When the Falcons Have the Ball...

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Lets make some separate threads for different aspects of the matchup.

What do you see the Patriots trying to do to contain Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense?

Just to kick things off, other than stopping Julio Jones, I think one of the biggest challenges will be handling their RBs in the passing game. The duo of Freeman and Coleman caught over 80% of their combined targets. Coleman averaged 13.6 yards per reception out of the backfield, which is just ridiculous. Do we have the LBs to match up in man coverage on those backs? To me, this seems like a major concern that might really shape our overall scheme and game plan.
 

lars10

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I think the Pats will do what they've done the in most of these situations... Put Butler on Sanu probably, and have their second DB and Safety on Jones... the line will probably not blitz as much and try to contain the RBs at the line of scrimmage. Ryan will most likely have his dump offs all game, but the Pats seem to have really concentrated on getting to the ball as soon as it's caught and not giving up any YAC. Coleman, Sanu and Gabriel will be tough to contain after Freeman and Jones... but I expect BB to concentrate on taking the last two out of the game.
 

dbn

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I suspect MMS is correct and that we see a lot of frustrating, long drives full of easy 3rd-down pickups by the Atlanta offense. However, if they stay patient and tackle well, we can hope the Patriots stop them enough. Anecdotally, it seems to me that this year's Patriots defense tackles pretty well, overall. Agree?
 

Ale Xander

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How much do the Falcons use 3+WR sets? I'm tempted to favor putting Rowe (due to size) on Jones with McCourty over the top, and Ryan on Sanu with Harmon over the top, and Butler 1-1 on Gabriel (and Shea on Tololo). We used 5DB at the start with Pitt, no reason to not continue that with Falcons.

Then again, I'm more scared of Freeman and Coleman breaking tackles and crushing us with 8-15 yard runs all day long as they've shown in the regular season.

I think the key will be to prevent 2nd down conversions and make them go to favorable (for us) 3rd down formations where we are not extended.

I think our back 7 is smarter than GB's and would prevent the Ryan scrambles.

I would favor a more risky set of schemes where the goal is to force turnovers rather than stop big plays.
 

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I suspect MMS is correct and that we see a lot of frustrating, long drives full of easy 3rd-down pickups by the Atlanta offense. However, if they stay patient and tackle well, we can hope the Patriots stop them enough. Anecdotally, it seems to me that this year's Patriots defense tackles pretty well, overall. Agree?
I was listening to a podcast with someone from an advanced stats site (can't remember which one sorry or who it was) but I remember hem saying the Pats were top 5 in tackling if not number 1. Not many broken tackles out of this group. There are limits to the metric used.
 

tims4wins

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I was listening to a podcast with someone from an advanced stats site (can't remember which one sorry or who it was) but I remember hem saying the Pats were top 5 in tackling if not number 1. Not many broken tackles out of this group. There are limits to the metric used.
Pats are #1 in offense in YAC and #1 in defense in YAC, I believe
 

RedOctober3829

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Some statistics on the Falcons' offense that should be noted.

--They haven't given the ball away much at all this year. They are tied for the least number of giveaways in the NFL this year with only 11. Not surprisingly, the Patriots are the other team with 11.

--They average a ridiculous 6.7 yards per offensive snap which is good for 4th most all time.

--They start fast. They lead the NFL in PPG in the 1st quarter with 8.7 and lead in PPG in the 2nd quarter with 9.8.

--78% of their offensive series result in 1st downs.

--They led the NFL in plays of 30 yards or more with 34. 17 of the 34 went for 40 or more. 14 went for TDs.

http://www.fanragsports.com/nfl/falcons/falcons-scored-way-one-nfls-best/
 

tims4wins

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On the starting fast note, I believe they have scored a first drive TD their last 8 games. I am guessing Bill will be letting the D know this for the next two weeks.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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How much do the Falcons use 3+WR sets? I'm tempted to favor putting Rowe (due to size) on Jones with McCourty over the top, and Ryan on Sanu with Harmon over the top, and Butler 1-1 on Gabriel (and Shea on Tololo). We used 5DB at the start with Pitt, no reason to not continue that with Falcons.
I haven't watched a lot of Falcons football this season but one thing I see pretty clearly from snap count statistics is that they mix personnel a lot and change their groups significantly depending on the opponent, much like the Patriots. Against some teams, they played a lot of 11 personnel and other WR heavy groupings. Against Seattle, they played a lot of 12 and 21 personnel. They use a lot of different skill position players (against Seattle 10 guys got 15 or more snaps).

