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NFL FOOTBALL: Falcons vs. Patriots, Part 2, this time from an intern perspective

Graphic Art by Brian Worton | The Covington News/


The Atlanta Falcons-New England Patriots Super Bowl is long gone, even if the painful memory of the game's outcome is still etched deep into the psyche of Falcons fans. And no matter how many times we replay that one, we can do nothing to change the outcome of it.

But now with 57 days remaining before the 2017 season kicks off, it's time to start looking to the future. And for The Covington News interns, Tyler Williams and Cameron Freeman, that means putting the Falcons and Patriots head-to-head one more time -- but now, it's for 2017 preseason bragging rights. It helps, for argument's sake, that Tyler is a rabbid Falcons fan, while Cam bleeds Patriot blue.

Who's got the better roster heading into the new season? And for that matter, who's got the better argument about which squad has the better collection of talent? You read. You decide. 

 



Tyler Williams

The 2016 Atlanta Falcons football were arguably the best Falcons team the city of Atlanta has seen. The defense was young, and while they weren’t the best, they were fast and hungry. The offense on the other hand, was a phenom on the field. Never had I seen such a prolific attack both on the ground, and in the air.

Led by reigning MVP Matt Ryan, the star-studded cast featured some well-known talent in Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, while also boasting surprising newcomers in Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, Jacob Tamme, etc.

With that cast, the Falcons offense put up 540 points in 16 games, tied for seventh most in NFL history. That’s 33.8 points per game. How did they accomplish that? Here’s the breakdown, starting with the signal caller.

To start, he was only 56 yards short of his first ever 5,000 yard season, but still settled for a career high 4,944 yards. 4,944 isn’t the most we have seen in a season, but Ryan did it in an amazing way. He had a 9.3 yards per pass attempt average in 2016, which is the most since 2000, and the second most behind Chris Chandler in Falcons’ history.

 He threw for 38 touchdowns, while only throwing seven interceptions. He had 69 throws of over 20 yards and a league high 17 throws of over 40 yards. In doing all of this, he helped carry his team to an 11-5 record and a number two seed in the playoffs.

But Ryan couldn’t have possibly done it without his offensive line. The Falcons bolstered their trenchmen in a huge way when they added veteran center Alex Mack, who would become the leader of the line, in possibly their biggest free agency move that would help solidify the middle and give Ryan the time he needed to throw. We saw how precise Matty Ice is when he had time to throw.

Then there’s Julio Jones with his 83 receptions for 1409 yards with a 17-yards-per-catch average. Did I mention he missed two games while still compiling those stats? No worries though, because the receiving corps still has Mohamed Sanu and standout slot guy Taylor Gabriel to fill the void in the absence of Julio.

Both combined for 94 receptions for 1,232 yards and an average of nearly 14 yards per reception, and while the Falcons have a potent air attack, they also have an amazing 1-2 punch sitting behind Matt Ryan.

Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman can do it all. Both are great pass catchers in the flat and out of the backfield. But what stands out is their opposing running styles. While Coleman is a rare mixture of speed and power who usually likes to plow between the tackles, Freeman is a smaller yet shifty running back who’s speed and low center of gravity makes him almost impossible to stop. I

I will also make the claim that not a single linebacker can consistently cover either Freeman or Coleman in pass protection.

So, with all that offensive power – despite having to sign a new offensive coordinator in Steve Sarkisian – I believe the Falcons will make even more noise in 2017 shredding through defenses and making what they do look easy.

The defense has a different storyline, highlighted by youth. In their 10 games before the bye week, the defense averaged 28.3 points allowed and six interceptions. In the eight games after the bye, they only surrendered 20.5 points allowed and had six interceptions as well. In the playoffs, they stepped up even more only allowing 20 and 21 points to the Seahawks and Packers respectively, while amassing five sacks in those two games and three interceptions.

Now let’s talk about the Super Bowl. Look, this young defense without its true leader in Desmond Trufant had to face one of, if not the greatest quarterback to ever step onto the field. They held the Patriots great at halftime, but lack of depth and fatigue set in really quick in the second half, and this inexperienced group was flat out tired, allowing Brady to set up one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history (it kills me to write that).

