Utilize Blount force for ball control
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.