It would be interesting to know a bit more about how much this offensive philosophy was influenced by the Patriots, either filtering down from Dimitroff or Shanahan just seeing what was working elsewhere and adopting some similar ideas.
 

Ale Xander

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Good point.

I guess the real decision is figuring out if the guy to shutdown is Jones or Freeman?
 

edmunddantes

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I will be having nightmares of the Atlanta Falcon running backs running wheel routes all night long.

Pat's defense always seems to get gashed by those.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Some statistics on the Falcons' offense that should be noted.

--They haven't given the ball away much at all this year. They are tied for the least number of giveaways in the NFL this year with only 11. Not surprisingly, the Patriots are the other team with 11.

--They average a ridiculous 6.7 yards per offensive snap which is good for 4th most all time.

--They start fast. They lead the NFL in PPG in the 1st quarter with 8.7 and lead in PPG in the 2nd quarter with 9.8.

--78% of their offensive series result in 1st downs.

--They led the NFL in plays of 30 yards or more with 34. 17 of the 34 went for 40 or more. 14 went for TDs.

http://www.fanragsports.com/nfl/falcons/falcons-scored-way-one-nfls-best/
That is pretty scary.

The more I think about the matchup, the more I think the Patriots are going to play a lot of zone. They will mix and disguise coverages of course but I can see this being a zone heavy game for two reasons. First, you know BB is going to key into the big play capability of the ATL offense that your last stat highlights and want to take that away. Man coverage with a single high safety is playing with fire against this team. Second, zone seems like the best solution to dealing with the RBs out of the backfield in the passing game. Van Noy is probably our best LB in man coverage on RBs but he isn't anything special. I think the game plan will be to keep changing coverages but to largely keep everything in front, tackle well, make Ryan hit a lot of intermediate-level throws to sustain long drives, and just hope we can get enough stops along the way to win a relatively high scoring game in which we know our offense is going to put up points.
 

Super Nomario

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That is pretty scary.

The more I think about the matchup, the more I think the Patriots are going to play a lot of zone. They will mix and disguise coverages of course but I can see this being a zone heavy game for two reasons. First, you know BB is going to key into the big play capability of the ATL offense that your last stat highlights and want to take that away. Man coverage with a single high safety is playing with fire against this team. Second, zone seems like the best solution to dealing with the RBs out of the backfield in the passing game. Van Noy is probably our best LB in man coverage on RBs but he isn't anything special. I think the game plan will be to keep changing coverages but to largely keep everything in front, tackle well, make Ryan hit a lot of intermediate-level throws to sustain long drives, and just hope we can get enough stops along the way to win a relatively high scoring game in which we know our offense is going to put up points.
The problem with zone is that guys watching the action in front of them are easier to trick with play action, and the Falcons ran the most play action in the league. Per FO 26% of their passes were from PA and they were second in the league with 10.4 YPA on PA. If they go zone they're going to have to stay really disciplined.
 

Phil Plantier

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Thanks for all of the great information in this thread. I thought I watched a lot of football this fall but I didn't know any of this.
 

BaseballJones

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It's very easy to look closely at the Falcons' offense and think, my god I don't know how the Patriots are going to stop them. They're basically good at every aspect of football from an offensive perspective. They can make all the throws, with multiple weapons. They can run. They pass protect. Their QB is playing at an MVP level. They have power, speed, and size. They have averaged nearly 38 points a game over their last 8, with the lowest point total being 28, against KC, which is pretty good considering that defense. And they've averaged 39 a game over their last six.

