Let's start this game preview with three things you NEED to know before game day.
#1: The Falcons will be without starting running back Steven Jackson (hamstring).
#2: The Falcons could start the year at 1-3 for the first time in the Matt Ryan era.
#3: This will be Brady's third trip into Atlanta, playing in 2001 and 2005. How'd he do? Brady, combining both games had a 74.1% completion percentage, 600 yards, 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. Record, 2-0.
How exactly do the Falcons fair this season? While they are top 10 in the league in pass offense and rush defense, they are failing to do as good in their pass defense and rushing offense. And, if you add the fact that
their starting running back Steven Jackson will be missing the game Sunday Night, it may force Matt Ryan to throw the ball a bit more. Which is all fine and dandy except Roddy White has an ankle sprain and hasn't been 100% yet, Julio has played amazing so far but he isn't fully healthy either. This should be a great test for the Patriots secondary, I can already hear Belichick telling the players to "Do your jobs!"
My key match-up for the game will be Tony Gonzalez vs. whomever decides to cover him. While the Patriots linebackers are a good, solid bunch. Speed isn't exactly their forte, so if they do decide to use a safety more often than not to guard him, odds are Belichick is either out of options, or he trusts his man to man coverage. If this doesn't work out the Patriots could be in for a shootout, which isn't something the Patriots aren't use to. Just this isn't the time to be doing it with guys like Thompkins and Dobson "catching" balls from a future hall of famer.
What to watch for:
As I said earlier in a an article I did previewing the season and how the Patriots NEED to get off to a good start because they would be tested against some worthy opponents early and often. Well they have done that, but what we need to watch for is the communication between Brady and his WR's on the road. The Patriots have been in the friendly confines of their home past two weeks, now they will be in a very loud arena with some pretty passionate Atlanta fans.
4 things for a Falcons victory:
1. Maintain a balance: The Patriots seemingly don't have a strong run defense like they have in years past for some reason, if the Falcons advert the running game early. Passing the football could become harder since the Patriots will likely ease off players in the box.
2. Test the deep ball: The Falcons players can stretch the field very well, and depending on the coverage. Man to man defense on some of the better receivers in the league against a historically bad pass defense could be daunting.
3. Allow Brady to see you're bringing pressure: I know this sounds stupid, but like I said earlier. Communication will come at a premium Sunday and with the crowd noise and young players. Failed communication could turn an incomplete pass, into an intercepted one.
4. Play for a shootout: The one thing the Falcons want should be a shootout because they would have full on advantage. At home, Brady not playing 100% just yet, facing a shaky pass defense. The Falcons can set the tempo high, early. And force the Patriots into plays they don't want to make. If this game goes into a shootout, I'm not really sure of the Patriots odds.
Look, this will be a great game. A game of which sees the Patriots going 4-0 for the first time since 2007. While it will be a huge test, it could add more confidence in a team that needs every ounce it can possibly get.