HOUSTON — NFL history, both recent and far reaching, favors the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons.
For years, all the way back to Super Bowl I, when the Packers beat the Chiefs, through 2013, when the Seahawks swamped the Broncos, five of the six times the NFL’s top-rated defense (this year, the Patriots) has faced the No. 1 offense (the Falcons), the better defense has won.
History has shown it’s been far easier for a great defense, either by scheme or with star players — usually both — to find a way to eliminate whatever an offense does best. Remember the most recent No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup, with the Seahawks and Broncos? Seattle beat up Denver’s wide receivers from the start and threw off the entire timing of the Broncos’ finesse passing game
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator in that game, so he surely knows that Bill Belichick is dreaming up a plan to try to shut down what has been the most exciting offense in the NFL this year.
Don’t be surprised if whatever game plan Belichick has spent the last two week concocting includes trying to push around the Falcons offensive line and running backs, while finding a way to take the Falcons’ best player, wide receiver Julio Jones, out of the game.
That sort of game plan is often easier than how a top offense would prepare for a top defense. It’s not as easy to isolate one opposing defensive player to avoid. The Falcons might want to avoid throwing against No. 1 cornerback Malcolm Butler, but doing so could take Jones out of too many plays.
“One guy can’t stop them and we can’t just stop one guy,” Belichick said. “We are going to have to play good team defense and do a good job of coaching. I am sure we are going to have to make some in-game adjustments and figure out some things as we go. Obviously the biggest challenge of the year, the best offensive team that we have faced. We will have our hands full we know that.”
So why can the Falcons break this trend, and join the 49ers from Super Bowl XXIV as the only top-rated offense to beat the No. 1 defense?
It will come down to both the creativity of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who must find a way to stay a couple moves ahead of Belichick, and quickly make in-game adjustments to whatever new things the Patriots defense debut on Sunday, and quarterback Matt Ryan, who will have to be quick with his decision making and generous in his pass distribution.
“I'm not worried about what we're ranked. I mean, I think the challenge is trying to win this game, and (doing) whatever it takes,” Ryan said Thursday. “We're going to have to play really well because they're a good defense, but the challenge is in just winning this game, and not about where we're ranked or where they're ranked.”