Seems like a very, very tall task. But fortunately, the Patriots' defense is better than most (by points allowed, the best in the NFL, but I'm not totally sold on the idea that they actually have the *best* defense in the league), and, moreover, the Patriots' offense is also dynamic, averaging 36 a game over their last 4, and, especially considering the average nature of the Falcons' defense, should be able to keep up if the game becomes a shootout.
 

tmracht

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Isn't Matt Ryan the quarterback whom the Patriots can finally rush without having to be more concerned about him getting outside the pocket and making plays? At last!
I wouldn't be too sure about that, he is pretty darn good himself.

Chris WesselingVerified account‏@ChrisWesseling
Matt Ryan doesn’t get enough credit for extending plays. Had a higher rating than Rodgers outside the pocket in reg season: 108.7 vs. 101.6
 

Super Nomario

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I wouldn't be too sure about that, he is pretty darn good himself.

Chris WesselingVerified account‏@ChrisWesseling
Matt Ryan doesn’t get enough credit for extending plays. Had a higher rating than Rodgers outside the pocket in reg season: 108.7 vs. 101.6
1) How many plays like this did he have? 2) Ryan's overall QB rating was 117.1, so this is actually a little worse than he normally is.
 

RedOctober3829

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Getting to Know Atlanta

QB Matt Ryan 4,944 yards 38 TD/7 INT 69.9 Comp% 83.1 QBR 117.1 Passer Rating

_______________________________________________________________________

RB Devonta Freeman 227 att, 1,079 yds, 11 TD/54 catches, 462 yds, 2 TD

RB Tevin Coleman (13 GP) 118 att, 520, 8 TDs/31 catches, 421 yds, 3 TDs

________________________________________________________________________

WR Julio Jones (14 GP) 83 catches, 1,409 yds(17 yds/catch), 6 TDs

WR Mohamed Sanu 59 catches, 653 yds, 4 TDs

WR Taylor Gabriel (13 GP) 35 catches, 579 yds(16.5 yds/catch), 6 TDs

_________________________________________________________________________

TE Austin Hooper 19 catches, 271 yds, 3 TDs 39% snaps

TE Jacob Tamme 22 catches, 210 yds, 3 TDs 31.7% snaps

TE Levine Toilolo 13 catches, 264 yds(20.3 yds/catch), 2 TDs 54.9% snaps

It comes down to choosing between playing very conservatively in a two deep shell or playing press man physical style defense with 1 high safety and roving safeties. I am choosing to play man to man physical defense to start out because I want to make Atlanta fight off jams and disrupt the timing of Ryan and his receivers as much as possible. If you allow Matt Ryan to sit back and throw all day into a soft zone he will pick you apart. I want no part of getting Ryan in a rhythm and developing confidence. The Falcons utilize the seam routes very well and those would be open all day in zone. They will switch back and forth as you can’t play man to man all game long and I do expect to show Ryan multiple looks. But, I think playing physical early is something you have to do. Time and score will dictate how the schemes evolve.

The personnel grouping of choice for me would be the big nickel. The front four is going to have to do a much better job of winning 1-on-1 battles up front because blitzing Ryan with LBs only opens up the middle of the field if they can't get home. Atlanta’s offensive line has been very good this season in the run game as FO ranks their OL 10th in Adjusted Line Yards. However, it has given up 37 sacks this season which is good for 11th most in the NFL. I don’t think this should be a big Alan Branch game even though Freeman and Coleman are very good runners. Branch and Vince Valentine will have a role in this game but I firmly believe that the Patriots should play a more athletic front four and let Atlanta run the ball as much as they want. If they want to run the ball while the Patriots are in nickel then I think that’s a net win. Think of the Denver game in Foxboro where Knowshon Moreno ran for 200 yards. I’d like to see 3-4 pass rushers on the line as much as possible. I’d kick Trey Flowers and Jabaal Sheard inside and put Chris Long and, yes, Dont’a Hightower on the end to generate some pass rushing opportunities with Roberts/Van Noy/McClellin playing LB.

