He will make catches in those tough areas where linebackers and safeties are unlike most No. 1 wide receivers, who just like vertical routes. Don’t double all day, but roll the coverage.
-- Stop Freeman and Coleman early in the game.
-- Don’t be fooled by Atlanta’s gadget plays and motion.
-- Need to mix in both man and zone coverage. If they play more man, their backs are to the quarterback, and that wheel route to the running back is deadly.
-- Falcons love to flood one side of the field with three or four players, but will throw it to the backside if you over pursue or cheat.
Patriots on offence:
OC Josh McDaniels is as good as they come as a play-caller/schemes. More importantly, their execution is second to none because of the players’ work ethic and attention to detail. The Pats’ offence is probably the most diverse in the league, can adapt to what the defence shows and is great at making adjustments.
-- Falcons have a young inexperienced secondary, and Brady needs to use his experience to force them into mistakes.
-- Can’t be one dimensional. Run with Blount, Lewis and White. Check down to these backs who flourish in man coverage.
-- Force Atlanta to bring five or six to pressure Brady. He will then pick them apart.
-- Falcons pursue the ball very well, so Pats should use this to their advantage. Change of direction plays and play action will work well, and can limit their aggression to the ball.
Falcons on defence:
The Giants showed everyone the blueprint on how to beat the Patriots, and shut down Brady in their two Super Bowl wins. This defence is built like Seattle’s D as Dan Quinn was DC there. They have speed and pursue the ball very well.
-- Need to get a four-man pass rush against Brady. Even if you don’t get sacks, you need to pressure and hit him. He gets frustrated when he’s hit.
-- Vic Beasley needs to be Michael Strahan in this game – in the Pats’ backfield all day.
-- Need to create one or two turnovers.
-- Don’t show the same defence all game like Pittsburgh did. Mix up your coverage and looks.
The Freak has seen this movie before in Super Bowl XXV, when Belichick was the DC for the Giants against the explosive Buffalo Bills’ K-Gun offence, run by Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed.
Belichick devised a defensive game plan that limited Buffalo to 19 points. Then the sequel in Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots’ D faced the “Greatest Show on Turf” – Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to name a few – and once again he shut down this high-octane offence.
Well, this will be Part 3 to the trilogy. Belichick will limit Atlanta’s offence, and still have Tom Brady in his back pocket to score points.
Hope it will be a great game, Pats win 34-24.
John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher and coaches youth football. His column appears weekly during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.