Tag Archives: Julio Jones

MUST SEE: Craigslist Ad Selling “328 Fog Machines”

Robert Alvarez
October 25, 2017 at 8:43 pm ET

Just when you think you’ve seen every single “28-3”joke over the past eight months, Patriots Nation finds a new way to continue trolling the Falcons for their epic collapse.  On Monday, a Craigslist posting was spotted locally in Foxboro with somebody looking to sell 328 fog machines for the mere price of $2,500.

The description states: “I have 328 fog machines available for sale, used only once, don’t need anymore,” the ad reads. “Tested each and every one of them, they all did their job. You’re gonna want to keep these things away from anything that flies. No vultures, Falcons, Eagles or anything. Bad things happen.”

Get it? Its number of machines references the Super Bowl score (28-3) and their cost as the deficit the Patriots overcame (25 points). (But you knew that).

The joke posting could also target Falcons wide receiver, and conspiracy theorist Julio Jones, who briefly thought the Patriots could have been behind the game conditions being the way they were.

While head coach Bill Belichick has been onto 2017 since traning camp, Patriots fans may never let Atlanta move on from February. Of course, it didn’t help they played like it was the second half of the Super Bowl on Sunday during their 23-7 loss, but sure it was “definitely”the fogs fault.

Patriots  Week 7 Report Card, Dominant for the First Time in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
October 24, 2017 at 8:07 am ET

The Patriots finally looked like the team we expected to see this season in what was billed as a Super Bowl rematch despite both teams saying that they’ve moved on to 2017. That is only true for one team, the Patriots have moved on.The Falcons are still stuck in the awful nightmare of the 4th quarter and overtime and are in a fog that somehow crept into Foxboro/Fogboro that is a perfect metaphor for their season so far.

But the Patriots hadn’t played a 60-minute game yet either. The defense was wide open to ridicule and beat up and the offense, despite the high output, hadn’t put a full game together. Well, if this is the product that the Patriots are going to put out the rest of the season, then buckle in for another long ride folks.

The Patriots were cool and in control, which contrasted sharply with the deer-in-the-headlights panic shown by Atlanta and coach Dan Quinn who went for a fourth and long in the first quarter and then stupidly went for a 4th and 6 at midfield with two minutes to go in the half, down only 10-0 and with Atlanta getting the ball at the kickoff in the 3rd quarter.

They failed and Tom Brady put a dagger into them, easily going the 53-yards putting the Patriots up 17-0 and this one was essentially over.

So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady didn’t have eye-popping numbers (21 of 29, 249 yards 2 TDs),  on Sunday night but he, like the rest of the team was in command all the way. Brady sees the field better than anyone and when he saw Dontari Poe taking his sweet time getting off the field, he quickly snapped the ball for an easy first and five. He made a beauty of a deep sideline throw to Gronkowski just as he went out of bounds. His throw to Chris Hogan on 3rd and 16 was a laser that protected his WR from getting popped, and those who talk about diminishing arm strength should watch that one again. Ditto for the nice 2-yard TD pass to James White. White was Brady’s third option on the play. Was there any doubt after Quinn panicked on the fourth down call that the Brady was going to put points on the board just before halftime? He loves those moments.

Running Backs: A

The running back depth was on full display on Sunday night. Atlanta may arguably have the best 1-2 combination in the league, but the Patriots five are second to none when it comes to versatility, depth, and dependability.

Dion Lewis (remember not long ago he was the subject of trade talk?) was once again the featured back in the offense, carrying 13 times for 76 yards, including a beauty of a 25-yard burst up the middle. Rex Burkhead returned from his rib injury since Week 2 and ran very well. Mike Gillislee also ran hard and was effective. He did get stuffed on the goalline but that wasn’t a good play call there and he had no chance of scoring there. James White? Think Atlanta had nasty flashbacks to February just before the half? White was the feature back for that sequence that ended with him scoring from 2-yards out. He had just five receptions but on just five targets. James Develin was his normal road grader self in the blocking game. The backs gained 162 yards rushing…nuff said.

Wide Receivers: B

Atlanta played this one a little differently, they sat back in two-deep zones trying to take away the deep ball, (perhaps seeing Brandin Cooks plenty before?), so the opportunities for the deep ball were limited. But the wide receivers had good productive games. Hogan  (4 catches 71 yards), ran a perfect route on the 3rd and 16 and corralled the ball in for a huge first down. Cooks (4 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD), took a shovel pass (stolen from the Chiefs) and rode Rob Gronkowski’s shirttail into the end zone for an easy touchdown. Ole, ole Robert Alford, the tape doesn’t lie. Danny Amendola had an uncharacteristic drop on an otherwise quiet night.