But they are coming into another year – a fresh year. A year with so many motivating factors. Let’s not forget they added a stud on the defensive line in Dontari Poe who will likely line up side by side with Grady Jarrett, who would’ve likely been the MVP if the Falcons had won the Super Bowl. On the ends, look for 2016 sack leader Vic Beasley as well as first round draft pick Takkarist McKinley to make noise. Then you have head hunter Deion Jones and the man who played in his same position at LSU, Duke Riley who I believe plays a lot like Jones. In the back, there’s a returning Trufant looking for redemption after missing the playoffs, as well as the hit stick guru Keanu Neal at Safety.

So here is my argument… Yeah the Patriots have Tom Brady and he makes everyone around him better. While that is true, the Falcons are just too loaded on offense and defense to argue against them. They are young and hungry and with more time, Dan Quinn could build a dynasty of his own in Atlanta.

 

Cameron Freeman

 

The “Blitz for Six” is live and in full effect right now, as the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have surprisingly perhaps been the most aggressive team this offseason when it comes to trades and free agency signings. 

The Patriots are very well known for making shrewd moves in the field of personnel.  Financial literacy, scouting, and refusal to overlook the importance of character are pillars that the Patriots hang their hat on, as that recipe continues to net them playoff run after playoff run as they are perennially a threat to win the Super Bowl in February.

The specter of Tom Brady approaching the proverbial cliff, uncertainty surrounding the long term coaching career of Bill Belichick as well as the emergence of other legitimate Super Bowl threats have caused many to believe that the dynastic run of the New England Patriots is approaching its burial. 

One of those threatening teams is the Atlanta Falcons, who proved that they should be considered amongst the elite teams in the NFL with an absolute scorcher of a playoff run and at one point, as we all remember so dearly, being up on Brady’s Patriots by 25 points before falling victim to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. 

All of that is old news though, and when the ball is kicked off on September 7, and all that matters is getting back to and winning the big game in February 2018.

The New England Patriots lost some key contributors, namely tight end Martellus Bennett who signed a deal with the Packers to go catch passes from Aaron Rodgers as well as cornerback Logan Ryan who inked with the Tennessee Titans. 

These would be fairly significant losses to other teams, but considering the players whom the Patriots retained (primarily a huge win in re-signing Malcolm Butler), as well as other pickups in the same positions, the departures that the Patriots endure are relatively harmless.  However, some believe that the Falcons will possess the better roster heading into the 2017 NFL season, including Pro Football Focus who have these two teams ranked as the first and second best rosters heading into the season, the Patriots being the latter.

Now I may give Falcons fans like Tyler a hard time on Twitter and in person just because I enjoy toying with their passionate dispositions. But ultimately, I would like to think of myself as someone who knows the game, and I understand just how legitimate and dangerous the Falcons really are. 

Do they have a higher ceiling than the current Patriots roster?  Possibly.  Could the Falcons be the next Patriotesque dynasty for years to come?  There’s a valid chance, and they have a very young, yet experienced nucleus to do so. 

But do the Falcons have the better roster between the two teams and a better opportunity to win right now?  Absolutely not. 

Let’s look at it by position, starting with the defensive line. 

The Falcons saw Vic Beasley really come into form last season. And as Tyler mentioned, Atlanta also boasts one of the bigger free agent signings in nabbing ultra-athletic defensive tackle Dontari Poe from the Kansas City Chiefs. 

The Patriots have the better defensive line collectively entering the 2017 season, however, thanks in large part to the acquisition of Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers for virtually nothing. 

If Ealy doesn’t sound familiar, go watch the tape from Super Bowl 50 and big No. 94 will jump off the screen repeatedly with a MVP worthy performance, MVP had the Panthers come out on top in that game. Add veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch pairing with Malcolm Brown to the mix, as well as the emerging Trey Flowers, and it’s a potentially star-studded group.

