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Time: 1:00 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts
Radio: 98.5 FM: The Sports Hub
The Patriots have fallen to a 1-1 record and have seemed like a shell of their former selves. They struggled through the Buffalo game, and thanks to make a miraculous comeback, they won in the waning minutes. Then they couldn’t silence the Jets’ mouths and looked old. Now, they are welcoming the Atlanta Falcons to Foxboro and could use Sunday’s matchup as a statement game.
They are one of the toughest teams in one the toughest divisions in football. In the NFC South, where no team finished below .500 last season, the Falcons finished with a surprising 11-5 record behind two rookies: quarterback Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith. The team had low expectations, but surprised many by clinching a Wild Card spot, but lost the battle of the Birds to the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.
The team from Hot-lanta is led by Ryan, who in his second year, is establishing himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He currently has five touchdown passses in 2009 and has found a nice target in offseason addition Tony Gonzalez. The 13-year, future Hall of Famer is leading the Falcons in receiving (144 yards) and touchdowns (2). He is another dangerous weapon in the Ryan arsenal along with Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and Jerious Norwood.
Not to be forgotten is Michael Turner. He is in the top ten in rushing, after finishing second last season behind only Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. The former backup to LaDainian Tomlinson, Turner has proven to be a powerful uphill runner and a back who can lead the team to a victory.
The Falcons defense is lead by John Abraham and Mike Peterson, but has not been as potent as originally thought. The defense has been allowing nearly 350 total yards in the first two games of the season. They have only racked up five sacks and two interceptionsin 2009 and they lack a potent secondary. They have the ability to get pressure on the quarterback, and if they play to their potential, they could be dangerous to the Patriots’ chances.
Randy Moss looked damn good in the first game with 141 receiving yards, but after only grabbing 24 yards against the Jets, he has to step up. The Falcons secondary is not as physical as the Jets and Moss should be getting more separation. Julian Edelman was close to 100 yards himself last week and seemed to be Tom Brady’s No. 1 target. With Wes Welker possibly out again, look for Edelman to establish himself early and often in the short yardage passes. It’s important to note, however, that Welker, Moss, and Edelman are all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
Joey Galloway, seemingly the only healthy receiver on the team, was brought in to be a speed threat to the Patriots passing game. However, he has appeared to lose a step and not be insync at all with Brady. Maybe his legs have caught up with his age and after 15 seasons, he is not the deep target he once was. With Welker out, he is the Pats number two guy and needs to work hard to improve on his 53 total receiving yards so far.
The Patriots offense has been in one mode lately: passing. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson had 41 more rushing yards last week then New England has all season; 197 for Johnson compared to the 156 the Patriots ran for. More shocking, Tom Brady currently has the fourth most rushing yards on the team with 11. A running back core featuring Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis should never see Brady on that list.
If the running back can not find a way to break though, then Sunday could be a long day for the Pats offense. The Falcons defense might have the opportunity to sit back and play for the long ball, not needing to get pressure on Brady and instead keep up on the receivers. New England’s play calling will need to leave the passing and switch to more running if they want to stand a chance.
By controlling the clock, the Patriots can control the tempo of the game and keep Matt Ryan and Michael Turner on the bench. The Falcons rolled past Miami in the first game 19-7, but needed big plays to stop the Carolina Panthers 28-20. In both games, time of possession was close, as it was separated by less then three minutes each game. Turner was able to gain first downs when needed and keep the killer offense on the field.
What the Falcons weren’t able to do was stop the other team. They have allowed the opposing team to complete third down plays nearly half of the time (47 percent). In maintaining a solid running game, the Patriots could run out the clock and run out the Falcons chances in the big plays.
Last week, Mark Sanchez was only the second rookie quarterback to beat New England in the Bill Belichick era (Ben Roethlisberger was the other QB in 2004). In his second year, former BC Quarterback Matt Ryan is looking to come in and make a statement. Getting pressure on Ryan is a must and stopping the big plays down the field are crucial for a win. Brandon Meriweather and Shawn Springs will need to stay toe-to-toe with the many Falcons weapons, in order to control the passing game.
More important to the defense’s success is the linebacking core and defensive line. Gary Guyton and Adalius Thomas will need to plug any holes in order to stop Michael Turner. Should Turner find the open field in the secondary, he will eat up yards. The Patriots will need to hit Turner at the line to stop him from being the playmaker of the game.
The Patriots are the only team to avoid losing the fumble at all this season. It is most likely due to the lack of running backs getting the ball, but nonetheless it’s a fantastic stat. Tom Brady has been averaging an interception a game, including a pick-six from Aaron Schobel in Week 1. Taking the pressure off the passing game and relying more on the backs could let Brady have a consistent day passing.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has to get some turnovers of their own. The defense has caused four fumbles and has recovered two of them, the most famous of which came during the kickoff against Buffalo. There have been questions about the secondary, and why not? They have not recorded an interception on the season. The closest the Pats have come was a blocked pass that traveled through linebacker Adaluis Thomas’ arms. Turnovers will help a team win and an aggressive defense will cause those turnovers.
New England is the favorite this week by a slim margin. However, that should not count out the Falcons. They are an explosive offense that can put up points at a moment’s notice. Expect a hard-hitting, smash mouth game that should be controlled by the running backs on both sides. The Patriots will have to keep the Falcons stars off the field and pick apart the defense to pull out a second win on the season. Prediction: Patriots 17, Falcons 13.
Tags: Adalius Thomas, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Brandon Meriwether, Fred Taylor, Gary Guyton, Jerious Norwood, Joey Galloway, Jonathan Abrahams, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Matt Ryan, Michael Jenkins, Michael Turner, Mike Peterson, Patriots, Randy Moss, Roddy White, Sammy Morris, Shawn Springs, Tom Brady, Tony Gonzalez