January 2, 2017


Why Super Bowl 51 Will Be Patriots-Falcons (Andy Benoit, Jan. 2nd, 2017, MMQB)

The most threatening trait shared by both teams is the ability to play out of base personnel (i.e. with either two backs or two tight ends). This might seem trivial, but in this era of three-receiver packages, defenses aren't accustomed to playing against expansive base offenses. (Both teams also excel at three-receiver sets.)

It starts at fullback. Atlanta's Patrick DiMarco has been the NFC's best this season (by a wide margin), and since Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski went on injured reserve in early December, James Develin has been the AFC's best fullback (he averaged over 30 snaps a game since Gronk's injury). Both can create additional gaps and defined running lanes as lead blockers, and both are used as wide-split receivers out of passing sets, particularly with empty backfields. Neither is a big-time pass-catching threat out wide, but with offensive coordinators Kyle Shanahan (Atlanta) and Josh McDaniels (New England) being comfortable still aligning them there, mismatches are created for wide receivers inside.

[B]oth teams have a ground game that can keep drives on schedule. (The Falcons especially; their ground game has been outright dominant these last three weeks). Depth at running back has been key. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman give Atlanta an unmatched one-two punch. In New England, LeGarrette Blount has been tremendous in short-yardage situations (he scored a team-record 18th rushing touchdown at Miami on Sunday) while Dion Lewis and James White present a sustainable scatback element, including between the tackles.

Lewis and White are most valuable, however, through the air. Which brings us full circle. With these two backs, who are sometimes on the field together, the Patriots have threatening runners who can also win almost anywhere as receivers. This is also true with Freeman and Coleman for Atlanta. It's the same effect as what DiMarco and Develin bring to the passing game, only with direct firepower behind it. There's been no bigger driver behind these teams' success in base packages this season. Defenses simply don't have the versatile athletes to handle these backs for four quarters. Especially when you consider that, as receivers, these guys are lining up in multifaceted formations that aid their efforts for creative route combinations.

The Patriots and the Falcons use intricate base schemes and a bounty of players who catch passes in ways that are uncommon to their listed positions. Get ready to hear more about these teams in early February.

Posted by at January 2, 2017 10:51 AM