Patriots - Falcons: Keys to the Game

The New England Patriots travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons in a game New England needs to win to get back on target. The Falcon's have plans of their own. Patriots Insider Chris Goodhue takes a look at the numbers and shares some keys to the game.

Patriots - Falcons: Keys to the Game
By Chris Goodhue, Patriots Insider

After being demoralized by the San Diego Chargers last Sunday, the task of winning gets no easier this week as the Patriots travel to the Georgia Dome to face Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons. Make no mistake about it, Vick is a serious force on the offensive side of the ball, and his performance directly affects the Falcons.

Playmakers Impact:

In regular season play, consider these facts:

When Vick rushes for a TD, the Falcons are 11-1-1.
When Vick rushes for 100 yards, Atlanta is 5-0.
When he accounts for 250 total yards, their record is 10-4-1.
On the rare occasion that he surpasses 300, Atlanta is 4-0-1.

Vick has not encountered the Patriots since his rookie year in 2001, when he was subbing for Chris Chandler. In that game, he was 2-of-9 and was sacked 3 times, however he did run twice for 50 yards. The job of containing Vick will more than likely fall on the defensive ends. Jarvis Green and Ty Warren will be the Patriots first line of defense, as well as either Chad Brown or Monty Beisel in the middle. Here are Vick's passing and rushing numbers game-by-game so far this year:

week
Opp
Comp
Att
Yards
TDs
Int
Runs
Yards
Avg
TDs
1
PHI
12
23
156
0
1
11
68
6.2
1
2
SEA
11
19
123
1
0
8
43
5.4
0
3
BUF
15
27
167
2
1
9
64
7.1
0
4
MIN
6
8
49
1
0
4
58
14.5
0

The Patriots may take solace in the fact that Vick gets sacked a decent amount of times for a man with otherworldly speed (8 times in 4 games in 2005, and about 2.5 per game career wise). The Pats cant get too blitz-happy, because he will take off and burn the defense more times than not. The hope is that Warren and Green can keep him from getting to the outside and that the middle backer will be able to make a play on him if he shoots up the gut or force him into a mistake.

 

Patriots Pass Defense:

The opposing QBs favorite target much like last week is a tight end. Alge Crumpler has topped 35 receptions in each of the last 3 seasons, including 6 TDs last year. Needless to say, the linebackers and defensive backs must do a much better job against him than they did last week vs. Antonio Gates (6 catches for 108 yards). The secondary continues to be banged up with CBs Duane Starks, Randall Gay, Tyrone Poole, and Chad Scott all questionable this week, and Rodney Harrison gone for the year. LB Mike Vrabel still has the only INT on the defense. Despite last weeks debacle, they are still ok yardage wise, ranking 6th in the AFC, allowing 207.5 yards per game through the air and holding opposing QBs to a 51.5 completion percentage.

Here is how QBs have done against them each week:

WkQBTeam
Att/comp
Pct
Yards
TDs
Int
Rate
1Kerry CollinsOAK
18/39
46.2%
265
3
0
94.5
2 Jake DelhommeCAR
11/26
42.3%
154
0
1
46.0
3Ben RoethlisbergerPIT
12/28
42.9%
216
2
0
93.7
4Drew BreesSD
19/24
79.2%
248
2
0
137.5

 

Patriots Run Defense:

In the run game, the Pats will face two very different backs. The shifty Warrick Dunn will get the bulk of the carries, and doubles as a receiving threat out of the backfield, which may keep LBs Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel in the flats when he is in the game. Dunn already has two 100-yard rushing performances this season, which isn't bad when you consider he averages only 18 carries per game. He is most successful running behind OT Kevin Shaffer and OG Matt Lehr on the left side where he has averaged an amazing 14.5 per carry compared to just 3.8 on the right and 2.9 up the middle.

T.J. Duckett is at the other end of the spectrum. Short yardage and goal line situations are his forte, and he has 4 TDs to show for it. When he is in the ball game, there will most likely be two tight ends or more in the formation. With 2 TEs or more he has carried 29 times for 116 yards, a 4.0 average, but he only has 9 carries with 1 tight end or less, gaining 32 yards. It is more likely he will be there to pass block in those situations, or as a decoy on 3rd and short.

