The 51st Superbowl is fewer than 72 hours away, so we continue our build-up by looking at ways to stop the Atlanta offense.
Super Bowl LI is a dream for the NFL, because it pitches the season’s top offense, Atlanta, against the top defense. So much of this game depends upon whether the Falcons’ Frisco-bound offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can outwit the Patriots’ defensive gurus, Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia.
Atlanta certainly has that capability. It has a quarterback with a rapid-fire arm in Matt Ryan, a world class receiver in Julio Jones and a pair of running backs that other teams would envy in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Add to that two other decent receivers in Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. That’s a lot of talent for any defense to deal with, but it isn’t an insurmountable problem.
One of the keys to stopping the Falcons may well be to dial back on the aggression. Ryan releases the ball so quickly that it neutralises some traditional pass-rush concepts. Delayed blitzing, or indeed not blitzing at all, takes advantage of his tendency to overthink plays if given more time than he expects in the pocket.
At the same time, no team can just allow Ryan to sit there, unpressured, and pick them apart. The occasional double-A gap blitz, between the center and guards, is a particular vulnerability and even if the rusher doesn’t come close to him, Ryan’s footwork still occasionally goes to pieces when he’s under pressure.
An area which will also be crucial in this game is the number of yards that the Falcons can make after the catch. The speed of their receiving corps – which includes the two running backs, who are both excellent at catching passes from the backfield – means that any team will give up yards to them. A key tactic, therefore, is to minimise the number of those yards by hitting the receiver as soon as they have the ball. It is something that New England did well in the AFC Championship game when faced with Antonio Brown, but they’ll have to employ the same tactic closer to the line of scrimmage to avoid ceding huge chunks of yardage to Coleman and Freeman. Look for them to use a linebacker or safety to ‘spy’ at the line of scrimmage and shadow whichever of that pair is in the game at that time.