NFL Week 4 Preview: Patriots @ Falcons – SNF

Chemistry is the study of change. Belichick and Brady head into Atlanta for the game of the week on Sunday Night Football.

Chemistry is the study of change. Belichick and Brady head into Atlanta for the game of the week on SNF.

New England has won their first three games to kickoff the 2013 season in uncharacteristic fashion. It’s no secret the Patriots have been hindered by a lack of production from the TE and WR position. Checking in at last in the NFL in red zone TD conversion and 22nd in passing offense, Tom Brady and company face their most talented offensive unit to date. Despite the Pats’ struggle, Julian Edelman is tied as league leader with Falcons stud Julio Jones for receptions (27), both have 2 touchdowns. Only problem is, Edelman has 201 yards which is good for 172 yards less than Jones who sits at the top of the totem pole with 373 yards.

Atlanta lost to New Orleans and Miami, both by one score on the road. They took care of business against the Rams (31-24) in the Georgia Dome but did not look convincing considering St. Louis’ embarrassing performance last night against the 49ers. The Falcons will face their second AFC East opponent in as many weeks as New England marches in for Sunday Night Football on NBC at 8:30. Tom Brady has never lost to Atlanta in his career, taking 2 games on the road in 2001/2005 and 1 at home in 2009.

Recently acquired RB Steven Jackson has been out of practice with a thigh injury and expects to come back around Week 7. WR Roddy White has been hobbled by an ankle tweak limiting him to 7 receptions and 56 yards thus far. This leaves the Patriots in an advantageous matchup early in the season. The Falcons are 1-2 without being able to spread their wings to full potential just yet. In their toughest task to date, New England looks to stay undefeated and display their true colors. Check out these five keys to victory for the Pats:

1) Start Hot: The Patriots struggled hard in the first quarter against the Bucs. After just one first down on their first drive, TB12 was sacked twice and New England punted on their first three possessions. Lucking out with a missed field goal and a fourth down stop, Josh Freeman could not convert in the red zone at Gillette. K Ryan Lindell put three points on the board with two minutes left in the first quarter, little did they know it would be their only points of the afternoon.

Blessed by home field advantage and a currently benched quarterback, the Patriots were able to outscore the Buccaneers 17-0 in the second quarter and take control of the game. Do you see this same scenario panning out against the high-octane offense that is the Atlanta Falcons? Matt Ryan is not an elite quarterback, yet, but ATL is an elite team that should not be discounted. They are 1-2 and chasing the Saints, the Falcons are hunting for prey in their own backyard Sunday night. It is integral for the Patriots to put some points on the board early on the road.

2) Protect Brady: With Sebastian Vollmer out, Marcus Cannon will receive some serious reps against Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux and the rest of the Atlanta defensive attack. Brady was only sacked once after the first quarter, 3 in total, but the Patriots will need to score more than 23 points to win on Sunday night. This all starts with the hogs up front building a nice pocket for TB12 to have enough time to find his amateur receivers. Brady has been sacked 7 times through the first 3 games and both ATL and NE have 7 sacks on the season. This is not rocket-science but the chemistry in terms of hot reads is just not there yet. Tom needs more time and protection in the Georgia Dome.

3) Convert in the Red Zone: Aforementioned above, the Patriots are at the bottom of the pack in red zone TD conversions. This may sound shocking, but New England has not scored a rushing touchdown in the red zone. TB12 has thrown  4 out of his 5 touchdowns inside the 20 and this is becoming a trend the Pats need to break. TE Zach Sudfeld was a full participant in the most recent practices; however, the double TE sets fans are accustomed to have vanished. What to do? Pound the rock with the hot hand Bolden and sprinkle in some Ridley and Blount. Get in the end zone Patriots!

4) Chandler Jones: The second-year campaign from this Syracuse alum has netted three sacks, a ton of QB hits (one $17k fine) and a bunch of holding calls against offensive linemen. Chandler has been the main disrupting force on our line of scrimmage all year, causing fumbles, double OL coverage assignments and running back chips week in and week out. Jones isn’t the only one doing it, Wilfork’s shear size clogs up the running game and versatile Nink is the poster child for consistency. If the Patriots can get to the quarterback and record three or more sacks they will be in good shape.

5) Cornerback Play: It’s easy to look good against Josh Freeman. Matty Ice? Not so much. Matt Ryan is breaking down the wall to becoming a special player, but hasn’t quite cracked the code. Aqib Talib, Alfonso Dennard and Kyle Arrington will have their hands full all night with the beasts the Falcons carry. Not to mention, they have one of if not the greatest TE to play the game, Tony Gonzalez, lining up on almost every play. Our corners are playmakers and they can tackle. Having “veteran” Devin McCourty in centerfield allows the backs to gamble at times. Do not expect to see this on SNF, if any receiver gets behind the defense you can expect Belichick to give an earful to the defense. RBs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers can easily be contained. It’s going to come down to the Patriots CBs versus the Falcons WRs.

Make a few big plays, own the turnover battle and convert in the red zone. Easier said than done. I like the Patriots in a nail-biter proving victorious 31-28, moving to 4-0 for only the third time in Belichick’s tenure. The Patriots won the SuperBowl against the Eagles the first time but lost in the pursuit for 19-0. If the sloppy play continues, New England is in trouble.

The Falcons, who lost to Miami last week to fall to 1-2, have not lost consecutive games since Weeks 13-14 of the 2009 season.

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