The Patriots head to Atlanta on a short week to take on the Falcons on Thursday Night Football as they try to win the fifth game in a row, and improve to 7-4. They’ve beaten the Falcons six straight times including a Super Bowl victory.
This week’s game will be broadcast by FOX. Fox will have its top announcing crew of Joe Buck handling play-by-play, while Troy Aikman handles the color analyst position. Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the radio (98.5 The Sportshub), Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.
Although as we’ve seen multiple times this season, anything can happen on any given week as parity in the NFL has really taken hold, this is a week with teams trending in two directions. In their last four games, Atlanta has been outscored 115-73 while the Patriots have outscored their last four opponents 150-50.
The Falcons will already be missing WR Calvin Ridley and could be without the versatile Cordarelle Patterson who is nursing an ankle injury this week. He has been a real dual-threat with 39 catches for 473 yards and 5 TDs as a WR and 77 carries for 303 more yards on the ground with 2 TDs.
The Patriots (6-4) blew out the Cleveland Browns 45-7 as Mac Jones threw for three touchdowns while Rhamondre Stevenson had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career. The defense stymied Cleveland after its opening drive.
The Falcons (4-5) were blown out by the Dallas Cowboys 43-3. Matt Ryan was held to just 9-21 passing for 117 yards with 0 TDs and 2 INTs. Dallas outgained Atlanta 431-214.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2021 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out. So, here is our look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Falcons Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ running game gashed the #3 unit against the run of the Browns last week for 184 yards. The offensive line play has been trending upward in the last several weeks got Trent Brown returning from IR and the results were electric. Rhamondre Stevenson had a great game earning 64 of his 100 yards after contact.
The Falcons currently have the 21st ranked run defense, allowing 122 yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush. They run a base 3-4 but their linebackers are smaller and very athletic, able to move sideline-to-sideline.
Look for the Patriots, especially in a short week to line up heavy and pound the ball right at this defense. Damien Harris (limited) was back at practice on Tuesday so, if he can play, we should see plenty of him, Stevenson, and Brandon Bolden in the rushing game. The matchup with Trent Brown going against either Jonathan Bullard who is questionable for this one or Mike Pennel will bear watching. Brown and Shaq Mason are outstanding run blockers and this may be an area to exploit if you are Josh McDaniels.
Patriots WRs vs Falcons Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ passing game led by Mac Jones had his best day as a pro last week against a Top 10 pass defense of the Browns, throwing 3 TDs and having a 142.1 passer rating. Kendrick Bourne had a big game and Hunter Henry scored two touchdowns as he now has seven in the past seven games.
Atlanta is middle of the road in pass defense (17th in yards) allowing 246 yards per game and 30th in touchdown passes allowed with 19. They don’t give up the big play but can be susceptible in the medium range. Their two biggest deficiencies are the lack of interceptions (3 on the year) and sacks (11) which places them dead last in sacks per pass attempt.
With Mac Jones’ accuracy throwing the ball, this looks like a big game for Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry. If the running game is as productive as we expect, play-action passing to Bourne or Nelson Agholor may also factor big in this one.
Next up is the Atlanta offense:
Falcons RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ run defense has gotten steadily better this season and after a rough opening drive, they stalled a good Cleveland running game by dominating against one of the better OLs in the league. Lawrence Guy, Christian Barmore, and Deatrich Wise have been playing excellent football, while the linebackers have been playing downhill and getting excellent play from Matthew Judon, Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Kyle Van Noy.
Atlanta hasn’t done a great job of running the ball this year, only getting 746 yards on the ground (29th in the league), averaging just 3.5 yards per rush, and with only 4 rushing TDs. If Patterson can’t go in this one, it should limit them even more.
Look for the Patriots to try to shut down the running game and make Atlanta one-dimensional offensively. The front seven will be key here, they’ll have to keep the Falcons in obvious passing situations. Christian Barmore, who has been getting better and better every week, will be the player to watch.
Falcons WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ secondary is playing much better in recent weeks and currently ranks 8th in the league allowing just 220 yards per game. Where they’ve been exceptionally good at is forcing turnovers and have 14 interceptions (3rd in the league) led by J.C. Jackson with five. The pass rush has been very good led by Matthew Judon with 9.5 sacks.
The Falcons had a great 1-2 punch with Calvin Ridley and rookie TE Kyle Pitts who looks to be a generational talent with Patterson filling in at WR and out of the backfield. But Ridley had to step away from the game for personal reasons, and with Patterson questionable, it would be a huge blow to Matt Ryan and the passing game. Patterson would be the X-factor in this game as he’d be a big advantage out of the backfield where the Patriots rank 31st covering backs.
Look for the Patriots to double Pitts in this one and force Ryan to beat them elsewhere. Expect the Patriots to dial up the pressure in this one, Judon, Uche, and Hightower, with Barmore providing pressure inside. The Falcons don’t give up a ton of sacks, but pressure is the key here. They have to force Ryan to get rid of it quickly and hopefully force some mistakes.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots’ Nick Folk has been excellent this season going 22-24 on FG attempts and 25-28 on PATs. Jake Bailey has been slightly hobbled with a knee injury and it has affected his range on kickoffs and punts to a degree. With Gunner Olszewski expected to return from his concussion, it should be a huge boost to the return game, he’s was really ramping it up prior to getting hurt in Carolina. The coverage units have been excellent.
The Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo is outstanding, going 15-16 on FG attempts and a perfect 17-17 on PATs. Punter Dustin Colquitt is very solid. Patterson hasn’t been able to get untracked this season on kickoff returns and it is surprising considering he’s one of the best in the business. If he can’t go, it will probably fall to Avery Williams who returns punts. The coverage units are only so-so.
Next up, who wins and why…
This week’s game could come down to coaching and Bill Belichick has had his way with rookie head coaches. Going against Arthur Smith should be an advantage for the Patriots as they have, under Bill Belichick played in 10 TNF contests on a short week and have an 8-2 record.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Running Game Key – The Patriots will attempt to pound the ball, control the clock, the tempo, and tire out a defense that was gashed just a few days ago. Running behind an improving OL and mixing it up with Harris, Stevenson, and Bolden will be their way to set up play action.
Slow Down the Run and Force Ryan into Obvious Passing Situations – The Patriots’ front seven have done a great job of improving against the run, and they should be able to handle Atlanta’s running game. Look for them to move Judon around in the passing game to get pressure on Matt Ryan.
No Turnovers, Limit Penalties – The Patriots should have the advantage here, Atlanta has turned it over 7 times in the past 4 games. The Patriots have only turned it over 3 times in the past 4 games while forcing 9. As we saw last week, forcing a turnover can quickly turn a game.
Thursday night games generally favor the home team, as the short week of practice and the travel usually make it tougher on the road team. If this were a Sunday matchup I’d take the Patriots big this week, but things being what they may, I am predicting a closer, higher-scoring contest this week. Patriots 31-20
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Arthur Smith Atlanta Falcons Bill Belichick Brandon Bolden Cordarrelle Patterson Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower Kyle Pitts Kyle Van Noy Mac Jones Matt Ryan Matthew Judon New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson