A Look at The Super Bowl Offenses
SUPER BOWL 51 - Sunday, Feb. 5 At NRG Stadium - Houston (TX)
NEW ENGLAND (16-2) VS. ATLANTA (13-5) - 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox
WHEN THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HAVE THE FOOTBALL - Talk about learning something new every day!
If you've watched the New England Patriots on a week-in, week-out basis this year - and including their playoff wins against Houston and Pittsburgh - then you probably thought QB Tom Brady and the gang threw it more than anyone else around but the stats say otherwise.
In fact, New England threw the ball just 53.3 percent of the time this past regular season - and that ranks 'em 28th in terms of Team Passing Play Percentage - and so one thing the improved Atlanta defense must do is not sleep on the Pats' ground game here.
No doubt Brady (50-of-80 completions for 671 yards with 5 TDs and 2 INTs this post-season) remains the clear-cut front-and-center star here - duh! -- and he'll be chucking it 35-plus times no matter what but what we're saying is if RBs LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis are effectively cranking out four yards-or-more on pops up the middle than the Falcons will really have major problems.
Consider that Brady's two Super Bowl losses - to the New York Giants in both 2007 and 2011 - happened in large measure because that NYG pass rush made Brady "uncomfortable" in the pocket and so expect the strategy here to include an extra blocker staying in so that Brady has that extra second or two to find WRs Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan - a tandem that's combined for 29 receptions worth 530 yards and 3 TDs in the post-season triumphs against the Texans/Steelers.
If Brady is forced to bounce around in the pocket or chased out of his comfort zone, than Atlanta's young and cat-quick defense could get off the field after key third-down stops. It's gonna be a classic case of cat-and-mouse here as Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will look to call for screen passes whenever he senses the odd-man blitz is coming Brady's way, so let us be the first to predict that the aforementioned Mr. Lewis could have a big stat game as a pass-catcher out of the backfield (you prop players have just be given a tip!).
Otherwise, those sacks/hurries/hits on Brady will be important because they could/will have a residual effect come the fourth quarter.
Key numbers to watch: Edelman and Hogan (and WR Danny Amendola too) would like in the neighborhood of 18-to-20 catches for 200 yards - now that would likely get the Pats a win and Brady yet another Super Bowl MVP (he already has three of 'em).
WHEN THE ATLANTA FALCONS HAVE THE FOOTBALL - Just as we made the case that the New England Patriots run the ball more than folks thought - 27 NFL teams threw the ball at higher percentages than the Pats this past regular season - the same is the case here with the 3-point underdog Falcons.
The knee-jerk reaction is to believe Atlanta throws the ball as much as anyone in the league but the regular-season numbers showed that's not true. In fact, the Atlanta passing play percentage stood at 57.6 percent and that ranked 22nd in the NFL (note that Baltimore threw the ball a league-leading 66 percent of the time this year) and so you know what we're gonna say:
Sure, QB Matt Ryan (730 yards passing with 7 TDs and 0 INTs this post-season) is gonna chuck it plenty but there had better be a ground presence here for the NFC champs who - we believe - need RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (a combined 173 yards rushing this playoff season) to make some chunk plays via the ground route and expect quick-hitter traps and draws to be utilized some 15-to-20 times here in an attempt to slow up the Patriots' pass rush.
No question Ryan is playing at a monumentally high level and ditto for WR Jones (see 180 yards receiving and two TDs in NFC Championship Game 44-21 win against Green Bay) but it's the plays that fellow pass-catchers WRs Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and the tight ends Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo make - or don't make - on third down that probably spells the difference as to whether or not the Falcons win their first-ever NFL championship.