Derek Dimino, Staff Writer
Super Bowl Preview: The Vets and the Virgins
Yet again, the time of year has come when the two best teams in football square off. Since the first game of the preseason, these teams have dreamed of hurdling every obstacle the 2016 season had to offer and reaching the storied promise land. Through relentless motivation, precise and consistent practice, and moments of physical and mental sacrifice, these two teams have proven themselves worthy of entrance, but only one team will be granted immortality amongst the football greats.
This year the best offense in football, the Atlanta Falcons, will go up against the defense that has allowed the least amount of points per game through the regular season, the New England Patriots. Aside from their highly productive passing offenses and the great minds behind the wheel of each team, the Patriots and the Falcons harbor very different skill sets and are hindered by very different flaws.
The New England Patriots have easily the most well-rounded team in the league. Their offense finished the season third in points per game and fourth in passing yards per game. After only allowing 15.1 points per game during the regular season, the Patriots maintained their defensive dominance by allowing just 16.5 points per game this postseason.
The receiving corps of the Patriots have spent much of this season being bruised and broken, but have revitalized themselves in time for the Super Bowl. While most eyes will be on Atlanta’s receiver Julio Jones, the Patriots Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan will fly under the radar, each averaging more than 125 receiving yards per game this postseason. The receiving duo has combined for 29 receptions and three of Tom Brady’s five touchdown passes.
Lastly and most importantly, the Patriots have the best coach-quarterback combination in the history of football with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. This duo has accumulated four Super Bowl wins in six appearances in their tenure together, and they will be looking to add a thumb ring to their collection. Combine Belichick’s psychological play calling with veteran Tom Brady’s ability to do it all and the necessary weapons to complement their abilities, and you’re left with an unrelenting three-headed monster who knows rocket science.
Though almost every aspect of the Patriots team has stayed consistent or gotten better transitioning from the regular season to the playoffs, their running game has taken a significant down turn. This postseason, behind the running of Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, they have only averaged 77.5 rushing yards and a touchdown per game after finishing the season averaging 117 rushing yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Though their postseason numbers are far from preferred, it would be more concerning if Dion Lewis wasn’t so active in the passing game.
Much like how New England’s team demands respect from every one of its opponents, the Atlanta Falcons unstoppable passing offense similarly keeps opposing defensive coordinators and defensive backs up at night. Leading them to only their second Super Bowl appearance ever, Atlanta’s offense finished the season at the top of the league in points per game with 33.8, and have had no problem one-upping it this postseason, amassing 40 points per game through two games.
While Matt Ryan’s arm has significantly contributed to the seven touchdowns thrown this postseason, the Falcons have emerged with an arsenal of receivers. Led by superstar Julio Jones with three touchdowns, Matt Ryan uses receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel as well. Ryan also has more than proficient check down options. With Devonta Freeman and Tevon Coleman at running back, Atlanta has the ability to run or pass at any time with little regard as to which running back is in. Having the best hybrid running back duo in the league offers Atlanta plenty of options in the passing game, while keeping the opposing team guessing as to what is coming every play.
Though Atlanta has been playing better defense compared to their regular season Swiss-cheese like form, their defense remains their obvious weakness with their secondary much to blame. This postseason, the defense has allowed 338 total yards per game (238 PYPG and 100 RYPG), and have let up five touchdowns in the two game span. While the secondary has produced three interceptions, all five touchdowns have come through the air.
In order for Atlanta to defeat the Patriots, the Falcons will have to do two things: 1) keep passing the ball without turnovers and 2) apply plenty of defensive pressure to Tom Brady. Though this will not entirely prevent the living legend’s production, it will limit many of the deep ball opportunities he was granted in the AFC Championship game against the Steelers. If Atlanta can find their playmakers at receiver, they will be given many scoring opportunities and a chance to snatch the crown.
On the other hand, the Patriots usual plan of double covering the opposition’s best receiver and playing their best cornerback against the other team’s number two receiver may not work. With the plethora of options Atlanta has, the Patriots have to worry about more than just two players. If they cover Jones and Sanu, it still leaves Gabriel, Freeman, Coleman or one of their two tight ends with a mismatch. Even if they get Atlanta to abandon the pass, their running game is nothing to scoff at, so, exceptional all-around defense will be necessary for a Patriots victory.