As we wrap up the 4th season of the NFL Matchup Mania talking about Super Bowl LI, let it be said that this season was topsy-turvey in many ways in the NFC, but all but predictable in the AFC. The team I picked to make the Super Bowl in the NFC (the Arizona Cardinals) didn’t even make the playoffs while it was simple to see that the New England Patriots schedule meant they were all but entitled to return to the 7th Super Bowl for their Head Coach, Bill Belichick, and his 39-year old quarterback, Tom Brady. Yet as predictable as it may have been for the Pats to get there, it is hard for me, and likely the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff, to try and determine what the Wiley Belichick might do going into this year’s Super Bowl. It is with that caveat that I, the Student of the Game, point out which match-ups I believe will be the most central to the Big Game.
Here comes the MuM:
Bill Belichick vs. Falcons Coaching Staff
We’ve heard the adage on what Belichick does to opponents time and time again. “He likes to take away what the other team does best and make you beat him with something that isn’t your strength”. The problem is that facing the Falcons is truly unique. They are a stockpiled arsenal of offensive weapons. If you lock down Julio Jones as the top receiving threat, you risk tearing up not only by Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel but the ground game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Whoever it is that Belichick focuses on, the player who is not in the eye of that storm must take the opportunity to be the Super Bowl LI MVP. All they need to is step up to the plate and lead their team to victory on a stage that is so big that it is essentially a national holiday with the largest television viewership worldwide . . . no pressure.
Alex Mack vs Matt Patricia
Regardless of who Belichick decides to try and take away from Atlanta’s game plan, attacking Matt Ryan under center in the “Dirty Bird” backfield will be a primary focus in Super Bowl LI regardless. Commanding that effort falls to the defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, to package a blitz past his opponent’s O-line.
Patricia will certainly bring in creative and deceptive looks of all sorts to confuse blockers and build openings for D-linemen and linebackers to get a shot at a sack.
The last line of defense preventing that is the center, Alex Mack. Picked up from Cleveland this season, Mack is arguably not only the best acquisition on his roster but possibly in the entire NFL in 2016. The center, for those who don’t know, is responsible for recognizing what’s in front of the offense and adjusting to proper protection schemes for passes and routing blockers for running plays pre-snap. In short, the reason defenses move around and line up a certain way is to get the center to misidentify their strategy and leave a path to attack Ryan or quickly tackle a runner. He who wins this particular chess match has the ability to deliver the final strike for his side that could decide the Super Bowl LI.
Falcons’ Front Seven vs LaGarette Blount and Martellus Bennett
I’m taking nothing away from wide receivers Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, or even late acquisition Michael Floyd. I’m sure they’ll all have production because their quarterback is future Hall of Famer, Tom Brady. But Atlanta’s team on defense is renowned for its speed.
Am I saying that will cripple the Patriot passing game. . . Heavens no! But I am saying that these players will have fewer touches. An age old axiom for football is that you run at speed and run away from power. Moreover, if Belichick is about taking away a team’s strength, what better way is there to keep the Falcons offense from flying then assuring they are sitting on the sideline as long as possible. In other words, I’m suggesting the Patriots will sucker punch Atlanta by using LaGarette Blount to smoke the defense and run the clock down to a Super Bowl LI victory.
As Blount is used throughout the game, this will inevitably tempt New England to run play-action passes that will set up a bomb to tight end Martellus Bennett. He may not be Rob Gronkowski, but he is a good enough option to outrun slower defenders and out body smaller ones.
The only way the Pats ground production can be truly prevented is if the Falcons are successful at stopping the run consistently, but what do they give up to Tom Brady passing to make that happen? The Catch-22 reveals itself. . .