Pressure has been cited as one of the keys to the game for Atlanta, and thus far their defensive line is definitely making its presence known.
Falcons Win Toss, Kick Off to Patriots
After a coin flip by President George H.W. Bush (tails), Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons kicked off at 6:37 p.m. Eastern at NRG Stadium in Houston. After winning the toss, the Falcons deferred, giving the Patriots the ball to start the game.
After a week dominated by political discussions, Tom Brady’s chances of winning a fifth Super Bowl, and curiosity of what Lady Gaga’s halftime performance could entail, the talk on Sunday turned decidedly to football. President Trump predicted an 8-point victory for his good friend Tom Brady, but the biggest issue seemed to be the uncertain status of Alex Mack, the Falcons’ star center, who will reportedly be playing with a fractured fibula.
Overcoming a significant injury to play in the Super Bowl is hardly a new phenomenon, with Terrell Owens having played a starring role for the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX despite having fractured the same bone as Mack. But no one knows how effective Mack can be, or how long he will be able to stay on the field. Any disruption in line play could dramatically alter Atlanta’s high-flying offense, as Mack is not only great at managing handoffs but was rated as the top run-blocking center in the game by Pro Football Focus.
Despite a wide gap of experience between the two teams, both sides remained calm and composed all week. Atlanta Coach Dan Quinn emphasized a team-first business-like approach to the Falcons that was honed in his time in Seattle, and Patriots Coach Bill Belichick continued to run the league’s tightest ship.
What the Patriots and Falcons Need to Do to Win
A look at some of the key matchups between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI reveals a game that should be competitive no matter how much the Patriots’ experience appears to give them an advantage. Keep an eye on these story lines:
■ Offense vs. Defense: The game is a matchup of the highest-scoring team in the N.F.L. (Atlanta) and the team that allowed the fewest points (New England). But there is more to it than that. The Patriots have plenty of offensive firepower, and the Falcons have steadily improved on the defensive end throughout the season, thanks to the heavy emphasis on teamwork from Coach Dan Quinn, who helped build the great Seattle Seahawks defensive units.
■ Pressure on Brady: The closest thing that exists to a successful game plan against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is to collapse the pocket and put a solid amount of pressure on him. But for that to work, the opposing team has to apply the pressure without blitzing, because Brady is an expert at exploiting short-handed coverage. That means Vic Beasley, the Falcons’ second-year star at defensive end, could be the key player of the game in either direction. If he continues his recent run of success, the Patriots are in trouble.
■ Stopping Julio: On defense, the Patriots have frequently tried to eliminate the top receiving option on the other team, forcing opponents to beat them with their secondary weapons. That is a problem against the Falcons, because Julio Jones requires so much attention to slow him down that the field will be wide open for Atlanta’s dynamic running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, as well as their other receiving options like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
■ Wrecking Ball: Much has been written about New England’s wide receivers, and how they have done a tremendous job in the absence of Rob Gronkowski. But if the Patriots want to exploit a well-coached defense that is lacking top-shelf talent, a better bet might be to run at them repeatedly with the bone-crunching LeGarrette Blount, and look for spots to let Martellus Bennett exploit his tremendous physical advantages over anyone the Falcons put against him in coverage. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola rely on making fewer mistakes than their opponents, while Blount and Bennett can create their own opportunities.
■ Experience vs. Hunger: The Patriots are playing in the team’s record-breaking ninth Super Bowl and will be in search of the team’s fifth win (the four previous wins all came with Tom Brady at quarterback, and he will be looking to join Charles Haley as the only players with five Super Bowl rings). The Falcons, who joined the N.F.L. in 1966, are appearing in the game for just the second time. They lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos following the 1998 season.
Continue reading the main story