It’s prime time game and the New England Patriots are on the road playing in a loud dome against the Atlanta Falcons. Many are favoring the Falcons to win this game due to Patriots first three weeks going up against two rookie quarterbacks (E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith) and unimproved (now benched) Josh Freeman. But they are overlooking that the Falcons have a banged up defense while the Patriots defense (knock on wood) is fairly healthy.
The Falcons are on a “must win” mindset, and they should be as their record is 1-2. The fact that they’re playing at home, magnifies the need for a win. On the other hand, the Patriots are hanging in there and stepping up in the face of injuries to key players – and one of the aspects I believe the Patriots are doing well is adaptability and ability to maximize player’s strengths into their game plan. While we were panicking at how raw the rookie receivers showed up in the first two weeks, coach Bill Belichick did not show worry at all. And in this week’s conference when talking about the challenge the team faces covering Julio Jones, he said that we first must find him, then we must cover him – and here’s the interesting part, he smiled and said that’s when the fun begins.
There’s no easy game in this league, and this will prove to be a tough game since the Patriots will be playing a more experienced quarterback in Matt Ryan. However, I believe that the key in moving on to 4-0 record will be situational football, pressuring the quarterback, zero turnover, and red zone execution.
Tony Gonzalez is a threat on the field, but I think that we’ll be seeing him trying to contribute the most in situational football when the first downs and red zone situations will be on the line. Julio Jones will be found and covered in Belichick’s game plan, and Roddy White’s lingering high ankle sprain still bothering him, if he plays, he’ll be more used as a decoy than a game-changer.
The Falcons are 25th in the NFL against the pass; allowed 297 yards per game, 7 touchdowns and a passer rating of 96.9. On the other hand, the Patriots are 6th against the pass; allowed 188 yards per game, 2 touchdowns and a passer rating of 58.7. Since the Patriots displayed great ball distribution last Sunday against Tampa Bay, I think the Patriots will show continuity in mixing up the passing and rushing, with focus on staying out of long-yardage and emphasis on aerial attack. The offensive line role in protecting Tom Brady from Osi Umenyiora will be crucial if they want a chance to be productive and win this game. The OL must keep Brady tall in the pocket and enable time for the rookies or any other receiver to run the route they must run to get open.
The Patriots must continue to take care of the football, primarily in the red zone. It has been twice now that Tom Brady turned the ball over in the red zone – a fumble at the goal line in Week 1 and an interception in Week 3. Also, it’s imperative to put points on the board early in the game and prevent the Falcons to gain any lead. Any shift of momentum going against the Patriots, it could a recipe for disaster.
If the Patriots defense can disrupt the Falcons OL, then Matt Ryan will have a long 60 minutes with Steven Jackson still out. I’m hoping to see a huge performance by the front seven, mainly from Chandler Jones in rushing the passer. That would certainly make Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington’s assignments a bit easier.