The New England Patriots absolutely rolled to a 14-2 record this season, going 11-1 with Tom Brady as the starter. Their consistency was a testament to the balance of their roster, as well as the brilliance of the coaching staff.
There are several things that make the Patriots so difficult to beat, too. They have the ability to frustrate opponents on both offense and defense with playmakers on each side of the ball. Here are five things the Patriots do that drive their opponents crazy.
They protect the football
This season, the Patriots only gave the ball away 11 times – two of which came on interceptions. They, like the Falcons, do an extraordinary job of protecting the football to the point where it’s hard to believe how infrequently they commit turnovers. They were tied with the Falcons for the fewest turnovers in the league, and it’s a big reason they won 14 games this season.
Not surprisingly, in the two games they lost, they had a total of three turnovers. They have the consistent offense and strong defense to make up for mistakes, but it’s clear the Patriots are better when they’re not committing turnovers. The Falcons were average when it comes to takeaways this season, forcing 22 in 16 games – 16th in the league. Picking off Tom Brady or causing any sort of turnover on Sunday will be huge for the Falcons, but it won’t be easy for them to do.
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Tom Brady throwing with pinpoint accuracy
Tom Brady completed 67.4 percent of his passes this season, which was fifth-best in the NFL. He’s as accurate as they come in the NFL, which is difference-making for the Patriots in a couple different ways. Not only does it help him avoid turnovers, but his ball placement is elite. He puts passes in spots where only his receivers can make a play. And when his receivers are open, he leads them in a way that allows them to gain big yardage after the catch.
Derrick Johnson said this last season about Brady, all of which is true.
“What can’t he do? He’s super accurate, he gets the ball out of his hands fast. We’re all fans of the game of football, and seeing him back there throwing the ball, and winning in big games, winning in clutch moments, in Super Bowls, he’s definitely one of the best.”
Brady’s accuracy frustrates defenders because it makes it nearly impossible for them to get their hands on the football. Pass deflections are hard to come by, as are interceptions.
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Playing sound defense
The Patriots, largely thanks to the guidance of Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, play very sound defense. What that means is they aren’t susceptible to trick plays, they keep everything in front of them and they’re great tacklers. That frustrates an explosive team like the Falcons because quick passes over the middle become more difficult to turn into big gains.
Moving the ball is difficult against the Patriots whether you try to do that through the air or on the ground. Their front seven is playing exceptionally well despite being without Jamie Collins, who was traded during the season. The Falcons could have some trouble running the ball if the Patriots remain disciplined with their gaps and assignments, as they have all season.
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Preventing big plays in the passing game
Part of what makes the Patriots’ defense as dominant as it’s been this season is the fact that they simply don’t allow big plays. Just 17 times all year the Patriots allowed a play of at least 30 yards, which was the third-fewest in the NFL. Devin McCourty and his range play a big role in preventing deep passes, as do their strong cast of cornerbacks.
Malcolm Butler was susceptible to plays over the top in the past, but he improved greatly in that area this season. Logan Ryan has also done a great job of limiting big plays, as has Eric Rowe – an area where he struggled when he was with the Eagles.
The Falcons thrive on creating big plays offensively with their explosive playmakers on the outside, but doing so against the Patriots will be a challenge. They had 36 plays of at least 30 yards this season, which was the most in the NFL. They’ll be fortunate to hit one on Sunday.
They nickel-and-dime you all the way down the field
The Patriots’ offense is very similar to that of Atlanta’s in that fact that they both have an elite quarterback, a strong running game and utilize quick passes to move the ball down the field. What separates them is their explosiveness, which the Falcons have much more of.
The Patriots win by nickel and diming opponents all the way down the field. New England had 31 10-play drives this season, which was the seventh-most in the NFL. A total of 26 of those drives ended in points, which is a strong percentage.
The Patriots don’t typically win with deep passes. Instead, they throw short-to-intermediate passes to underneath receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Chris Hogan is a newfound weapon who can stretch the field, but the way the Patriots move the ball with short passes is frustrating for defenses.
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