Tight Ends: B-

Rob Gronkowski didn’t have his normal stellar game but was good enough. He got flagged for an offensive pass interference that wiped out a 39-yard pass from Brady and it seems like the officials are always looking for that one. So many others consistently get away with it…however, it is what it is. He made a really nice sideline catch from Brady where #12 dropped it perfectly in the bucket. His block on Cooks’ TD will be an internet meme for years to come. Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister were invisible other than the blocks each missed which resulted in lost yardage. Hollister’s was down inside the five-yard line…not good.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line has been catching a lot of flak for the hits that Brady has been taking this year and with good reason. But on Sunday night, they had their best game of the season…by far. They gave up a couple of sacks but overall the protection while not perfect was plenty good enough.

But where the unit made their grade was in the running game. The Patriots gashed Atlanta for 162 yards and the holes were there to see on television. With the Falcons in a two-deep safety zone, they dared New England to run and got smashed in the mouth. What was especially impressive is, when killing the clock at the end of the game, the Falcons knew they were going to run and they still ate them up. They owned the point of attack all game long

Defensive Line: B

The Patriots defensive line was good but not great in this one. They did a good job of defending the run in the first half but were victimized by Atlanta a bit in the third and fourth quarters as Devonta Freeman was impressive. But when they had to be, they buckled down. The goal-line stand was very impressive. On the fourth down stop, Trey Flowers destroyed the tight end which forced Taylor Gabriel back where Kyle Van Noy shot in and stuffed him for a five-yard loss. Complimentary football as Bill Belichick would say.

Flowers was solid in the pass rush. Wise flashed a bit and Adam Butler got his first NFL sack. Cassius Marsh was a little bit out of control on two occasions where he rushed Matt Ryan with his hair on fire and lost containment. Alan Branch in a limited role was his normal immovable self.

Linebackers: B+

Kyle Van Noy made several splash plays including his goal-line stop and was flying all over the field. He’s at his best playing downhill and/or rushing the passer. He’s not great in coverage but he had a very productive game. Dont’a Hightower was mostly quiet on the edge and got hurt later in the game. There was a David Harris sighting in Foxboro! Yes, the veteran played in his most snaps this season, appearing in their base and goal line formations and looked like his old self, (I think I was the only one who didn’t believe he looked slow this summer). He made a bone-jarring hit on Freeman at the goal line. Was good to see him out there and contributing.

Secondary: A

With Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore out this week, the Patriots were missing two of their top three corners. Facing the potent Atlanta offense it was no surprise that the Patriots would double Julio Jones with safety help over the top. Jones had 9 catches for 99 yards and a garbage-time touchdown but was truly a non-factor in the game. The secondary play was stellar (when was the last time we said that?) throughout in this one.

Malcolm Butler was all over the field and easily had his best game of the season. He flew up and destroyed Tevin Coleman on a running play and stuffed a screen pass for a loss. Even the touchdown he was beaten for, he made a good play and was in the position to pick off Ryan but Jones stole the ball right out of his hands on a great play.

Johnson Bademosi will no longer be referred to as a special teams player only. For the past two weeks, he’s shown that he can play. The big corner, scrapped and competed all game. He had a nice breakup on a pass to Jones. And Jonathan Jones broke up a pass in the end zone for Sanu.

Devin McCourty was the deep centerfielder with Duron Harmon for much of this game and they were solid. Excellent effort and outstanding results for this group.

Special Teams: A-

Cassius Marsh (he of the hair on fire type) blocked a field goal on a tremendous play and got an in-game high five from Belichick which is a rarity. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect 3-3 on his field goals, and his kickoffs were as always excellent. The coverage units were on point and Danny Amendola with his sure hands recovered an onside kick.

The only downer was the not-so-smart penalty on Pat Chung for holding when he didn’t have to which wiped out an excellent field position situation.

Coaches: A+

Bill Belichick never blinks or loses sight of what is going on around him. In a big game for both teams he had his unit in control and they played like the Super Bowl champions that they are for 60 minutes. Contrast that to the panicky, way Dan Quinn approached this one. And the coach’s demeanor bleeds over to the players’ performances. Atlanta doesn’t faintly resemble that cocky, dominant team that rolled over Green Bay and stuffed New England for three quarters in the Super Bowl crew. That, boys and girls, is superior coaching.

The game plan was outstanding and executed to a tee. Josh McDaniels opted for a smash mouth ball control offense which kept Atlanta’s offense frustrated and on the sidelines. Point in fact, down three scores, Atlanta had three, just three second-half possessions. That is, to quote Charlie Sheen, “winning.”

