By Danny Cox
The New England Patriots (4-2) have won four of their last five game—and that's great—but they haven't done it in overly impressive fashion. Still, they're winning, and that's the most important thing at this point in the season as teams are still trying to separate themselves from the pack. They have won a number of games over teams that didn't have a lot of strength, but that is all about to change as the Pats prepare to visit the Atlanta Falcons (3-2).
The good thing, though, is that the Falcons are struggling mightily right now.
Atlanta Falcons Season Record: 3-2
After opening the season with three victories, the Falcons have lost two in a row to the AFC East, and that does not look good for them. The Buffalo Bills took them out 23-17 for their first loss of the season, but the hapless Miami Dolphins somehow made a miraculous comeback from 17 points down to win 20-17 on Sunday.
Falcons On Offense
It's no real surprise that the Falcons offense centers around quarterback Matt Ryan, who is not having the greatest season through five games. Ryan already has six interceptions this year after having just seven all of last year, and it doesn't help matters that he's been sacked 10 times as well. Atlanta's offensive line is where the Patriots defense needs to attack and apply pressure throughout the day.
New England's secondary truly needs to stay awake though, as the Falcons have Julio Jones, Austin Hooper and Taylor Gabriel, and could be even more dangerous if Mohamed Sanu returns from injury. Those are some extremely talented targets who know how to get open and find the ball anywhere in the air, and they will all pose a very tough challenge.
Falcons On Defense
Looking at things on paper, Atlanta doesn't give up a lot of yards. They are the No. 3 team in the league in that department, but they do cough up more than 21 points per game. The Falcons simply don't know how to cause a lot of turnovers, which means their three victories have all been relatively close, and their two losses came to teams they rightfully should have defeated.
Atlanta has a bad habit of getting a lead and then failing to extend it, instead choosing to sit on it and hoping it holds out. If that happens against the Patriots, it may be the perfect opportunity for Brady and company to open things up a bit and spread the ball around.
Falcons Players To Watch: WR Julio Jones and DE Brooks Reed
Everyone knows that Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, but his numbers have been off a bit this year. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn even admitted that there is an issue and he is not satisfied with the number of touches the All-Pro has had in 2017, and he feels that needs to change. If the Falcons are about to start focusing on Jones, the Patriots will need to do the same.
On defense, it is obvious that defensive end Brooks Reed is turning into a true leader for the team. He already has 18 total tackles this season after just 25 in 2016. He also leads the team with three sacks and appears to have rejuvenated a career that hasn't been as exciting as it was in his rookie season of 2011. The Patriots need to focus on Reed and maybe even double-team to keep him out of the offensive backfield.
If the Falcons continue to play like they have against AFC East teams this season, the Patriots could end up picking up their fifth victory of the season without much of a problem. Still, the Falcons are going to pop out of this slump at some time or another, and if it is this weekend, the Pats will have much stiffer competition on their hands. Matt Ryan is always dangerous and he has a lot of weapons at his disposal, but so does Tom Brady—if the defense can help him out.
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