By Mike DeVito
This Sunday night, we all get to sit back and watch a rematch of Super Bowl LI, which gave us arguably the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL. And while the game this Sunday will certainly not be as exciting, (no matter what happens) it is setting up to be a great game. Here are a few things New England can do to make sure they achieve the same result as they did in last season’s Super Bowl. (Minus the entire getting into a massive hole and having to create another miracle narrative.)
New England Defense – Win on first down
The Pats have struggled in many areas on defense this year, but one of the underlying reasons for their overall struggles is their poor play on first down. New England has allowed over 7 yards a play on first down through 6 games, ranking them 32nd in the NFL. It is much more difficult to play defense well in 2nd and short situations (and much easier to be an offensive coordinator too) than it is in 2nd and 6+. After watching some tape, some of the problems the Pats are having is due to poor technique on the defensive line, which is uncharacteristic of the Pats defense over the past few years. They will have a big challenge on their hands facing the best center in the NFL and a run offense that can run quick zone as well as they run power. The Falcons are averaging 120 yards rushing per game this season with Devonta Freeman averaging 4.5 yards a rush. Atlanta is going to attack New England’s defensive line on first down by running the football and if the Pats want to be successful they need to figure out a way to stop it. (Maybe play David Harris?…Maybe??)
New England Offense – Start Fast
As a former player who has played New England more than a dozen times, one of the toughest challenges I can remember from facing this team, was how fast they were out of the gate. There were games where it was 5 minutes into the 1st quarter and New England had already put up 14 points on us. That is incredibly deflating (haha remember that?) and something I haven’t seen consistently from the Pats this year. Brady, Gronk, Cooks, etc., need to get things percolating more quickly and make a statement to Atlanta and the rest of the NFL that they aren’t playing around anymore. The Falcons are going to come out swinging in an attempt to avenge that Super Bowl loss, so not only do the Pats need to match their intensity, they need to ratchet it up 10 notches. It is also important to remember that Dan Quinn is one of the smartest coaches in the NFL and knows New England inside and out from his time with the Jets and the Seahawks. Quinn will have a masterpiece of a game plan put together for the Pats offense to deal with (like he did in the Super Bowl) and New England will need to be ready for it.
Prediction: Atlanta 38 New England 28
Mike DeVito is a Maine alum and veteran of 9 season in the NFL with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. Mike is a guest host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live on DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.