The Atalanta Falcons and the New England Patriots bring to a conclusion, whats been an enthralling 2016 season (minus 90% of the playoff games) to an end, as the two teams clash in Houston, to determine who’ll be crowned Super Bowl LI Champions.
Men Under Center
Both Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, have led the conversation when it comes to the topic of MVP. The pair have gone about their craft, dispatching so-called front-runners with ease. Matt Ryan lead the Falcons to the NFC South Division title (first since 2012). Along the way Ryan set career highs in yards passing (4944), touchdowns (38), completion percentage (69.9%), and interceptions.
Despite missing the first four games of the season (suspended), Tom Brady’s completion percentage of 67.4 was the second highest of his career, as he swept aside the rest of the AFC East, for the an eighth consecutive division title. Even more astonishing is the fact that Brady threw just 2 interceptions, from 432 passing attempts.
Lets turn our attention from the men at the forefront of the passing game, to the architects of the respective offenses. Regarded as two of the brightest, young, talented playcallers in today’s game, offensive coordinators Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan, find themselves one perfect gameplan away from holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy. A victory for either man, will propel them to the forefront of every owners mind, should they find themselves looking for a new head coach (Kyle Shanahan is expected to be named the new 49ers Head Coach after the Super Bowl).
McDaniels offense places the emphasis on the ground game, combined with a short passing attack. The Patriots will showcase multiply formations (bunch formations, splitting out the running backs etc) and numerous combinations of personnel . All this is window dressing, as in fact they call relatively simple plays, that are easy to call at the line of scrimmage (think that Tom Brady’s hurry up offense). Take into consideration all of the above, is easy to see why opposing defenses struggle to contain the Patriots offense. Another feature of the offense, is that they have the ability to turn any particular player, on any given Sunday into an MVP for that game.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense is largely based on the outside zone running scheme. The objective is to spread the opposing defense across the width of the field, to create cutback lanes for the likes of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons use this concept to create a whole host of big plays, that come about off the play action fakes. Should opposing defenses look to take away the big plays down the field, the Falcons will simple have their pass catchers settle down behind those linebackers that bite on the run. Shanahan has variations of the wheel route that he uses to devastating effect, will the Patriots be able to seal the edge quick enough?
All Eyes On The Defense
The Falcons have the edge when it comes down to raw speed and youth. Rookie Deion Jones is arguably one of the quickest linebackers in the NFL. Jones lead the team in tackles (106), recorded 2 interceptions and defended 11 passes. Behind Jones, playing the enforcer role is hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal. The 17th overall pick of this years draft has 5 forced fumbles, along with 105 tackles. Brian Poole and De’Vondre Campbell bring the number of rookies set to start in a Super bowl, to a total of four!
The NFL’s sack leader (15.5) Vic Beasley has been quiet during the playoffs, making just 2 tackles. Adding some experience to the younger defense is the master of the spin move Dwight Freeney. The 36 year old will be looking to add to his impressive total of 122.5 sacks as he bids to win the second Super Bowl of his career. Ra’Shede Hageman and Grady Jarrett will look to make Brady uncomfortable by applying the pressure up the middle.
The Patriots haven’t’ allowed a 90 yard rusher in 25 straight games. Defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown have a huge role to play, as they bid to keep this Falcons potent running attack at bay. The matchup between cornerback Malcolm Butler and sensational wideout Julio Jones will be an enthralling contest (more on this here). Opposite Butler, Logan Ryan has put together an impressive second half of the season and will likely be matched up against Mohamed Sanu.
Both quarterbacks will look to spread the ball around. Julian Edelman will look to expose the holes in zone coverage whilst hero of the AFC Championship game Chris Hogan provides the Patriots with a deep threat. Tight End Marellus Bennett will look to expose the inexperience within the secondary.
Running the ball will be key to keeping Matt Ryan on the sidelines. LeGarrette Blount will carry the load, despite being held to 51 yards or less during his last 5 outings. Beyond Blount the Patriots will utilize the pass catching ability of fellow running backs James White and Dion Lewis.
Free agent editions Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu have had a huge impact on the team. The pair have accounted for 1232 yards within the passing attack. ‘26.07% of the team’s total passing yards (4725). Tight end Austin Hooper and fullback Patrick DiMarco could prove to be critical outlets as they look to expose any soft coverage.