Matt Patricia’s defense played by far their best game of the year, the much-maligned secondary, missing some key players was stellar and held Atlanta scoreless for 56 minutes. A tremendous performance by the coaching staff this week.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Dominant Effort in All Phases Pushes Patriots Past the Falcons 23-7

Steve Balestrieri
October 23, 2017 at 12:46 am ET

Surprise, surprise, surprise (Gomer Pyle voice), tell me if you saw this one coming. The Patriots put together their best defensive effort by far this season, against one of the most explosive offenses in football in Matt Ryan and the Falcons and shut them down and out for 56 minutes before what was essentially a garbage-time touchdown with four minutes to go. Missing two out of their top three cornerbacks wasn’t an issue on Sunday night as the team finally put a 60-minute effort together and yes they were impressive.

And the Patriots running game was not only able to take the heat off of Tom Brady but was able to control the clock and finish the game. Dion Lewis rushed 12 times for 76 yards and was the workhorse for the team, as the Patriots gashed the Falcons for 162 yards on the ground.

With the win, the Patriots improve to 5-2 and remain alone atop the AFC East. Speaking of which, your trivia question for the night, which division has the most wins in the National Football League? You guessed it, “that weak AFC East”.

Tom Brady was coolly efficient, passing 29 times, completing 21 for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offensive line had their best game of the season, as we pointed out in our pregame matchups, the best way to attack the Atlanta defense was to run right at them as their speed was too much on the perimeter but they’re smaller and the Patriots ate them up tonight by controlling the clock and the tempo. The Patriots held the ball for 34:05 seconds which kept Ryan and the Falcons offense on the sidelines.

But this was a night for the defense, no one foresaw the type of performance the defense put in tonight especially missing so many pieces on defense. But game balls have to go to Malcolm Butler who was flying all over the field and making plays and Johnson Bademosi, the special teamer who was placed into the starting lineup for the second week in a row due to injuries. Bademosi played very effectively and has given the coaches the confidence to use him now whenever he’s needed. Eric Rowe probably won’t be seen until after the bye but he’s earned more playing time.

The Patriots goal line stand was among the best sequences they’ve had defensively all season. Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu on the one-yard line and the defensive backs (Bademosi and Pat Chung) held him out of the end zone. On fourth and goal from the one, the Falcons tried to get a bit cute and run a jet sweep with Gabriel but it was read perfectly by Kyle Van Noy who burst into the backfield and dropped him for a five-yard loss.

Ryan finished with respectable numbers, 23-33 for 233 yards and a touchdown which broke the Patriots streak for allowing six straight 300-yard passers to open the season. But Ryan’s numbers were actually a bit skewed. After White’s touchdown, Atlanta got the ball with 21 seconds left in the half, and the Patriots allowed Ryan to hit three passes underneath before time ran out that totaled 36 yards but had no chance of getting any points. The same thing on Ryan’s final drive. Up 23-0, the Patriots weren’t going to give up anything deep and made them slowly work underneath and eat up precious time. Ryan connected with Julio Jones for a one-yard touchdown pass but even that appeared to be a Butler interception. It was just a magnificent play by Jones, by reaching over and stealing the ball away from Butler for his first TD of the season.

Atlanta was playing very aggressively going for a 4th and 7 at the end of the first quarter and again near the end of the half. That aggressiveness turned a bit foolhardy as the Patriots stopped them near midfield and then drove a touchdown right before the half that blew the game open at 17-0. Brady hit James White for a 2-yard touchdown at the end of a 7-play, 53-yard drive.

Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks had impressive games with each hauling in four passes each. Hogan totaled 71 yards and Cooks 65 with a touchdown, a shovel pass from Brady where he followed Rob Gronkowski into the end zone for an easy touchdown. Falcons corner Robert Alford won’t like the film review on that one. WIth Gronkowski bearing down on him at the three-yard line, Alford did his best matador impression and stepped aside, allowing Cooks easy access to the end zone.

Rex Burkhead returned to action for the first time since Week 2 and ran impressively, gaining 31 yards on six carries.

Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have to be extremely proud of the way the defense stepped up tonight. Holding Atlanta to zip until garbage time was a tremendous effort. They held the Falcons to just 2-9 on third down and just 1-3 on fourth down.

Special Teams got into the act with a blocked field goal by Cassius Marsh and solid kicking by Stephen Gostkowski.

The only downer tonight was the penalties. The Patriots were flagged eight times for 65 yards. Although the offensive pass interference on Gronkowski was horrible as the holding call on Shaq Mason late in the fourth quarter.

