What The Patriots Have To Do On Sunday

The Atlanta Falcons have the best running game in the league. Their line has ban able to create running lanes to spring their backs to a league best 200 plus yards per game on the ground. The challenge for the Patriots on Sunday is to find a way to slow down this juggernaut. The Patriots know the Falcons are determined to run the ball down their throat and that's one of the key strategies they'll employ to win. Get inside for the three keys to a Patriot's win.

What the Patriots have to do on Sunday
An Insiders perspective from New England.
By Patriots Insider Staff

Three things the Patriots have to do on Sunday in order to get the win.

1) Fix the offensive line on offense. The Patriots have been unable to get anything done on the ground week after week in 2005. Corey Dillon has received more than his fair share of the blame for a problematic situation along the Patriots offensive front. It has been the unit's inability to open holes that continues to force the team into predictable play calling.

Corey Dillon is averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry, and up until the Chargers game was less than 3 yards per carry. Compare that to his 4.9 yards per carry average through the first four games of last season, and that's all you need to know. Some media pundits have called into question Dillon's age, and his ability to continue to shoulder the load. Hogwash. These reports are not based on watching film, at least in our opinion.

Dillon has no space to run. He's constantly harassed at the line of scrimmage by multiple defenders who last season were two to three yards downfield before they had a shot at stopping him. Dillon has had more defenders in the backfield on running plays than blockers.

The problems continue to surface on the left side of the line where rookies Nick Kaczur and Logan Mankins are learning on the job. With the loss of Matt Light and Joe Andruzzi, the learning curve has not been kind to the left side of the line. If the Patriots are to take the heat off Tom Brady and the passing game, they'll have to do it by opening some holes for Dillon and the rest of the Patriots running backs.

2) Stop the Run. The San Diego Chargers exposed what PI has been telling readers since the beginning of the preseason. There's a hole in the middle and it's not getting closed fast enough. The losses of Bruschi, Johnson, Harrison and now Richard Seymour for this week, may just be more than the team can handle right now.

After reviewing the film through the first four weeks, if Seymour isn't in the middle causing havoc, the rest of the defense looks ordinary. Former first-round pick Vince Wilfork is not the run-stopper the team needs on a consistent basis. He has looked solid at times and invisible at others. Wilfork needs to be the plug in the center of the line, yet too many times he's on the wrong side of the block and fails to push through it to close the gap.

Behind Wilfork are interior linebackers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown. Brown is a talented playmaker who has earned his reputation on the outside. He has not made the adjustment necessary as an inside linebacker, too often overpursuing a play or losing his gap responsibility. Beisel has been a stud in the middle at times, and at others has looked tired, bouncing off tackles and getting dragged 4 yards by opposing running backs before finally making the stop.

To say it's all on those three would be unfair. There are other breakdowns against the run; Players not setting the edge and forcing plays inside; Linemen rushing the ends into the backfield only to have the play blow by them on the inside. Those are the types of breakdowns the Patriots need to remedy in order to slow down the Falcons who have the best running game in the league at 209 yards per game 50 more than the number two rushing offense in the league -- the Chargers.

If the Patriots can slow down the run, the Falcons offense will have a hard time scoring points. Atlanta has the 30th ranked passing offense in the league, mainly because they run the ball so well. If the running game is untracked the Patriots stand a chance of evening the odds in spite of their injury depleted team.

3) Stop the third down conversions. The Patriots have done well in their wins limiting the damage teams do on a big play. Outside of a 73-yard toss to Randy Moss in week one and an 85-yard strike to Hines Ward by Pittsburgh in week three, the Patriots have limited the damage teams have done with their big plays. Such was not the case against San Diego. Although the Chargers didn't have big plays like the ones from Pittsburgh or Oakland, they were able to make big plays at crucial times.

The Patriots inability to get pressure on Drew Brees last week spelled doom for their injury-ravaged secondary. Antonio Gates made a number of critical long completions to sustain drives. On third and long, the Chargers were able to find the open man when they needed to, allowing them to continue to drive the ball wearing out the Patriots defense.

The Patriots have stopped opponents on third downs allowing only 36.5 percent of the time on 19 of 52 plays. Against the Chargers they allowed San Diego to convert on 7 of 12 attempts a whopping 58% of the time.

If the Patriots don't do a better job of limiting the gains on first and second down forcing the Falcons into third and long, the Atlanta running game will feast on the Patriots defense wearing them down late in the game. Warrick Dunn managed an eye-popping 7.0 yards per attempt last week, will try to maintain that pace on his home field turf. This game may come down to a battle of third-down conversions, with the running game, and home field advantage firmly in Atlanta's favor.

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