Uti­lize Blount force for ball con­trol

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUPER BOWL LI - BY NEIL GREENBERG neil.greenberg@wash­post.com

The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots have ap­peared in eight Su­per Bowls, six since Bill Belichick be­came the coach in 2000. But to get Belichick and quar­ter­back Tom Brady a ring for the thumb, they are go­ing to have to beat the At­lanta Fal­cons, the league’s top scor­ing of­fense.

It won’t be easy, but if the Pa­tri­ots have their way, this is how Su­per Bowl LI will shake out: Lean on LeGar­rette Blount The Pa­tri­ots’ of­fense re­volves around Brady and the pass­ing game, but LeGar­rette Blount pro­vides New Eng­land with a run­ner who is dif­fi­cult to stop.

Blount fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with 1,161 rush­ing yards and led the NFL with 18 rush­ing touch­downs. His most ef­fi­cient runs were straight up the mid­dle (5.1 yards per carry), but he showed he could bust through at al­most any time with runs of 40 or more yards be­hind the left guard, to the right of cen­ter and out­side of the right tackle. Three of his runs of 20 yards or more were against eight-plus de­fend­ers in the box, and al­most two-thirds of his yards per carry (2.5 out of 3.9) oc­curred af­ter con­tact. Against the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers in the AFC cham­pi­onship game, it took seven de­fend­ers to get him to the ground . . . af­ter he had run for 18 yards.

At­lanta, mean­while, stopped just an av­er­age amount of runs at or be­hind the line of scrim­mage (19 per­cent), with only de­fen­sive tackle Grady Jar­rett, who was third on the team in stops (23), pro­vid­ing any sort of re­sis­tance. Once runners get be­yond the line of scrim­mage, it gets worse. The lineback­ers al­lowed 1.29 ad­di­tional yards on car­ries that reached the sec­ond level of the de­fense, the seventh most in the NFL.

An­other el­e­ment: Keep­ing the clock run­ning and the ball away from Matt Ryan and the Fal­cons’ of­fense will be crit­i­cal.

Get the ball to Ju­lian Edel­man

Chris Ho­gan had a break­out per­for­mance in the AFC cham­pi­onship game, catch­ing nine passes for 180 yards and two touch­downs, but Edel­man is the most de­pend­able wide re­ceiver on New Eng­land’s ros­ter.

Edel­man caught 98 of 159 tar­gets dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and has hauled in 16 of 23 passes dur­ing the play­offs. In­clud­ing the post­sea­son, no Pa­tri­ots re­ceiver has more yards per route run.

What also makes Edel­man the most im­por­tant Pa­tri­ots re­ceiver in the Su­per Bowl is his “pos­ses­sion” role, help­ing New Eng­land chew up small chunks of yardage over the course of a drive and, again, keep the clock rolling. His rat­ing on passes down the mid­dle of the field (100.9) was higher than it was on passes to the out­side (89.1), and only two re­ceivers — Odell Beck­ham Jr. (24) and Den­nis Pitta (21) — had more first downs on short routes over the mid­dle than Edel­man (20).

Make At­lanta one-di­men­sional by stop­ping the run

Three of At­lanta’s five losses this sea­son came when the team was held be­low 60 yards rush­ing and they be­came a more pass-re­liant team, as most teams are when they are trail­ing on the score­board. The Pa­tri­ots are 5-0 this year, in­clud­ing the play­offs, when they hold an op­po­nent to 60 yards or fewer on the ground. The key will be how well New Eng­land can con­trol the line of scrim­mage.

Dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Pa­tri­ots had the fourth-best run­stop­ping unit in the NFL per Foot­ball Out­siders, but they strug­gled to stop rush­ers at or be­hind the line of scrim­mage (17 per­cent of the time, 21st in the NFL) and sur­ren­dered 1.03 sec­ond-level yards (be­tween five and 10 yards past the line of scrim­mage) per carry.

Mal­com Brown has been one of the bet­ter run-stuff­ing de­fen­sive tack­les, fin­ish­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son at No. 13 per Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, and Alan Branch was ranked 11th, draw­ing high praise from Belichick for his abil­ity to use his size and strength to keep rush­ers from mak­ing big gains.

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