The game was played in an increasing fog which got worse as the game went along. Although Devin McCourty after the game said that the conditions on the field were fine.

So with the win, they face the Chargers at home next Sunday at 1 p.m. San Diego er Los Angeles has won three in a row and shut out Denver 21-0 today. The Patriots sit atop the East and the AFC at 5-2 with the Chiefs and Steelers.

Patriots – Falcons Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge

Steve Balestrieri
October 20, 2017 at 8:00 am ET

The New England Patriots return home for a Sunday Night Football matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of February’s Super Bowl.  

This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, October 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Boston – 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michele Tafoya will work from the sidelines.The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (4-2) beat the New York Jets 24-17. The Jets led 14-0 after the first quarter before the Patriots scored 24 straight points but had to hold on in the end.

The Falcons (3-2) lost to the Miami Dolphins 20-17. The Falcons led 17-0 at the half and allowed Miami to steal one away from them in Atlanta’s new dome.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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.

Series History:

The Patriots and Falcons are meeting for the 15th time overall and the first regular-season meeting since the Patriots traveled to Atlanta on Sept. 29, 2013, in a 30-23 win on Sunday Night Football from the Georgia Dome. And of course, the Super Bowl just ten months ago won by the Patriots in overtime.
The Patriots have won the last four times the teams have played in the regular season with wins in 2001, 2005 and 2013 at The Georgia Dome and in a 2009 win at Gillette Stadium.
Prior to those four wins, the Patriots had suffered four straight losses to the Falcons, dating back to 1989.

Here is a 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 Atlanta

The Patriots running game showed some signs of life last week, by mixing in Dion Lewis and Mike Gillislee the Patriots had good consistent running with the speedier Lewis and the power running of Gillislee. However, they only ran the ball 25 times. The coaches, mainly Josh McDaniels don’t have the faith in the running game to stick with it if things begin to slow down.

The Falcons run defense has been up and down. They are lighter and very fast and can flow to the ball extremely well. The slow developing stretch plays will not work against this unit. Dontari Poe inside will make life difficult to run. But Miami showed that running straight at the perimeters with the bigger back as Jay Ajayi can be very effective. Will the Patriots have the patience to stick with it? Judging by the play of the defense and the extra missing pieces this week? No.

Patriots WRs vs Falcons Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game, as we’ve said many times this season, even without Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell can throw the ball on anyone. The Falcons early in the SB flooded the middle of the field to take away the short/intermediate crossers the Pats love, forcing them to work outside. That was part of the reason that they got Brandin Cooks this year. He brings that element of speed on the outside that they must respect.

Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola will do the dirty work underneath. And in this one, the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski who was missing in February. James White (the Falcons will watch him closely) and Dion Lewis out of the backfield give Tom Brady plenty of weapons to target. It all depends on the time.

The Falcons secondary has been struggling to force turnovers, they have just two interceptions on the season, something no one foresaw this summer. Overall, the secondary play has been a bit of a disappointment. They have good edge rushers in Brooks Reed, Vic Beasley, and Takk McKinney, but where they were so effective in February was the interior push of the defensive line. That took away Brady’s ability to step up in the pocket and limited his effectiveness early. The Patriots offensive line hasn’t done a good job of protecting him although they did a much better job last week.

Next up the Falcons offense:

Falcons RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Atlanta

The Falcons have arguably the best running back duo in the league with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Can anyone forget the first play from scrimmage in the Super Bowl? Freeman ripped off a 37-yard gain and was very effective in the early going. With Kyle Shanahan gone this season, will Atlanta stick with the running game? If they had last week, they may have beaten Miami.

The Patriots have not been good against the run especially up the middle, although they’ve made strides the past two weeks. Moving Dont’a Hightower back to the inside linebacker spot helped. Malcom Brown and Alan Branch will have to step up their games, even more, this week as New England will have their hands full with Atlanta’s dynamic duo.

Falcons WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Atlanta

Matt Ryan has struggled thus far in 2017, tossing just six touchdowns against six interceptions thus far. But rest easy Matt, not only are the Patriots struggling against the pass, allowing journeyman QBs like Josh McCown to throw for over 350 yards but now they are banged up as well. New England will likely only have three healthy corners, Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi. The matchup against Julio Jones is a nightmarish one this week. Stephon Gilmore would be the logical choice but is out with a concussion. Butler is too small for the big Jones and Julio against Bademosi would be just unfair.

