A look at three key areas in Sunday’s Falcons-Patriots game:
Have the Patriots’ struggles in the running game (last in the NFL in yards per game –- 66.3) been a result of facing top competition or has it been their own ineptitude? This matchup should provide some answers to that question, because the Falcons are 22nd in rushing yards allowed (112.3 per game) and 28th in rushing yards allowed per carry (4.5). In other words, if the running game is going to get untracked, this could be the game. Also, one stat that flew a bit under the radar this week is that the Falcons’ defense is excellent on third down –- ranked first in the NFL.
The Falcons’ offense ranks first in rushing yards per game (209) and average yards per carry (5.4), so stopping the run is priority No. 1. Bill Belichick spoke all week about the Falcons’ speed on both sides of the ball, so it will be interesting to see if the Patriots play more nickel and dime packages on early downs to get more speed on the field. Or perhaps the team calls on its 4-3 “Cali front”, which it used in the Super Bowl against the Eagles to keep Donovan McNabb from escaping the pocket. That would mean an increased role for Rosevelt Colvin, and have Willie McGinest playing as a down lineman.
James Sanders. The rookie safety, who missed the first four games with an ankle injury, is as close to a Rodney Harrison-type presence as the Patriots have. He made it through the week of practice and could provide the team a spark in run support. If healthy, don’t be surprised if he starts.