In man to man situations, this is how I would employ the personnel. I’ve wavered back and forth on who should handle Julio Jones. In the past with Revis, Bill and Matt have put the #1 CB on somebody else to take that WR right out of the game. I think that is what they should do with Malcolm Butler. Logan Ryan is very good with his hands and has the capabilities to play with bigger receivers as he has in his career. However, Jones is more physical than, say, Demariyus Thomas, and Eric Rowe is bigger(6’1” 200 lbs) than Ryan and has the speed and quickness to stay with Jones especially with safety help. My choice would be Eric Rowe with safety help. I would then put Malcolm Butler on Mohamed Sanu to try to take Ryan’s #2 target out of the game and Logan Ryan on Taylor Gabriel. Gabriel has been a real X-factor in Atlanta’s offense and I think putting Ryan on him would be the best fit for the personnel we have. In the big nickel, I’d have Duron Harmon over the top to support Rowe. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty will be moved all over the field depending on Atlanta’s formations. Atlanta is known for using as many or more players and formations than any team in the NFL so Chung and McCourty’s jobs will change by the series and sometimes by snap. When Atlanta flexes out either Coleman or Freeman, I can see DMC covering them 1-on-1 while Chung picks up a TE.

There might be times where Atlanta runs funky formations out to try to confuse the defense. Some examples are that they’ve run plays out of the wildcat with Sanu and 3 TE formations to take advantage of seam routes. Another trick formation to watch out for is a possible double pass with Mohamed Sanu. He has attempted 5 passes in his Cincinnati days. Kyle Shanahan will use multiple formations and uses motion really well to set up favorable matchups.

Check the breakdown out done on the 13 personnel run by Atlanta in the Washington Post done by our own mascho. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fancy-stats/wp/2016/11/01/a-close-look-at-the-atlanta-falcons-nfl-best-offense/?utm_term=.c34216b9a959

Expect Dan Quinn to take chances especially if it turns out to be a shootout. The WSJ did a study on coaching aggressiveness and ranked Dan Quinn 4th most aggressive. They have the utmost confidence in their offense so don’t be surprised to go for it on 4th down or take chances in special teams.

To sum things up, I think Matt and Bill will come out and try to be physical with the WR’s to disrupt timing and see if it works. The pass rush hasn’t been getting home so you don’t want Matt Ryan to feel comfortable and work in rhythm so the alternative is to jam the receivers off their routes.
 

Dr. Gonzo

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Great post, RO.

In terms of getting to Ryan, do we know who was beat for those 37 sacks? Who would be the weak link from a pass blocking perspective?
 

SMU_Sox

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Alex Mack is dealing with a sprained ankle and won't practice this week. Hightower through the middle a few times?
 

DJnVa

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http://www.footballoutsiders.com/quick-reads/2017/qr-bonus-keys-beating-Atlanta

This again suggests that the key to beating Atlanta is eliminating Taylor and Sanu from the game plan. You actually want to funnel deep passes to Jones, while allowing Freeman and Coleman to get their short catches and do your best to limit the damage from those plays. Admittedly, a lot of this sounds counter-intuitive, but when you're talking about a great offense like Atlanta's, the best you can realistically hope for is to keep their scoring down to about a league-average level, and hope your own offense can do better than that.

And New England's offense certainly can do better than that, especially against this defense. The Falcons were horrible against the run in their good and bad games alike, but their pass defense went from "below average" over the whole season to "total incompetence" in their four bad games.
 

RedOctober3829

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Great post, RO.

In terms of getting to Ryan, do we know who was beat for those 37 sacks? Who would be the weak link from a pass blocking perspective?
I haven't found who has given up the sacks in part because I don't have a PFF account. Whoever does can post their pass blocking grades. My educated guesses would be that they can pressure easier around the end than up the middle especially if Alex Mack is healthy. Andy Levitre is a man inside as well.
 

DJnVa

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Some other numbers from FO looking at ATL running the ball:

They are 22nd in the league (in Adjusted Line Yards) when running around the left end, yet run that 16% of the time, which is 5th most. They are 21st in the league (in Adjusted Line Yards) when running around the right end, yet again, run that way 16% of the time, again 5th in the league. They are 4th running up the middle, but no one in the NFL does it less often.

In short, FO tracks 5 runs (left end, left tackle, mid/guard, right tackle, right end) and ATL is below average in 2 of those 5, yet run it that way more than 80% of the teams. The places they do well, they run it less than one would think.

They appear to run AWAY from their run-blocking strength.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ol
 

rodderick

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Interesting factoids from Twitter:
Adam Lefkoe ‏@AdamLefkoe 6h6 hours ago
Kyle Shanahan has faced Belichick twice:
'09 Texans: 34 Points
'11 Washington: 27 Points
He did this with Matt Schaub and Rex Grossman.

Adam Lefkoe ‏@AdamLefkoe 6h
In two games vs. Belichick, Kyle Shanahan's offenses averaged:
30.5 points
451 Total Yards
157 Rushing Yards
27 First Downs
Well, to provide a little context, the 2009 matchup was a meaningless game for the Pats, and in 2011 their defense was horrendous, ranking 31st in the league in yards allowed. Don't think this means much.
 

Super Nomario

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Well, to provide a little context, the 2009 matchup was a meaningless game for the Pats, and in 2011 their defense was horrendous, ranking 31st in the league in yards allowed. Don't think this means much.
This is true. But what gives me pause is the Pats have had some of their worst defensive performances against the Shanahan / Kubiak tree. The Texans put up 31 points on the Pats in '13 even in the midst of a 14-game losing streak, the Mike Shanahan / Kubiak Broncos teams put up at least 24 points in each of five meetings between 2001 and 2006 (when the Pats had largely excellent defenses), and the Ravens put up 31 in the divisional round two years ago.
 

RedOctober3829

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This is true. But what gives me pause is the Pats have had some of their worst defensive performances against the Shanahan / Kubiak tree. The Texans put up 31 points on the Pats in '13 even in the midst of a 14-game losing streak, the Mike Shanahan / Kubiak Broncos teams put up at least 24 points in each of five meetings between 2001 and 2006 (when the Pats had largely excellent defenses), and the Ravens put up 31 in the divisional round two years ago.
I think a common denominator in the Kubiak tree games is the excellent use of the tight end. Recently, Owen Daniels in Baltimore and Denver used to kill the Patriots down the middle of the field. Atlanta has 3 solid TEs to worry about.
 

Captaincoop

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I would throw that 2009 result out 100%, especially since the Pats had nothing to play for (several regulars were inactive, including Wilfork) and 21 of the 34 points were scored in the fourth quarter on turnovers that gave the Texans a short field.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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This is true. But what gives me pause is the Pats have had some of their worst defensive performances against the Shanahan / Kubiak tree. The Texans put up 31 points on the Pats in '13 even in the midst of a 14-game losing streak, the Mike Shanahan / Kubiak Broncos teams put up at least 24 points in each of five meetings between 2001 and 2006 (when the Pats had largely excellent defenses), and the Ravens put up 31 in the divisional round two years ago.
I agree with the point in general but it should be added that we've also stuffed those offenses on quite a few occasions. We crushed Denver 41-7 in 2008, two of the games against Kubiak in Houston were big time drubbings 40-7 and 42-14, and we've done pretty well defensively against Kubiak's Denver teams with the exception of the 4th Q and OT of the first 2015 game (when our defense just ran out of gas and fell apart, I don't think scheme had much to do with it).
 

Eck'sSneakyCheese

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I think a common denominator in the Kubiak tree games is the excellent use of the tight end. Recently, Owen Daniels in Baltimore and Denver used to kill the Patriots down the middle of the field. Atlanta has 3 solid TEs to worry about.
Atlanta has 2 healthy TE's, Toilolo and Hooper and I wouldn't call either solid. Tamme is on IR.
 

Soxy

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This felt right anecdotally and looking at the Falcons game logs seems to support it.