Mohamed Sanu should return this week and with Taylor Gabriel gives Ryan matchups galore. Gabriel had three catches for 76 yards in the Super Bowl. But where they Falcons can also pick them apart is underneath with the running backs, something the Patriots have struggled against. Coleman and Freeman can be just as effective in the passing game. The Patriots pass rush has been inconsistent at best. The safeties will have to cover a lot of ground in this one.300 yards? Nope. Ryan will probably throw for over 400 in this one. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski has had a solid season and the Patriots coverage units have been very good, and now that Matthew Slater has returned they promise to be even better. Danny Amendola gives the Patriots an edge here as he’s been coming on lately in the punt return game. The team could use Dion Lewis to break a kick return this week.

The Falcons special teams have been victimized by penalties but they have a superb kicker in Matt Bryant but his back has been an issue with him. He missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and if it stiffens up on him, it would be an issue for the STs. Atlanta has an electric returner in Andre Roberts. He can be an “X” factor in this one.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one will pit the two Super Bowl teams against one another. But in reality, although both teams have winning records, they’ve both dropped two games at home which isn’t the way it is done. Atlanta has struggled with finishing games and lost to both the Bills and Dolphins at home in successive games. The Patriots, on the other hand, have struggled defensively all season and have a tough time covering ordinary wide receivers. Enter Julio Jones. With a full complement of corners, I liked the Patriots to hold serve at home. With two out of their top three corners missing against this Atlanta team, the matchups for Matt Ryan will be plentiful. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense will keep things close, I expect Rob Gronkowski to have a big game but I think that Matt Ryan will absolutely torch this secondary with their two biggest corners in Gilmore and Rowe. Losing three at home? When was the last time that happened? Short answer… 2017.  Falcons 38-31

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Falcons, Like the Patriots Are Still Searching For Consistency

Steve Balestrieri
October 19, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

 

For most of the first six games of the 2017 season, the Patriots have scuffled along. At times playing very well, others they’ve looked lost out on the field with blown assignments and coverages and have allowed far too many yards and points. This was hardly the team that many experts were picking to finish 16-0 and repeat as Super Bowl Champions. And neither has been their foe in the Super Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta too has struggled with their consistency and although they’ve consistently stated that they’ve put that Super Bowl collapse behind them, their play on the field has shown that while they’ve stated that, they still may not have taken that lesson to heart yet.

They allowed the Patriots to come back from 25 points in the Super Bowl and eventually win in overtime. Last week the Falcons had a 17-0 lead over the Dolphins at home in their new domed stadium and somehow lost 20-17 to a Miami team that is struggling to score points with QB Jay Cutler.

This was coming off of their bye after they dropped another home game to the Buffalo Bills despite leading at the half in that one also. Perhaps the old myth that New England goes to the playoffs every season because they play in the AFC East will not get much play in Atlanta after the past three weeks.

Here are some of our first impressions of the Falcons this week as they face off with the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.

Matt Ryan Isn’t Producing Anything Close to 2016 Level: The Falcons quarterback was operating on a different plane in 2016. Ryan completed a career-high 69.9 percent of his passes for 4944 yards with 38 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He led the league in a plethora of passing categories. Yards per attempt (9.3), Touchdown percent (7.1), Yards per Completion (13.3), and Passer Rating (117.1).

Ryan followed that up with an outstanding performance in the three playoff games, completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 1014 yards (338 per game) with 9 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a passer rating of 135.3.

Thru his first five games of 2016, Ryan threw for 1740 yards with 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. In those games, after dropping the opener to the Bucs, the Falcons ripped off four wins in a row. In his first five games of 2017, his completion percentage has dropped but is still a very good 65.9 percent, but his yardage and touchdowns are way down and his interceptions are way up. Ryan has thrown for 1357 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. The Falcons are 3-2 and have had a couple of close calls in games they should have won easily….sound vaguely familiar?

Things may be looking up for Ryan this week, the Patriots defense has given every QB they’ve faced at least 300 yards passing. They’ve had numerous breakdowns in the secondary in coverage and the communication, even after six weeks is still hit or miss. Ryan should get Mohamed Sanu back this week which coupled with Julio Jones and their other receivers will be a big boost to the passing game. And New England will probably be without two of their top their corners in Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore who are injured and won’t play.

Running Backs Will Present Biggest Challenge: Even with a healthy secondary, one area that the Patriots defense is really struggling is covering the running backs and the Falcons have a pair of very good ones in either running or catching the ball out of the backfield. Devonta Freeman has 79 carries for 353 yards, 4.5 yards per carry and 5 touchdowns so far in 2017. No one can forget his first play from scrimmage in the Super Bowl when he ripped off a 37-yard run to begin the game. Tevin Coleman has rushed 38 times for 213 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and a score so far.