Here is how opposing backs have fared this season against the Pats:

WkRBTeam
Carries
Yards
Avg
TDs
1 LaMont JordanOAK
18
70
3.9
0
2Stephen DavisCAR
25
77
3.1
3
3Willie ParkerPIT
17
55
3.2
0
4LaDainian TomlinsonSD
25
134
5.4
2

 

Patriots Run Offense

On offense, the priority remains getting Corey Dillon on track. Here are Dillon's numbers in the first 4 games of 2004 compared to this season:

Dillon (first 4 games)
Carries
Yards
Avg
TDs
Rec
Yards
2004
84
417
4.9
1
4
22
2005
73
223
3.1
5
5
76

Some of the drop-off has to be attributed to the schedule; the Pats faced 3 good defenses in Carolina, Pittsburgh, and San Diego as well as a team that basically plays with a 6-1 front in Oakland. Another reason is the fact that the left side of the line is entirely different than last years. Nick Kaczur replaced injured LT Matt Light, and rookie G Logan Mankins replaced the departed Joe Andruzzi. Dillon is averaging only 1.9 yards per carry running to that side of the line.

 

Falcons Run Defense:

The linebacking corps of Atlanta is pretty good. OLB Keith Brooking is a perennial Pro-Bowler and has topped 100 tackles 4 years in a row, MLB Ed Hartwell came over from obscurity next to Ray Lewis in Baltimore, even though he averaged 111 tackles a season. The weak link may be second-year OLB Demorrio Williams. Despite leading the team in tackles with 34, he is small (60, 232) and could be vulnerable if the Pats run right at him. They are in the middle of the pack in the NFC in run defense, giving up 112.3 per game.

Here is how opponents backs have done against them:

WkRBTeam
Carries
Yards
Avg
TDs
1 Brian WestbrookPHI
12
47
3.9
0
2Shaun AlexanderSEA
28
144
5.1
1
3Willis McGaheeBUF
16
84
5.2
1
3Mewelde MooreMIN
14
57
4.1
0

 

Falcons Pass Defense:

The Falcons pass defense can be tough. They lead the league in sacks with 17, nine of which came last week against Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings. 3 of the teams 4 interceptions are courtesy of 2004s first round pick, DeAngelo Hall. Tom Brady will need to get the ball to Deion Branch more this week. Branch was held to just one catch last week vs. San Diego, and will be at his best slipping behind the linebackers and finding holes in zone coverage for Brady to exploit. David Givens had a nice day last week gaining 66 yards on 6 receptions and will be Bradys main target when he needs 10 yards. 15 off Givens 22 catches have been for first downs, 6 of those coming on 3rd down.

In the trenches, DE Patrick Kerney will be matched up on Kaczur, and will need to be double-teamed often for the passing game to be at its optimum performance. C Dan Koppen will have to deal with DT Rod Coleman, who had 3 sacks last week, but probably wont get as many opportunities to get to Brady who works on more 3-step drops than Culpepper. Atlanta is yielding 187.3 yards per game through the air, heres how opposing QBs have done against them:

WkQBTeam
Att/comp
Pct
Yards
TDs
Int
Rate
1Donovan McNabb
PHI
24/45
53.3%
257
1
1
68.5
2Matt Hasselbeck
SEA
20/31
64.5%
281
2
0
115.1
3J.P. Losman
BUF
10/23
43.5%
75
0
1
33.8
4Daunte Culpepper
MIN
23/34
67.6%
250
1
2
74.4

 

Key Matchup Summary:

Despite all the other formalities, the bottom line is the Patriots must stop the run whether its coming from Vick, Dunn, or Duckett. If they can make Vick stay in the pocket and throw, despite their injuries in the secondary, they should have the advantage in this game. If it means keeping the ball away from Vick via time of possession, so be it, the run game of the Pats is key to their success and must go forward if there are any hopes of a third straight title.

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