Jones has had eight 100+ yard games this season. Half of those games were losses. And it's not like Atlanta was constantly playing catch-up in those games and were forced to abandon the run. Really the only game where that happened was their opening day loss to Tampa.

Julio's average statline in Atlanta losses this season: 7.4 catches, 125.4 yards, 0.4 TDs.

In Atlanta wins (edit: realized I borked this the first time): 5.5 catches, 93.5 yards, 0.6 TDs

Julio having a big game isn't a death sentence. And Atlanta has clearly proven that they can still beat teams without Jones doing a whole lot.

Edit to add: I think Belichick's defensive philosophy is often incorrectly stated as "taking away an offense's best player" when what he really tries to do is "take away what an offense does best." The two aren't the same thing. Julio Jones is their best player, and a lot of what they do plays off of him. But throwing the ball to Julio Jones isn't really what Atlanta does best. What Atlanta does best is attack you with multiple weapons at every skill position, at every level of the field. Funneling their offense into a predictable mode of attack, even if that means forcing maybe the best receiver in the NFL to beat you, isn't really the craziest thing in the world.

That said, it's still easier said than done. Atlanta can beat you with a lot of different players in a lot of different ways. That's what makes them so tough to defend. You have to pick your poison and try to limit the damage. Focus all of your efforts on stopping Julio Jones and you'll likely be successful at that. But it won't matter because the other guys will be ripping your defense apart.
 
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Stitch01

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This is true. But what gives me pause is the Pats have had some of their worst defensive performances against the Shanahan / Kubiak tree. The Texans put up 31 points on the Pats in '13 even in the midst of a 14-game losing streak, the Mike Shanahan / Kubiak Broncos teams put up at least 24 points in each of five meetings between 2001 and 2006 (when the Pats had largely excellent defenses), and the Ravens put up 31 in the divisional round two years ago.
Not really.

The Pats had a good to elite defense in 2003 and 2004. Denver scored 26 points in 2003 but only had 277 yards on 13 possessions excluding end of half. They ran a kick for a TD, got a famous safety, and had a 28 yard TD drive off of a turnover.

2002 the Pats were pretty mediocre and teams just ran the ball down their throat starting in the Kansas City game. Graded out middle of the pack by DVOA overall, nearly the worst team in run defense by DVOA. 10 of the last 13 teams went over 100 yards rushing including Denver. Holley's book had a section on Belichick talking about how bad and slow the defensive personnel was in a postseason review of the team.

2005 the defense was straight up bad and among the very worst teams in the league defensively although they improved as the season went on (and Bruschi returned). Denver played the Patriots twice this season. The playoff game they had 286 yards on 14 drives, 27 points were driven by 5 Pats turnovers. The first game may have been the worst game played by a Pats secondary in the BB era (looking at you Duane Starks)

2001 they graded out OK for the season but really came on late.(30, 26,17 given up in the three games prior to Denver in '01). They were nothing special at midseason and the Pats threw 5 picks against Denver (1 by Patten) although the per play/drive numbers were still pretty bad for the Pats defense.

Pats also beat the Broncos in 2000 for BB's first win (in a game that also featured an intentional safety for foreshadowing)!

2006 Pats were also a good/elite defense. The Broncos beat NE that year, but only scored 17 points and punted 8 of 11 possessions, although they had 400 yards on 11 drives as Brady hadnt figured out how to use the pile of feces that was the receiving corps that season.

A big part of the Broncos relative success against the Pats has been due to the schedule. Broncos have been overweight playing the weaker Pats teams (4 games from '02, '09, '05, no games in '04, '07. '10) and fortunate scheduling within other seasons (2 games in '13 and '15 after the injury bug hit Gronk and the O-line, early game in '06 with the terrible new receiving corps, early game in '01).

