Every team that plays the New England Patriots puts a target squarely on Tom Brady, and for great reason. One of the most prolific quarterbacks to ever play the game, Brady demands respect and attention for his abilities in the pocket for the Patriots.
And while it’s true the Falcons will be eyeing him up this week, there’s another aspect of the game that the Falcons have to focus on — New England’s emerging run game.
In years past, the Patriots have made do in the run game with a slew of running backs who were a productive supporting cast for Brady and his passing game weapons. No longer, with third-year back Stevan Ridley providing a run game in the past two years that continues to be a facet of New England’s offense to contend with.
“That’s something that every week, we as a defense, want to go out and stop an opponent’s run game,” linebacker Akeem Dent said Wednesday. “They look good. They look like they’re establishing the run game with Ridley, so of course, it’s always going to be a challenge to go out and stop an opponent’s run game as well as the pass game.”
A challenge, yes, but the Falcons have stepped up in that phase of the game. The Falcons are currently fifth in the league in run stopping, allowing just 79 yards per game through three weeks in that phase of the game.
The Patriots come in with run production aplenty as the team has had to rely on Ridley more with top targets Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola banged up to start the year. Gronkowski could return this week as he continues to recover from a forearm injury and back surgery, and Amendola could be back, too, as he’s healing up from a Week 1 groin injury.
Still, Ridley and the rush look to be a big part of the Patriots’ offensive attack. The Patriots handed the ball off 33 times in a 23-3 win over Tampa Bay last week and racked up 156 yards on the ground in the effort.
The biggest key to the Falcons’ success in stopping the run this year is the disruption caused by defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry. They’ve all played crucial parts in clogging the middle run lanes, getting backfield penetration and allowing the linebackers to come in and clean things up before a back can find green space, Dent said.
So while things may start and end with Brady’s abilities to make things happen, the Falcons defensive line can do a whole lot to take one phase of the game away from a Patriots team that has been successful on the ground.
“I think the scheme is good for us. We’ve done a good job up front. Our linebackers have done a good job of fitting it,” Peters said. “I think last week, we (gave up) one explosive (run) and we want to cut that out, but other than that, I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job against the run.”