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Defending the Falcons RBs Will Be a Key to a Patriots Victory

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
February 1, 2017 at 7:22 am ET

Defending the Falcons RBs Will Be a Key to a Patriots Victory(PHOTO: Stew Milne - USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Feb 01, 2017 07:22
🕑 Read Time: 3 minutes

The Patriots are facing the #1 offense in the NFL in the Atlanta Falcons and have to stop multiple targets of Matt Ryan in order to be successful in Super Bowl LI.

It isn’t just Julio Jones, who will no doubt receive the double teams that the Pats defense has under Bill Belichick saddled on most of the top WRs that they face. Stopping the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be just as important if not even more so on Sunday night.

Both backs are dangerous in both the running and passing game and are huge factors in the Falcons success. The Falcons’ top scoring offense excels on first down where the team averages over 6 yards per play. That sets them up for easier success in moving the chains and looking for big plays when they’re already in great position in terms of down and distance.

How do they do it? They disguise their intent as well as anyone, showing run in a tight formation or pass in a spread and use their speed to find holes in the defense. The two have combined for 2482 yards and 24 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2016 in the running and passing games.

They can run between the tackles or break it to the outside and find big yardage if the edge isn’t set. Both are excellent pass receivers out of the backfield and frequently line up as receivers split wide, much like the Patriots do with James White and Dion Lewis.

Both are very fast but Freeman is the shiftier of the two and can make more people miss. Coleman isn’t as elusive but has more speed and once he sees an opening can blast into a gap and be gone.

The Falcons will have probably studied the film the last time the Patriots lost, back in November against the Seahawks. Seattle used RB C.J. Prosise expertly, in both the running game and out of the backfield and he was a major factor in the Seahawks success.

They may also take the approach they used in their big win in Denver where both Coleman and Freeman were nearly unstoppable out of the backfield against Denver’s defense.

How do the Patriots defend against the two? It starts with Alan Branch and Malcom Brown inside. The two big men will have slow things up as they’ve done so effectively all season. If they hold the line at the point of attack, that allows the linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts to fly up and make plays before the backs get to the second level.

But the players on the edge, Trey Flowers, Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard, must do a great job of setting the edge and not allowing the backs to hit the edge with speed. One thing in the Patriots favor is their tackling ability. The Pats have been one of the surer tackling teams in the NFL this season.

In the passing game, Belichick and Matt Patricia may put linebacker Kyle Van Noy or Shea McClellin in coverage against one of the tandem and may press safety Pat Chung into a coverage role down low. It is going to be an interesting chess match to see how they try to matchup. But first and most importantly they have to stop or at least slow down the running game.

In the four games where Atlanta failed to rush for more than 80 yards, they lost three of them. The Patriots were 8-0 when holding an opponent to 80 yards rushing or less. Nobody has done it to Atlanta lately and they’ve had their way with every defense they’ve faced.

The Patriots may dust off their Super Bowl XXXVI defensive game plan against Marshall Faulk and the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf”. They were very physical and hit the RB every time he came to the line. It threw off the rhythm and allowed the Patriots to hold that high-powered offense in check.

Hit them, be physical and slow their timing down while putting the offense in much less favorable conditions to make first downs is a key recipe for success. It will be a tall order against the most prolific offense in the NFL this season.

We’ll break down all of the key matchups later this week but this will definitely be one of them to watch.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Posted Under: NFL Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Atlanta Falcons Bill Belichick Devonta Freeman Dont'a Hightower Falcons running backs Julio Jones Matt Patricia Matt Ryan NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Ninkovich Super Bowl LI Tevin Coleman Tom Brady Trey Flowers

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