That's not to take credit away from the Broncos, they pretty much ran the table against weaker Pats teams that still finished with good records which is pretty damn impressive, but the better Pats teams have pretty much handled the Broncos like they have every other team in the league not named the Giants (Pats Super Bowl teams are 5-1 against Denver)

That's also not to say Im not worried about the Atlanta offense or no impressed with Shanahan. Stats will say otherwise, but I think this is a harder matchup than the '13 Broncos and the '06 Colts and right up there with the '01 Rams for the biggest challenge a Pats defense faced in the playoffs.
 

mwonow

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I'm personally really happy with a 'Kyle Shanahan owns BB' storyline. Hopefully, some of the Atl folks will believe it. BB needs no additional motivation, but hey, if it results in an FU sack or something, no harm there...
 

lambeau

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I'm not worried--I think BB has bee building a defense for this kind of West Coast team. Ryan is a pocket passer who spreads the ball. I think we see three safeties more than half the time, with Chung shadowing Fteeman or Coleman.
Butler could shut down the shifty Taylor Gabriel, who has been very productive lately, giving them field position with
long gains. Sanu is not a deep threat.He can be contained. Without Tamme, the TE's shouldn't be a factor.
Against very good defenses--Denver and Seattle--they got 23 and 24; sounds about right.
 

Kenny F'ing Powers

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This is true. But what gives me pause is the Pats have had some of their worst defensive performances against the Shanahan / Kubiak tree. The Texans put up 31 points on the Pats in '13 even in the midst of a 14-game losing streak, the Mike Shanahan / Kubiak Broncos teams put up at least 24 points in each of five meetings between 2001 and 2006 (when the Pats had largely excellent defenses), and the Ravens put up 31 in the divisional round two years ago.
Are people expecting the Patriots to hold them under 24 points?
 

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When I look at the last game the Patriots had to defend arguably the best wide receiver in the league and one if not the best running back with along one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. The Steelers had a lot of offensive weapons. Granted Bell got hurt early but the Patriots seems capable of handling powerful offenses. I think the key to this game will be red zone defense. Forcing Atlanta to take field goals instead of touchdowns. But make them go a long way and take a long time to get three points. The kicking game and special teams will be critical. I see it as quite possible this game is won by Ghost or Bryant. Bryant has had the better season.
 

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When I look at the last game the Patriots had to defend arguably the best wide receiver in the league and one if not the best running back with along one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. The Steelers had a lot of offensive weapons. Granted Bell got hurt early but the Patriots seems capable of handling powerful offenses. I think the key to this game will be red zone defense. Forcing Atlanta to take field goals instead of touchdowns. But make them go a long way and take a long time to get three points. The kicking game and special teams will be critical. I see it as quite possible this game is won by Ghost or Bryant. Bryant has had the better season.
The PIT offense on the road, effectively without Bell, is an order of magnitude weaker than ATL at a neutral site. Ben has big home/road splits this year. I thought our D did great against PIT and I'm cautiously optimistic overall, but I don't think the above gives ATL enough credit.
 

coremiller

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Lets make some separate threads for different aspects of the matchup.

What do you see the Patriots trying to do to contain Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense?

Just to kick things off, other than stopping Julio Jones, I think one of the biggest challenges will be handling their RBs in the passing game. The duo of Freeman and Coleman caught over 80% of their combined targets. Coleman averaged 13.6 yards per reception out of the backfield, which is just ridiculous. Do we have the LBs to match up in man coverage on those backs? To me, this seems like a major concern that might really shape our overall scheme and game plan.
To the extent these splits mean anything, New England ranked 20th in DVOA on defending passes to RBs, while Freeman was 6th among RBs in receiving DVOA and Coleman was 1st. That seems like a big matchup edge for Atlanta. And NE can't go nickle/dime too much because Atlanta will then be happy to run outside zone all game long for 5+ yards a pop.
 