But working underneath in the passing game is where they’ll be most dangerous against a team that has struggled to defend it. Freeman has 11 catches for 81 yards and Coleman has 14 receptions for 157 yards, 11.2 yards per catch and a score. With a secondary already missing two corners, the safeties of New England will be hard-pressed to keep up with the wide receivers of the Falcons. So who is going to cover the backs? Kyle Van Noy has struggled in coverage, Dont’a Hightower has been used as an edge rusher.  Elandon Roberts or Jordan Richards? That is a big mismatch that the Falcons will exploit.

Defense Hasn’t Created Enough Pressure: The Falcons had a lightning-fast defense in 2016 and one that gave the Patriots fits thru the first three quarters of the Super Bowl. One of the reasons they were so successful is that they were able to bring pressure on Tom Brady throughout the game, sacking him five times.

Despite investing heavily in the defense this season, they haven’t been able to ratchet up the pressure that they hoped to so at this point of the season. As a team, they have just 12 sacks which is tied for 21st in the league after five games. One of the trickle-down effects of this is that the team isn’t generating turnovers. Atlanta as a team has generated just three turnovers thru five games, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Think back to how dominant they were, rolling thru the playoffs generating six turnovers in three playoff games.

Coming into Sunday’s game against Miami, Jay Cutler had been sacked 10 times in four games. The Falcons with a big 17-point lead in the second half should have been in prime position to push the envelope and get after Cutler and create pressure and perhaps force a turnover or two which could have broken the game open. But they didn’t sack Cutler once and Miami came back and forced a turnover of their own after scoring 20 straight points.

The Time is Now For the Falcons to Turn It Around: The Falcons schedule isn’t filled with easily winnable games the rest of the way of the 2017 season. If they can regain their winning formula of the 2016 season, they are still in good position to take their division once again. And it won’t be easy, Carolina is playing better this season and is a half-game up at 4-2. New Orleans, has turned things around and sits with them at 3-2.

A look at the Falcons remaining 11 weeks is a tough slate. After facing the Patriots on the road on Sunday Night Football, they return home to face the Jets and then go away to Carolina, home against the Cowboys, away against the Seahawks, home against the Bucs, Vikings, and Saints, away against the Bucs and Saints, before finishing up with the Panthers at home. That finale (admittedly very far in the future), could be the difference in the division’s crown.

Other than the Jets, who admittedly have been playing much tougher this season, there are no easy wins on this schedule. They have a tough slate of games to go. But what better way for them to re-ignite their season than to beat the Super Bowl champs on Sunday Night Football on the road?

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

ICYMI: Tom Brady Responds To Instagram Post With A Funny Comment

Robert Alvarez
February 9, 2017 at 12:54 pm ET

After the New England Patriots finished off their 25 point comeback against the Atlanta Falcons for the Super Bowl championship, an Instagram user (name withheld due to expletive) posted a screenshot picture to his account of Brady catching the eye of FOX TV cameras when he appeared to be putting his head down in despair following throwing an interception for a touchdown just before halftime.

“I need to know what prayer Brady said so I can use it later on in life” was the caption chosen by and to his surprise a day later, Brady responded with a funny but real comment that brought back memories of a darker time in his career.

“Hey so remember that whole David Tyree thing from a few years ago..”, Brady jokes was the prayer.

The last four Super Bowl’s Brady has played in he has had to endure a plethora of ridiculous circus catches.

Both David Tyree (Super Bowl XLII) and Mario Manningham (Super Bowl XLVI) wild receptions led to championships for the Giants, but Jermaine Kearse’s (Super Bowl XLIX) and Julio Jones’ (Super Bowl LI) the Patriots were able to overcome.

Of course, Julian Edelman may have beaten them all.

Patriots’ Defense Made Adjustments, Got the Stops When It Mattered

Steve Balestrieri
February 7, 2017 at 9:01 am ET

“They Haven’t played anybody…”

Well, now they have.

The Patriots defense, perhaps the most-maligned #1 scoring defense in NFL history, had its issues in the first half but did what they accomplished so often in 2016. Between Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, they made their adjustments, played good overall team defense and smart situational football and made the plays at crunch time to allow the offense to make their comeback. The result was the Patriots are gearing up for their Super Bowl parade on Tuesday morning.

Since the halfway point of the season, this is a unit that kept getting better, despite the usual suspects who looked to denigrate everything the team accomplished and marginalize every victory. While the list of opposing QBs was hardly a “Murderer’s Row”, the team focused on getting things right and playing better, regardless of who was lined up opposite of them. And they did.

Allowing the fewest points in the NFL isn’t a fluke after a 16-game schedule, regardless of what some would have you believe. Was the defense, the best in the NFL? No, and no one is making that argument. But they were better than what some would have you believe and no longer can it be said, “they haven’t faced a top QB.”

