Number 1 vs Number 1
Falcons top ranked offense against Patriots top ranked defense
Super Bowl 51 is headlined with the NFL’s best scoring offense, the Atlanta Falcons, taking on the number one scoring defense, the New England Patriots. One side will break in this matchup. Which one will it be? Let’s take a look at past Super Bowls with similar matchups, first.
If you open up the history books, you will see that it was not very long ago when the number one offense took on the number one defense. Seattle walked all over Peyton Manning and the Broncos, 43-8. In fact, four of the five times we have seen this same caliber of matchup, the defense has proven the thesis that defense wins championships. History is on the Patriots’ side, with the record being between two such titans being 4-1. The lone offensive victory came in 1989, with the 49ers taking down the Broncos 55-10.
However, no two seasons are alike. So, I dug a little deeper into this year’s top ranked offense and defense.
For the most part, New England’s defense has only gotten better as the season went along. Weeks one and two, they surrendered 21 and 24 points, respectively. Very different from their average of 15.6 today. In fact, over the last four weeks of football, including the post-season, the Patriots’ defense has given up an average of just 12.5 points per game. Make it the last six weeks, and it is still just at 12.67. Clearly, this is not a defense that peaked in the front half of the season and has gotten slowly worse.
Where does the Patriots’ defense make their money? Run game. Through the air, the Pats rank 12th in yards given up, but, on the ground, they are 3rd in the league. Takeaway-wise, there is nothing very special about New England, as they sit at 14th in the league. Their greatest strength is on the ground. Their defense has only given up six rushing touchdowns all season.
One quick thing that comes to mind is, if the Patriots are just slightly above average in pass defense, shouldn’t Matt Ryan have no problem scoring? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. As great a season as Ryan is having, a lot of credit has to be given to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman on the ground. Atlanta was 4th in rushing touchdowns, piling up 20 scores. Among their first downs through the air and ground, nearly a third of them came from rushing. This offense needs a running game to compliment the pass.
Lastly for the Patriots, their pass rush is right in the middle of league, at 16th, with 34 sacks on the season. All around, this is a balanced defense, that stands out particularly in their run defense.
Switching gears to the Dirty Birds, this offense is a well-oiled machine. They are 1st in total points, 2nd in yards, tied (with New England) for 1st in fewest turnovers; 3rd in passing touchdowns and yards; and 3rd in rushing touchdowns. All around, this offense means business.
However, any good offense can put up points on a weak defense. How as Kyle Shanahan’s offense done against top ranked defenses, such as they’ll see from the Patriots?
The Falcons have played a total of four games this entire season against top-10 defenses in points allowed. They are 2-2 in those games, with wins over Seattle in the post-season and Denver in week 5, and losses against Seattle in week 6 and Kansas City in week 7, their last loss as well. As for top rushing defenses, like the Patriots, Atlanta has played seven games against teams in the top 10; but none in the top three, though. In those seven games, they are no strangers to finding a way to still win, with a 5-2 record, and that last loss coming back in week 7 against the one-time San Diego Chargers in overtime.
The Georgia Dome scoreboard operator had a busy season, with the Falcons’ offense averaging 33.75 points per game. In the last four games, the Falcons have averaged four more points per game, with their average being 37.75. Make it the last six weeks and this offense has averaged 39 points per game. Similar to New England, this is a side of the football that is in its prime right now.
Where does this offense shine then? Between Matt Ryan’s MVP-caliber season and a strong run game, the Falcons have a very well rounded offense. They make the most out of possessions, with an-NFL high 54.1% of all drives ending in a score.
What does this all mean then? Atlanta will find the end zone and put points on the board. However, if the Patriots’ defense can slow down Freeman and the rushing attack enough, that could prove to be fatal. Let’s not forget, Tom Brady is here. His offense is not far behind Ryan, ranking 3rd in total points.