HOUSTON — So, those two weeks leading up to Super Bowl LI flew by, right? OK, maybe they were interminable, but “the big game” is one day away, and that’s very exciting.
The majority of experts and gamblers seem to believe the Patriots will beat the Falcons handily. It’s easy to see why because while both offenses are strong, the Patriots’ defense is leaps and bounds better than Atlanta’s.
Here’s what the Patriots have to do to ensure victory over the Falcons.
WIN THE RED-ZONE BATTLE
The Patriots and Falcons both score at a high rate in the red zone, but New England has been much stingier defensively, ranking ninth in opponent red zone scoring percentage (52.27) during the regular season, while Atlanta ranked dead last at 72.73 percent.
Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount should be able to do some damage against a Falcons defense that’s on the smaller side. The Falcons also allowed two passing touchdowns per game, so players like Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan could have success inside the 20-yard line. Wide receiver Julian Edelman was a weapon in the red zone during Super Bowl XLIX, the last time the Patriots faced a Dan Quinn defense.
LIMIT FALCONS RUNNING BACKS IN THE PASSING GAME
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are nearly as dangerous as receivers as they are as ball-carriers, and the Patriots haven’t been great at covering running backs out of the backfield recently.
Freeman and Coleman have combined for 14 receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns through the air so far this postseason. The Patriots have allowed 10 catches from running backs this postseason for 125 yards.
The Falcons don’t have an overly threatening tight end on their roster, so Patrick Chung might be counted on to take out Freeman and Coleman as best as he can. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower can handle Freeman and Coleman on passes near the line of scrimmage.
LIMIT JULIO JONES
This is easier said than done, but the Patriots have done a nice job of neutralizing top weapons this season, especially in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins combined for 13 catches on 18 targets for 142 yards without a touchdown.
The Patriots mixed coverages on Hopkins, while Malcolm Butler, with safety help over the top, took on Brown.
It’s our best guess that the Patriots will use Eric Rowe’s size, with help from safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, on Jones. Rowe already revealed Logan Ryan would cover Mohamed Sanu, and Rowe isn’t a good fit to cover Taylor Gabriel.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images