Points Not Yards are Bottom-line: One can argue all day long about yards allowed, the Patriots will never lead the league in that category. Because their defensive philosophy is such that they’ll allow the short plays underneath because they won’t allow opponents to get the big chunk plays down the field. And they did that in the playoffs again.

In three playoff games, the Patriots defense allowed a total of 54 points. With 16 against the Texans and then just 17 against the Steelers’ offense and 21 against the #1 offense in the league against Atlanta. That’s allowing just 18 points per game.  And the final two games were against some high-powered offenses with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan.

In the second half of their three postseason games, the defense allowed just 18 points with seven of them coming on a garbage time touchdown by the Steelers. The Falcons scored just seven points in the second half and most importantly none in the fourth quarter.

First Half in Houston was hardly super, but their finish was: Atlanta’s first play from scrimmage was a huge 37-yard run by Devonta Freeman. The play was perfectly executed by the Falcons with outstanding blocking from the offensive line and especially Julio Jones that sprung Freeman on his jaunt to get Atlanta out of a deep hole.

Freeman and Tevin Coleman were very effective in the first half, rushing for 86 yards, which is just 2.6 yards less than the Patriots were allowing for an entire game. But after halftime, it was a different story. Atlanta rushed for just 18 yards after the break.

Freeman ended up with 75 yards rushing on 11 carries which comes out to a stellar 6.8-yards per rush. But after that big run (which coincidentally netted zero points), he carried 10 times for 38 yards. Atlanta had scored on their opening possession for the previous nine games prior to the Super Bowl. That streak ended on Sunday.

So, while Kyle Shanahan is under fire for not running the ball more, especially in the fourth quarter (see Victory-Marginalization Pt1), there was a reason why he didn’t. And a lot of that had to do with the Patriots defense.

In the passing game, Freeman and Coleman combined for just three catches. While two of them were big plays, a 39-yarder to Freeman where he broke a few ankles making people miss and the TD to Coleman where it was another perfectly executed play where Ninkovich was caught up in the wash inside. They weren’t the consistent targets in the passing game that we envisioned Atlanta planning on prior to the game.

Ryan’s Performance Was Outstanding: Falcon’s QB Matt Ryan was the NFL’s MVP this year and his performance on Sunday night showed why that was so deserved. He completed 17-23 for 284 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But a second look at some of his big throws, especially to Julio Jones shows that the Patriots couldn’t have defended many of those any better. Several of the throws were of the very low-percentage variety that Ryan just threw dimes on. And the plays by Jones on a few of those were just ridiculous.

Rather than find fault with the defense, those were some plays where one must tip their hat to the opposition.

Third Down Defense Outstanding: A key area that the Patriots like to stress with the defense under Belichick is getting off the field on third down. Atlanta only converted 1 of 8 third-down opportunities. They got a second one on a close call on Malcolm Butler who was flagged for pass interference.

But in the second half, the Falcons offense was 0-5 on third down. And that wasn’t against Brock Osweiler and the Texans. Atlanta was the #1 scoring offense in the NFL this season and Ryan was the MVP. Without a solid defensive effort in the 2nd half, there was no comeback in the cards.

“Where are the PlayMakers?” Right Here: Another knock that we constantly hear about the Patriots defense is the lack of playmakers. In reality, it is more about the lack of name recognition than actual playmakers.

When they needed big plays the defense got them. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower who is indispensable to the Pats defense came up with a huge strip sack on Ryan which flipped the game’s momentum to the Patriots.

Facing a 3rd and 1, Ryan and the Falcons were going for the homerun ball, Hightower blitzed off the edge and blew past a very half-hearted block attempt of Freeman and blasted Ryan just as he was about to release the ball. The Patriots took over at the Atlanta 25-yard line and soon scored to make it 28-20 and the Pats were right back in the game. Pay the man.

Trey Flowers continued his outstanding second half of the season with a super performance in the Super Bowl. Flowers led the team with 2.5 sacks of Matt Ryan as they piled up five sacks in just 23 pass attempts by the Falcons’ QB.

None were bigger than his fourth-quarter sack of Ryan which helped push Atlanta out of field goal range. Facing a 2nd and 11 at the Patriots 23, Flowers sacked Ryan for a loss of 12 yards back to the 35-yard line. The next play was a holding penalty on Atlanta that pushed the ball back to the 45-yard line.

There his third down pass was incomplete forcing a punt rather than a field goal attempt and Brady drove the ball 91 yards in 2:33 for his own “John Candy” moment to tie up the Super Bowl.

