Pats Preview: Super Bowl LI
As the New England Patriots prepare for their battle with the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday in Super Bowl LI, here are some pregame story lines and things to know:
One More- The Pats' rally cry lately has been "One More." Now, the team truly has just one more game to win before they can call themselves champions. Keeping the mantra in their minds this week should help give them the boost to cap off what has been a strong and inspiring season in the right way.
Going For History- Both Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and the team's quarterback Tom Brady will be going for history in Houston. With a Super Bowl LI win Belichick will capture his fifth Super Bowl title as a head coach, placing him one ahead of former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll. Former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named after, also has five title to his credit, though three came before the Super Bowl era. Another ring would also make Brady the league's only quarterback to ever win five Lombardi Trophies, as he would pass his boyhood idol Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw, who each ended their careers with four Super Bowl wins.
Top Defense Vs. Top Offense- For the sixth time in Super Bowl history, the league's top scoring offense will square off against the league's top defense in terms of points allowed, when the high scoring Atlanta offense battles against the stingy New England defense. If history is any indicator, the Pats might have the advantage. Four of the previous five match ups between the top offense and top defense have gone in favor of the defense, with the latest win coming just a few years ago as the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Atlanta's offense averaged 33.8 points per game over the regular season and has averaged a whopping 40 points through two postseason games. The New England defense seemingly underachieved early in the season, but began to gel as a unit late in the year and finished the season with a league low 15.6 points allowed per game. Through two playoff games that number has rose by less than a full point to 16.5. So essentially what we have here is an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. While the Falcons will undoubtedly find a way to convert on a couple of drives, it would not be shocking if the Pats win the overall battle on the day.
What To Do With Julio- One of the reasons why the Patriot defense was so strong at stopping their opponents from getting into the end zone is because, like they've done for years, they found a way to take away their opponent's top threat week in and week out. New England will try to do the same on Sunday, as they'll look to slow down dangerous wide out Julio Jones. Jones, who has become one of the league's marquee receivers in recent seasons, put together a dominant 201 campaign and has continued his solid play through the postseason. After catching 83 passes for just over 1,400 yards and six scores in the regular season, Jones has caught another 15 balls for 247 yards and three touchdowns. So, what to do with Julio, you might ask. Well, its a safe bet to say that the Pats will probably throw multiple looks at him. Top cornerback Malcolm Butler will most likely get at least one shot to go one-on-one with the talented weapon, where he'll likely look to get physical with him near the line of scrimmage. It's also extremely likely the defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick will draw up a scheme that has the team's number two corner, Logan Ryan, or number three corner, Eric Rowe, lock in on Jones with help over the top from the likes of Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty for some time as well. Either way, whoever finds themselves on Jones must be ready to go for four quarters.
Scheming For The Backs- Along with game planning for Jones, Patricia and Belichick must also find a way to neutralize Atlanta's backfield duo. Falcons backfield mates Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined to gain 2,482 yards from scrimmage and score 24 touchdowns on 431 total touches, during the regular season. The two have added 352 total yards and four more scores on 64 postseason touches. All year long the pair have been a threat both rushing and receiving, which has caused trouble for opposing defenses. While the Patriot run defense has been among the best in the league all year, they like any other unit can be susceptible to running backs that can make plays in the passing game. It will be interesting to see what the Pats draw up on obvious passing downs and how they cover the two dynamic backs. Limiting their production could be the difference for New England.
Picking On The Youth- While the Falcons' offense is its strength, the team's defense is full of youth and has been a weak spot of sorts this season. With seven key members of the defense in either their first or second season in the league, the unit suffered growing pains early and, though they got better as the season moved on, were never a group that could control a game. With that being said, expect Tom Brady and company to pick on the youthful defense and go right at them every chance that they get. The Atlanta defense ranked 27th in the league in scoring defense and 25th in yards allowed per game. With his entire arsenal, except for Rob Gronkowski, at his disposal, Brady should have no problem exposing the holes to be found. While Atlanta has been better defensively in the postseason, they have yet to face an offense as dynamic and healthy as New England's. That could make for a very painful night for the Falcons.
Blount Force Trauma- There's a large school of thought that the Pats may utilize a run-heavy attack on offense, to attack the undersized Atlanta defense and keep the Falcons' explosive offense off the field as much as possible. If that is New England's play, expect to see a lot of the team's power back LeGarrette Blount. Provided that the Pats get a lead early, it might be a smart decision to switch things up from their usual pass first mentality and try to pound the ball with Blount. The big back could utilize his large size to overpower the smaller defense of Atlanta and chip away at them until they break, all while keeping Atlanta's offense on the sideline. Blount force trauma would be a very good thing for the Pats on Sunday.
Prediction- The Patriots and Falcons enter the game with the same goal in mind, but very different circumstances at play regarding the outcome and very different experience levels heading in. For Atlanta, they've simply never been here before, short of head coach Dan Quinn. While Quinn has had experience in the big game before, he has never been the man at the helm of the team. On the other hand, the Pats have a core of players and coaches, led by Belichick and Brady, that have been to their fair share of championship games, so the moment shouldn't get to them as much. If New England is able to win, the legacies of the franchise, the head coach and the quarterback will forever be set in stone among the top such winners in each category. With history on the line and a team that is more than capable of thriving in all three facets of the game, it is tough to envision the Pats not clinching a fifth world title. Though the Falcons have quite the array of weapons offensively and will likely find some points in the game to get their points, the Pats defense is adept enough to make key stops when necessary and has the ability to also lock up in the red zone. On the flip side, the New England offense is close to being just as dynamic as the Atlanta offense, but the Falcons' defense is not on the Patriots' level. With the gap between the offenses so slim and the gap between the defenses much more noticeable, its easy to expect the Pats have the advantage in this one. With two prolific offenses on display, it might just come down to which defense can find a way to make one or two stops. One or two stops might turn this game from a shoot out to a one sided affair. Expect the Pats to be on the right end of this one, as history is made.
Patriots 34, Falcons 21