The Patriots take their undefeated record into the Georgia Dome on Sunday night to take on the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are 1-2 though three games, but despite their losing record, this will be a big test for this Patriots squad.
Here are three keys for the Patriots offense producing come Sunday night.
1. Dobson And Thompkins Must Win One On One Battles
With tight end Rob Gronkowski likely returning for this matchup, he will instantly garner double, and even triple coverage from the Falcons. It doesn’t matter if Gronk is less than 100% (and he probably will be, he hasn’t played a football game in a very long time), the Falcons will pay more attention to him because he is the great Rob Gronkowski. As a result of this, I don’t think that Brady will be able to count on Gronk to make a lot of plays down the field. This is why Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins will have to make plays on their own, and they will have to do it against more man coverage than they saw last week against the Bucs. I am sure that Julian Edelman will make his share of catches on the inside, but in order for the Patriots to effectively manipulate this Atlanta secondary, Thompkins and Dobson have to beat their man mano a mano outside of the numbers. This will be a good test for the rookies, and I think that they are up to the challenge.
2. Ball Control
This Falcons offense has the capability to run up 30 points on you in a hurry. Matt Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the game in my mind, and his two outside receivers are painfully good at beating defenders off the line of scrimmage, and making a big play. I am not saying that the Patriots defense will not be able to contain these guys, because New England is much improved on that side of the ball, but at some point Atlanta will catch fire, and the Pats defense will not be able to keep up. If Brady and the offense can keep the ball for a longer period of time, that will give the Patriots defense more time to rest and it keeps Ryan and his offense on the bench, where no damage can be done. Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden are both coming off solid outings against Tampa Bay, and they will be key in sustaining drives, and playing keep away with the Falcons offense.
3. Contain Umenyiora
There is one thing that will disrupt Tom Brady’s timing before he can even see if Gronk or the rookies have separated themselves from their defenders, and that is pressure from the defensive front. The Falcons are currently 18th in the league in team sacks (as are the Patriots), with most of the danger being presented by veteran Osi Umenyiora. Patriots know Umenyiora all too well from their two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, and even though he is getting up there in age, he can still make some plays coming off of the edge. Umenyiora came up with two sacks last week against the Dolphins, and if he gets going early again on Sunday, the Patriots young offense could be in for a long night. Left tackle Nate Solder will be shouldered with most of the load that Umenyiora presents, but he will switch from side to side as an attempt to confuse the offensive line concerning his whereabouts. If this is the case then Marcus Cannon may have to deal with him at certain points in the game (if Vollmer can’t go), and as much as I like Cannon, this is definitely advantage Umenyiora.