The Patriots defense held Atlanta’s high scoring offense to just 21 total points with seven in the second half with none in the fourth quarter. They held them to 1-8 on third downs including 0-5 in the second half. I think Ryan and the Falcons’ offense qualify as “having faced somebody.”  It was a tough game but they passed their test.

Now let’s go to a Super Bowl parade…

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Falcons Super Bowl LI Key Matchups, Prediction

Steve Balestrieri
February 3, 2017 at 8:44 am ET

The New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons from Houston, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

The Patriots reach the mothership for the ninth time in their history, which is the most in NFL history, breaking a tie with the Steelers, Cowboys, and Broncos. The duo of Brady and Belichick reach the big game for the seventh time in 16 seasons with Brady under center.

This week’s game will be broadcast by FOX and can be seen locally on WFXT Channel 25 in Boston. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews and Chris Myers will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (16-2) defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship 36-17. Tom Brady was brilliant completing 32 of 42 for 384 yards and three touchdown passes. Chris Hogan had nine catches on 12 targets for 180 yards and two scores.

The Falcons (13-5) defeated the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship. Matt Ryan continued his dominant season, tossing for 392 yards and four touchdowns. Julio Jones had the same stat line as Hogan with nine catches on 12 targets for 180 yards and two scores.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 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.

Series History:
The Patriots and Falcons are meeting for just the 14 time in their history with New England holding a 7-6 all-time edge. But Tom Brady is undefeated in four games against Atlanta, including a 30-23 win in the Georgia Dome back in 2013. Which was the last time the two teams met.

Needless to say, there has never been a matchup of this magnitude between the two teams.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

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

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

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]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints – preview, prediction and pick against the spread

John Morgan
October 15, 2015 at 9:46 am ET

The Atlanta Falcons look to advance to 6-0 in Thursday night’s game at division rival New Orleans. The first game of NFL week six kicks off at 8:25 pm eastern time and is televised on CBS (and NFLN). The Falcons are favored by 3½ points and the point total is listed at 51½ at most venues.

 

Injuries – New Orleans (1-4) need this game to turn their season around, but could be without the services of three starters on offense. LG Tim Lelito is out with a shoulder injury, LT Terron Armstead is doubtful due to a knee injury suffered two weeks ago, and WR Marques Colston is doubtful with a bad shoulder. Atlanta will be without two starters: OLB Justin Durant (elbow) and C Mike Person (ankle), but WR Julio Jones (probable; toe, hamstring) is expected to play.

 

Atlanta is looking to defeat the Saints on the road in consecutive games for the first time in 13 years. The Falcons won back-to-back games in New Orleans in 2001-02, but have been 3-9 in the Big Easy since then. Atlanta is the first team in NFL history to start 5-0 despite trailing in the 4th quarter in four of those games. New Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn spent nearly twenty years as a defensive line coach prior to becoming Seattle’s defensive coordinator for two years, when the Seahawks were the NFL’s best defense and won the Super Bowl. While it is still a work in progress, Atlanta’s defense has noticeably improved from the porous sieve that they were the last couple of years. The Falcon offensive line suffered through more than their share of injuries last year; that group being healthy has led to a much improved offense, especially running the ball. RB Devonta Freeman leads the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns and is second with 405 yards rushing. Despite a rough game last week against Washington, QB Matt Ryan is still completing 65% of his passes and averaging 291 passing yards per game. WR Julio Jones leads the league with 190 yards after the catch and is second overall with 545 yards receiving (109 yards per game).

 

New Orleans has been in a tough spot ever since the penalties imposed in the bountygate case; the loss of those draft picks plus having to pick late in the draft year after year have taken their toll. However, their biggest problem this year is that the strategy of pushing salaries into future years has caught up with them and placed them in salary cap jail. The Saints have a whopping $31.8 million in dead money on their salary cap, with a combined $25.5 million devoted to four players that are no longer on their roster: TE Jimmy Graham, LG Ben Grubbs, LB Junior Galette and LB Curtis Lofton. The end result is a woeful defense that is allowing and NFL-third worst 28.6 points per game, ranks last at 409 yards allowed per game, is 30th against the run (136 yards per game), and is 32nd with 6.5 yards allowed per play.

 

Prediction: In past seasons I would not even consider going against the Saints at home, but that home field advantage has completely dissipated. While I am still skeptical about Atlanta – I think they are still a year away, until some more talent can be assembled on defense – the Saints’ ship is sadly sinking quickly. The Falcons should be able to win this game easily, without having to resort to another late-game comeback.

 

Pick: Falcons 34, Saints 20

Falcons -3½ (three units); over 51½; Atlanta -180 (two units)