Super Nomario

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To the extent these splits mean anything, New England ranked 20th in DVOA on defending passes to RBs, while Freeman was 6th among RBs in receiving DVOA and Coleman was 1st. That seems like a big matchup edge for Atlanta. And NE can't go nickle/dime too much because Atlanta will then be happy to run outside zone all game long for 5+ yards a pop.
You have to give them something. To me, you live with inviting them to run. Even if they average 5 YPC (and the Pats' run D is pretty good), there's enough variance there that you'll force third downs some of the time. They'll rip off some seven/eight yard runs but then have plays where someone misses a block and they only get one or two and now it's third-and-four or whatever and the D has a chance to get off the field. At any rate, that seems like a better bet than letting them throw (where they average a lot more than 5 YPA).

I don't think either defense can enter this game thinking it can shut down the other offense. It will come down to slowing them down, resisting, and getting key stops. The NFCCG is a good example: the Packers forced 3rd-and-6, 3rd-and-11, and 3rd-and-2 on the opening drive but couldn't get off the field. Then they drove down Atlanta's 23 and the Falcons dialed up a blitz on 3rd-and-4 and Green Bay couldn't convert. I think it'll come down to stuff like that - who can force the O to convert several first downs to move down the field, and who can come up with a handful of key stops / plays.
 

DJnVa

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To the extent these splits mean anything, New England ranked 20th in DVOA on defending passes to RBs, while Freeman was 6th among RBs in receiving DVOA and Coleman was 1st. That seems like a big matchup edge for Atlanta. And NE can't go nickle/dime too much because Atlanta will then be happy to run outside zone all game long for 5+ yards a pop.
Atlanta was very bad running outside this year--like below league average.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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To the extent these splits mean anything, New England ranked 20th in DVOA on defending passes to RBs, while Freeman was 6th among RBs in receiving DVOA and Coleman was 1st. That seems like a big matchup edge for Atlanta. And NE can't go nickle/dime too much because Atlanta will then be happy to run outside zone all game long for 5+ yards a pop.
Yup. They are really hard to match up against. Just anecdotally, it seemed like NE got better toward the end of the year in defending passes to RBs, especially as Van Noy - probably our most athletic RB - got integrated into the mix. There were some games when this was a real achilles heel - CJ Prosise killed us against the Seawhawks off the top of my head - but it seemed like it was handled better late in the year. Still, I wouldn't call it a strength and Atlanta is pretty clearly one of the very best, if not the very best, teams in the league at throwing to the RBs.

I think "big nickel" will be the default even against relatively heavy personnel groupings like 12 and 21, despite the weaknesses with the run game. We'll still play two big DTs to give us some heft inside but probably otherwise concede the outside run matchup disadvantage. At least, that is how BB has often approached matchups against high powered passing offenses in other situations. Our corners are pretty good run support players so that helps a little but I agree that outside zone runs are going to be a challenge.
 

bakahump

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I think they invite the Outside runs but drill the DEs to HOLD THE EDGE long enough for the DTs LBs and Heavy Nickel Secondary to come up and make the tackle for a 2 yard gain.
Like the famous "Thomas needs to run for 100 SB Plan" I think this will be "We have to Contain the Run by Holding the edge and not worry so much about the DE Pass Rush...against the MVP QB" Counter intuitive but I think thats what they do.
 

coremiller

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Atlanta was very bad running outside this year--like below league average.
Were they? Their Adjusted Line Yards were not great on outside runs but that's not quite the same thing. I was just referencing outside zone because Shanahan comes from his dad and Kubiak's tree, where outside zone is the base run play. Atlanta's ALY running up the middle was excellent, and they were a good rushing team overall, so maybe they'll run inside zone more than outside (of course outside zone runs can end up going through the middle of the line as well if the cutback opportunities that are part of the objective of the play develop).
 

Super Nomario

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Were they? Their Adjusted Line Yards were not great on outside runs but that's not quite the same thing. I was just referencing outside zone because Shanahan comes from his dad and Kubiak's tree, where outside zone is the base run play. Atlanta's ALY running up the middle was excellent, and they were a good rushing team overall, so maybe they'll run inside zone more than outside (of course outside zone runs can end up going through the middle of the line as well if the cutback opportunities that are part of the objective of the play develop).
I agree, I'm not sure the directional rushing numbers are at all meaningful for a team that runs the zone stretch scheme Atlanta does.