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10 things you have to know about Patriots-Falcons

09.28.13 at 11:45 am ET

Here’s everything you need to know about Patriots-Falcons.

Our three favorite matchups on the evening:

1. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Julio Jones:
Talib is the sort of corner who isn’t necessarily a classic shutdown defender, but is a perfect matchup for the opposing team’s longest and leanest receiver. As was the case last week with Vincent Jackson, Jones (at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds) is the longest and strongest receiver who also happens to be the Falcons’ No. 1 option in the passing game. That means the Patriots figure to utilize Talib this week they same way they did last week — they’ll give him some help over the top, but for the most part, it’ll be the corner and receiver going head-to-head. Talib is having a very good year, having risen to the challenge on a number of occasions this year. He’ll have another one Sunday night.

2. Defensive lineman Chandler Jones against the Falcons offensive line:
As talented as the skill position players Atlanta has placed around Matt Ryan, the Falcons offensive line has really struggled as of late, particularly at the tackle spot. That should give some chances to both Jones and Rob Ninkovich. However, we’re going to focus on Jones for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that New England has bumped him inside to the defensive tackle spot between 10 and 15 times a game through the first three contests. It’s debatable how much the Patriots want to go this route on Sunday night — going head-to-head with one of the Falcons’ tackles is probably a better matchup for Jones than against their guards — but it’s always an option for New England. (One other note: as our scout friend told us, getting that push against Ryan and making him move from side to side in the pocket is the first step in slowing down the Falcons’ offense. That starts with Jones and the rest of New England’s front four.)

3. Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins against cornerback Desmond Trufant:
Thompkins made sizable gains over the first three weeks of the season, showing a ton more confidence and sharpness last week against the Bucs (while being covered mostly by all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis) than he did in Week 1 on the way to a pair of touchdowns. (With 28 targets, Thompkins is more than halfway to New England’s rookie record of 54 targets in a season, set by Julian Edelman in 2009.) While the Patriots do move Thompkins around, he’s played predominantly on the left side to this point in the season. And because the Falcons appear to be keeping Trufant on the right side, this will be a matchup worth highlighting as the game goes on.

(Of course, everything changes if tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola are healthy enough to give it a go. At this point, it’s more likely that Gronkowski plays than Amendola, but even if the big tight end is able to go, there need to be a set of realistic expectations placed on him. He’ll need time to get up to speed — he hasn’t seen game action since January, and it would be unfair to expect him to have a seismic impact if he was out there. If he does dress and play, he would still command attention — like we noted here — but he’d still be a week or two away from having the sort of offensive impact that we’ve seen in the past.)

4. Under the radar opponent Patriots fans need to know: running back Jason Snelling.
On a team filled with big offensive names like Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, the 5-foot-11, 234-pound veteran out of Virginia has carved out an impressive niche for himself over the first three games of the 2013 season as a multidimensional offensive threat out of the backfield. Through three games, he’s averaged 8.17 yards every time he’s touched the ball. Given New England’s occasional struggles when it comes to working in pass coverage against running backs and tight ends, this could be a winnable matchup for the Falcons. (One quick note: Snelling had a pair of red-zone touchdowns in the past two weeks, and could be a good option for Atlanta when it gets inside the Patriots’ 20.)

5. By the numbers:
The Atlanta offense is good early, but struggles late. The Falcons have scored 31 first-quarter points through the first three games of the season, tying the Chiefs for best in the league. However, Atlanta’s fourth-quarter scoring (10 points in three games) is one of the worst in the league. That, combined with the fact that the Patriots have yet to allow a single fourth-quarter point through the first three games of the season, is a good sign if you’re a New England fan. If the Patriots can hang with the Falcons out of the gate, chances are good they can make a game of it late.

6. Quote from an opposing scout regarding this Sunday:
“The Patriots have to confuse Matt Ryan with different looks, and — this is key — make him hold the ball. He gets very nervous feet when his first read is gone, and that’s when he makes most of his mistakes, like bad balls. You need to get a push up the middle, because he likes to step up. He has more errant throws when sliding to left or right than stepping up in pocket. To slow down Julio Jones, try and disrupt his release off the line and have someone over the top. Mix up double looks from different people. Look for Aqib Talib here, who has made himself into a very steady player in that system.” For more from our scout’s take, CLICK HERE.

7. Patriots fans should be worried about’€¦
Jones. He’s one of the best young receivers in the league, and is good at just about everything: he leads the league in receiving yards (373), is tied for the top spot in catches with Edelman (27), is sixth in the league in targets (36) and leads the league in yards after the catch (194). At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he’s a big, strong physical receiver who can beat you short (as evidenced by his YAC totals) or deep with his elite speed. He’s far and away Ryan’s favorite target (his 36 targets are twice as many as Tony Gonzalez, who has been targeted 18 times), and can mess up a defensive game plan very quickly.

8. Falcons fans should be worried about’€¦
the Patriots offense waking up when it gets inside the red zone. New England has struggled mightily in the red zone over the first three games of the season, scoring touchdowns at a rate of 30.8 percent when it gets inside the oppositions 20-yard line. That number is worst in the league. With the competition ratcheted up a notch over these next three games (Falcons, Bengals and Saints), the Patriots have to start picking up seven instead of three (or turning the ball over — we’re looking at you, Tom Brady) when they get inside the red zone. (One note: if you’re a struggling red-zone offense, you like seeing Atlanta on the schedule. The Falcons are 23rd in the lead in red-zone defense — opponents have scored touchdowns on seven of their 10 trips inside the Atlanta red zone, and kicked field goals on their other three trips.)

9. One more thing: Walt Coleman
will be working the game. Yes, that Walt Coleman.

10. Prediction:



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