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New England’s Keys to Victory
New England’s defense, the top-ranked defense during the regular season, will be the deciding factor in this game. During the regular season, opposing teams only managed 15.6 points per game against them. Their defense has been formidable for the entire season, but I don’t believe it’s as strong as their points against suggests. They rank 9th in the NFL in yards against, which is still good, but it shows that teams can move the ball against their defense.
According to Pro Football Focus’ Player Grades, New England’s right side of their defense is quite weak, which opposing offenses could take advantage of. For example, Ninkovich (DL), Chung (S), Valentine (DT), Rowe (CB), and Robert (LB) all have either poor or average grades for this season. In addition, there are no players considered “elite” on the Patriots defense. McCourty and Butler are close to being elite, but still aren’t there. In comparison to Atlanta’s offense, who the Patriots defense has to face, Atlanta has one player who is considered poor, while New England has three.
The player grades point to one thing. New England’s talent doesn’t represent how their defense has played this season. Just think about it, the defense has no elite players and other major holes. How did they only surrender 15 points per game? I think a lot of it has to do with Bill Belichick’s game plans, which are more innovative than any other coach in NFL history. Players win games, though, and Bill Belichick gives his players the best opportunity to succeed. On Sunday, the Patriots defense will face an elite offense, so a lack of talent may be exposed, unless Bill Belichick’s magic touch is legit.
Belichick and the Patriots need to stop Julio Jones. According to FiveThirtyEight and Pro Football Focus’ player ratings, Julio Jones is the best WR in the league – by far. Jones had a grade this season of 95.4, which is more than six points better than Antonio Brown, who many consider to be the best in the league. It makes sense, as he is a physical specimen. At 6-3 220 LB, Jones is massive, but also extremely fast, running a 4.3 at the NFL scouting combine in 2011. He’s also agile, performing near the top of all athletes at the combine in the 60 yard shuttle. He is one of the rarest forms of size, strength, and speed. To go with that physical package, his skills are also elite. According to the same FiveThirtyEight article, Jones is the only player to rank in the top 40 of each of the following statistics: targets per route, air yards per target, catch rate, yards after catch, and run-blocking grade. His combination of size and athleticism makes him one of the most talented receivers of all-time.
Belichick is going to look to shut down Jones. Belichick seems to always find a way, through the game plan, to take out the opposing team’s best player. Jones has the talent to take over the game and there’s no one even close to the talent of Jones on their defense. Therefore, a big key for New England will be finding a way to stop Julio Jones. If they can, then they’ll go on to win the game. If they can’t, advantage Atlanta.
In regards to New England’s offense, they’ll be fine. This is Tom Brady’s 7th Super Bowl appearance. He has had one of the best seasons ever by an NFL quarterback and they face an average defense in Atlanta. The Patriot’s offense is going to play great no matter what.
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Atlanta’s Keys to Victory
Atlanta’s offense should have no issues. However, they’ll need an all-time great performance to beat New England. Luckily, they’ve been playing at an all-time great level (on offense) for most of the season and throughout the playoffs.
New England is going to look to stop Julio Jones, so no matter how well Jones is playing, his game will be limited by Belichick. Atlanta needs Jones to win the Super Bowl. He’s going to have to beat double coverage consistently, and when he does, he needs to make big plays while he has the ball (yards after catch). An early emergence of Jones should open up the game for his teammates. It will be necessary for Ryan to spread the ball around, and he should be able to if Belichick has double coverage on Jones. If Ryan can do that, it’ll force the Patriots to make a decision. Let everyone else dominate, while containing Jones, or take the help off Jones to play a more traditional defense, which Jones will likely take advantage of.
Mohamed Sanu should be a big beneficiary of the Patriots presumed game plan. Look for him to have a big day with many targets early to try and force the Patriots to take the double coverage off Julio Jones.
Defensively, there are not high expectations. They are an improving defense that was horrible at the beginning of the year. The defense just can’t fall apart and can’t give up big plays. They need to make sure that players like Hogan and Edelman don’t get behind them for long gains and touchdowns. In addition, the Patriots are 16-0 with Dion Lewis. I don’t believe that Lewis is the only reason behind those wins, but there’s definitely some correlation. Therefore, Atlanta must contain Lewis.
Atlanta needs to contain New England’s offense. As long as that happens, the game will be close and in the hands of Atlanta’s offense.
Look out for Vic Beasley Jr. and Atlanta’s pass rush. They are going to need constant pressure to help the average Atlanta defense. I don’t see them being able to disrupt Brady, so that’s why stopping him isn’t a major key, but maybe they can get lucky by forcing a fumble or two on Brady. I don’t expect New England to turn the football over, but as always, every turnover will go a long way to Atlanta winning.
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.