What The Film Says About Super Bowl LI
The quarterback matchup for Super Bowl LI is fantastic. The storyline of the league’s top offense (Atlanta) facing it’s best defense (New England) is compelling. Tom Brady’s chase for history and Matt Ryan’s quest for vindication are enough to make anyone watch. But for those of interested in turning the Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl matchup (6:30 PM ET, Fox) into money there are other great personnel battles that will make a big difference in determining who wins and who covers.
Atlanta’s defense has come on, both down the stretch and in the NFC playoffs. They’ve used edge pressure to completely disrupt two great quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. The combination of Vic Beasley rushing the passer, along with the blitz packages designed by head coach Dan Quinn, wrecked a bad offensive line from Seattle and a good one from Green Bay. What happens against New England?
The Patriots’ offensive line is one of the best in football. Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder are excellent on the perimeter, with Shaq Mason solid at right guard. Joe Thuney, the left guard, is the only real weak point and even he isn’t bad. If Beasley can win his battles on the edge and force double-teams, it can open up opportunities for the Falcons to get gut pressure—which may be the only way to slow Tom Brady.
Atlanta’s high-powered attack has been unstoppable, but they haven’t faced this defense yet. The Patriots don’t remind you of the great defenses in the recent post—they don’t overwhelm you like the Legion of Boom—but what their back seven does do is cover receivers better than anyone else in the game.
It’s become a cliché in the media these past two weeks to say that Bill Belichick always takes away a team’s best weapon. Like a lot of cliches’, it’s essentially true. Does that Malcolm Butler goes on Julio Jones, with Devin McCourty providing double-coverage over the top? That puts the burden on Mohammed Sanu. He got it done in a big way against Green Bay, but the Patriots’ second and third-best corners—Logan Ryan and Eric Rowe—are a lot better than their counterparts for the Packers.
Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to run play-action and with Devonta Freeman, he’s got the perfect back to do it with. If New England’s defense can control the middle, it hinders the play-action game. That puts the burden on middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower and the fine defensive tackle Alan Branch. Identify the winner of this battle and you might well have the winner of the war.
These are just a handful of the intriguing personnel battles up and down the lineup that will settle this year’s Super Bowl champ.