The Super Bowl 51 rematch is here as the defending champs take on the lead-blowing Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football. This is a tough game for the Patriots on a number of levels. Atlanta will certainly play with something to prove. They had the Super Bowl in hand before falling apart, and yes, it’s a new year and new teams, but the majority of the Falcons are going to play just a bit harder after seeing banner number five hanging over Gillette Stadium.
Then there’s the on-field part of the equation, where the Patriots are off to a horrendous defensive start and now have to face last year’s MVP and one of the best receivers in the game. No, the Falcons haven’t been quite as dominant this year and have in fact lost their last two-straight, both to AFC East opponents, but something tells me they’re going to bring their A game this weekend.
Seven weeks in, as we start to get a better and better sense of who this edition of the Patriots are, it seems like there might be something different about this year’s squad. Whether it was Mike Giardi’s piece here or Mark Daniels on NBC Sports last night, there are murmurs that this team is a lot more guarded and defensive about criticism.
Will that turn 2017 into a rehash of 2009’s “I just can’t get this team to play the way they need to” version? Only time will tell. That team proved over and over again that they weren’t mentally tough and, say what you will about the 2017 Pats, but they’ve certainly shown good resolve in the face of adversity thus far. Just because they aren’t as verbose or media-friendly as years past doesn’t mean they have character problems.
Still, this team has shown plenty of problems on the field. Unprecedented problems. Can they get those corrected and win their third-straight game of the season against a team that will be out for revenge and looking to drop the hammer early and often?
Here’s the gameplan to make it happen.
Sporadic. If there’s one word to describe this Patriots team so far, that’s it. And that’s especially true of the offense, who suddenly seems heavily reliant on big plays to make their offense go. The Dink-and-Dunk days seem to be gone and if Brady isn’t hitting someone deep they’re going three-and-out.
We’ve seen plenty of positive moments from the offense. Dion Lewis had a 2015-esque performance last week, Mike Gillislee has had his moments, Brandin Cooks seems to be progressing each week. Chris Hogan is off to a career-year start and Gronk is still very much Gronk. So what do we need for this offense to truly take its place amongst the best Patriots offenses?
Consistency, especially with the game on the line where they’ve sputtered the last two weeks. And Atlanta is a good matchup to find that consistency. It starts with the run, as Miami was able to spark their own epic comeback against the Falcons with some great off-tackle running last week. That’s why I think this could be the week we finally see a the running back monster firing on all cylinders. What would it look like if Gillislee, Lewis and White get a defense on their heels and just start gashing them with power, speed and finesse?
That might be the answer to the Patriots’ offensive inconsistency, putting them in manageable down-and-distance and eliminating the need to rely on the big plays as the engine that makes the offense go.
Atlanta knows Cooks, but they haven’t gotten a firsthand look at Gronk, so he could be the secret weapon, if anything Gronk could ever qualify as a secret anymore.
As always the Patriots have all the tools to be just as dominant as any previous incarnation of their offense. They just have yet to put it all together for a full game and usually around mid-October is when it tends to happen.
One of the best bits of Patriots intel to ever get snap shotted is this gameplan whiteboard from SB51 and it’s hard to think this week won’t be a similar gameplan. I especially like it because all week before the Super Bowl I hammered away at how important tackling would be and there it is, TACKLING IS THE GAME. Always nice when some of my amateur football analysis is validated.
If the Pats are without Stephon Gilmore once again, and it seems like a good possibility, it will thrust Johnson Bademosi into action again. Bademosi was surprisingly solid last week against the Jets. His size could be useful against Julio Jones, but let’s face it that guy is going to make plays no matter what.
No, I think the true gameplan key this week is #2 on their board — stop the run. We saw really good signs last week of the Patriots run defense coming alive and they’re going to need to be even better this week against Devontae Forman especially. Yes, he blew a key block in the Super Bowl, but he also had some key runs that probably should’ve helped seal the game for the Falcons.
Ryan and the passing offense are going to make plays. It’s a given. But if the running game gets going too the Patriots are going to lose this game, like they should’ve lost the Super Bowl. Atlanta won’t abandon the run if it’s working this time. The only real hope it to keep the down and distance difficult for the Falcons, like the Dolphins did when their pass rush ignited in the second half and started making plays in the backfield.
If Atlanta’s offense stays on schedule they’re are scoring more than 30. I think that’s likely no matter what, but it will be the little things and just one or two key third down stops that make the difference in the game.
Five Points of Emphasis
- 60 Minutes of Good Football: Let’s not get carried away by the SB51 of it all. This game is about the 2017 Patriots and their quest to turn in their first consistent game of good football all season long. There will be ups and downs as there always are against good talented football teams, but a complete game should get the job done if the Patriots finally play up to their potential and stay there.
- Run, Run, Run: I’d love to see a heavy reliance on the running backs in this one, if for no other reason that to frustrate the Atlanta defense who is likely just looking for a chance to get after Tom Brady. Forcing them to deal with Gillislee and Lewis on early downs will really take them out of their gameplan and how they want to play the game. Then, just when they start expecting run, it’s bombs away for Brady, Cooks, et al.
- Safety Dance: I can understand Stephon Gilmore being up and down as a new Patriot but the inconsistency on the back end by three players who were all rare exceptions to earn contract extensions is mind boggling. McCourty, Harmon and Chung must be the leaders we expect them to be, and it’s absolutely critical they keep everyone on the same page and most of all, DON’T BLOW DEEP COVERAGES!!!!
- Don’t Get in a 25-point Hole: This should go without saying right? But really we haven’t seen the Patriots in control of any games for very long this season. Usually they’re clawing back from behind once they realize the game has started and it’s already into the second quarter if not the second half. This feeds into number one of course, but a good start is critical. There won’t be a second 28-3 comeback.
- Win: This is a huge game as far as the season goes. They’ll play San Diego next week then hit the bye and the hardest part of their schedule. A win here would be a solid step forward even if they do give up 30-plus points. We’re into late October now. It’s time to start showing who the real Patriots are and to put all the sporadic success together in one performance. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but a strong start and a strong end that set up a win would be just what this team needs at this point in the season.