Moving to linebackers, I think it’s clear that despite the Falcons’ talent, the Patriots possess the better and more experienced linebacker corps.  One of the big wins in free agency for New England was retaining defensive leader Dont’a Hightower.  Hightower along with free agent signee David Harris, and pass rushing outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich give the Patriots the decided advantage.

In the secondary, I’ll acknowledge that bringing back a healthy Trufant, will surely bolster this Falcons secondary, but the Patriots still have the better DBs, and one of the elite cornerback tandems heading into the 2017 season.  Malcolm Butler, who was heavily pursued by the New Orleans Saints, resigned and the Patriots also replaced Logan Ryan with an even better cornerback in 2016 AFC pro bowler Stephon Gilmore.

Should Gilmore and Malcolm Butler get beat in coverage, the Patriots possess one of the most underrated safety duos in the NFL in Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.

From an offensive line standpoint, I’ll have to concede and give the edge to the Falcons, even though Matt Ryan was sacked more than two times the amount that Tom Brady was, although Brady did played in four less games., The Falcons run blocking prowess sets their o-line apart, though.

Speaking of running games, it’s no secret that the Falcons and the Patriots are schematic opposites. And although Atlanta is wired for the vertical passing game, the duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman is one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the league. 

But just as good, if not as flashy, are Patriot tailbacks James White and Dion Lewis.  Atlanta knows all about White as he absolutely shredded the Falcons with an MVP-caliber performance in Super Bowl 51.

 Lightening quick Lewis is also a handful and a game breaker in the run game, pass game and on special teams.  New England also brought in versatile Rex Burkhead from the Bengals along with 2016 yards-per-carry leader Mike Gillislee from the division rival Buffalo Bills.  The combo of talent and depth gives the backfield edge to the Patriots.

With wideouts, everyone knows the first name on everyone’s lips. Atlanta’s Julio Jones is a freak of nature and undoubtedly the best wide receiver in football. With that being said, the Patriots have the better collective receiving corps by far.

  Jones is great – a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens caliber talent, but he is just one man. 

With this New England group of receivers, Tom Brady has weapons for days.  The Patriots made perhaps the biggest offseason news in 2017 by acquiring explosive playmaker Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints via trade. 

Cooks, similar to Julio, is a big play waiting to happen, as his quickness, route running, sure hands, and explosive speed makes him a threat for six. every time he touches the football.  Chris Hogan was good and Julian Edelman has proved to be Mr. Reliable on several occasions.

Throw in other key receivers such as Danny Amendola, speedy newcomer Andrew Hawkins, as well as Malcolm Mitchell, who came up with several clutch grabs in Super Bowl 51, and you have one of the more complete receiving groups in all of football. 

Perhaps the biggest offensive threat aside from Julio Jones is Rob Gronkowski.  Gronk is the best tight end in the NFL when he’s healthy and on top of his game –  a true matchup nightmare anywhere on the field.  He makes the Pats’ offense unstoppable.  New England also added former Mackey Award winner at Clemson and Indianapolis Colts tight end, Dwayne Allen. 

Now to the roster spot that arguably makes all the difference: Quarterback.

Matt Ryan is coming off of a stellar season in which he silenced several critics who questioned his legitimacy as a franchise quarterback.  However, Ryan has shown flashes of inconsistency in the past, even last year during the Super Bowl run.  Sometimes you’re not sure what you’re going to get out of Ryan.  That’s never the case with the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady.

  Those of you who believe Tom Brady is approaching a cliff soon are sadly mistaken.  Brady is still in peak form, and is fully driven to continue to rack up the Super Bowl wins.  Tom Brady has been a model of consistency year in and year out since he took over as the Patriots starter in 2001, and if Super Bowl 51 were an indication, he’s showing no signs of slowing down. As long as you have Brady running the show, you have a chance to win. 

For the league’s sake, everyone better hope that none of the Patriots see that someone (like my intern colleague) had the audacity to rank their roster as the second best in the world.  The Falcons are super solid, no doubt. But don’t think that the Patriots are just going to relax and allow other teams to win championships, while they’re still out to prove that they are the team to beat.  At the end of the day, the game isn’t played on paper or on the internet.

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