FOXBORO, Mass. — The focus in the week leading up the Patriots’ matchup with the Falcons has been on New England’s secondary. But there’s just as much pressure on the Patriots’ pass rush to hurry Matt Ryan‘s throws to his impressive set of targets.
After facing quarterbacks in three straight weeks who are a threat to take off running, New England’s front seven can focus on one singular goal this week: to get after Ryan. The Falcons signal caller won’t be moving around much in the pocket, but Julio Jones and Roddy White will get open if Ryan is given time to throw.
“Well, I think there’s pressure on both ends,” Rob Ninkovich said. “D-line and coverage, you have to work together and match up. If there’s good coverage, there needs to be good rush.”
The Patriots will take a different approach with Ryan than they did with EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and even Josh Freeman. The team couldn’t be overly aggressive with those players because there’s always a threat that they will take off. Ryan has no desire to start running.
“When you have a guy that can run, you have to be aware that there’s an ability for that guy to make some plays with his feet,” Ninkovich said. “With a pocket quarterback, he wants to throw the ball. He’d rather throw the ball. Running is last, the last thing on his mind that he wants to do. You can know he’s going to be in a spot where you’re trying to get to. Other quarterbacks that can run, their spot is all over the field. You just have to — when you’re paying a guy that’s a pocket guy, he’s going to be in a spot that you’re going to try to get him off. And if you’re able to get him off and if you can get him off, he won’t be able to make as accurate of a throw.”
The Patriots’ pressure will mostly come from their front four: Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but we could see an increase in blitzing as well this week. The linebackers won’t need to be as focused on keeping an eye on the quarterback in case he takes off.
“You know he gonna be there, like Peyton [Manning], like playing Tom [Brady],” Kelly said. “You don’t really worry about those guys getting out of the pocket unless there’s a desperate situation. You can just get into your move and know he gonna be five behind the center. It definitely makes it a little bit easier.”
So far this season, the Patriots’ secondary has helped out the pass rush more than vice versa. Many of the times New England has been able to reach the quarterback, it’s because the secondary has done a good job of covering receivers down the field.
This week, since Jones and White are so dangerous, the pass rush may not have the same luxury. Jones and White are adept at getting open and Ryan is quick to release the ball.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Jones said. “You don’t want him sitting back there without any pressure and just having seven-on-seven. You want to go back there and move him off the spot a little bit.”
Kelly knows the Falcons are usually looking to pass, so he won’t be biting on play action too often.
“To me, it’s alright,” Kelly said about the play action. “You know they wanna throw the ball. I’m defending the run on the way to the quarterback. These guys wanna throw the ball. They want to make big plays. They want to get the ball in Julio and Roddy White’s hands. I’m putting all my eggs in that basket.”
Kelly still wants to keep the Falcons’ rushing to a minimum. The Patriots haven’t been their usual dominant selves against the run yet this season. They’re 24th in the league, allowing 120.7 yards per game.
“There’s just something about when a team that come into your place and think they can run the ball on you,” Kelly said. “It kind of take a little bit out of you as a man. You just want to keep the number down between 80-90 yards a game. We’ll be alright.”
For New England to come out of Atlanta with a win, Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington have to lock on to Jones, White and Harry Douglas. But the front seven also have to do a better job of getting in the backfield since they may not have the secondary to bail them out.