Here we go. The big test we as Falcons fans have been waiting for since Arthur Blank hired Thomas Dimitroff from the gold standard New England Patriots. Dimitroff was 3rd in line behind Head Coach Bill Belichick and then General Manager Scott Pioli. Dimitroff won the job on a satellite interview with Blank and revived a franchise in complete disarray. TD struck gold on his two biggest decisions in hiring Coach of the Year Mike Smith and drafting Offensive Rookie of the Year in Matt Ryan. Those two calculated, exceptional decisions coupled with a magnificent overall draft led him to being named General Manager of the Year. Many may say that Coach Smith or Ryan are the team’s most valuable asset, but without Dimitroff, those men may not even be there. TD gets to bring his new team, dredged in the philosophy of the Patriot Way and a team he helped build, to face his former employees. This one should be great.
Falcons Defense vs. Patriots Offense
Patriots Offense (Total – 9th, Rushing – 26th, Passing – 4th, Points – Tied 22nd)
Falcons Defense (Total – 22nd, Rushing – 19th, Passing – 17th, Points – Tied 5th)
Falcons D-Line vs. Patriots All-Pro OL
DE – Jamaal Anderson/Kroy Biermann vs. LT – Matt Light
DT – Thomas Johnson/Trey Lewis vs. LG – Logan Mankins
DT – Jonathan Babineaux vs. C – Dan Koppen/ RG – Stephen Neal
DE – John Abraham/Chauncey Davis vs. RT – Nick Kaczur
This will be one of the biggest keys of the entire game. Many are saying that Tom Brady and Patriots are old and washed up and some of their glimmer has faded, but don’t get comfortable, because only two short years ago, Brady and Patriots broke almost every single offensive record. One of the biggest reasons for the Patriots success has been their All-Pro offensive line, several who Dimitroff helped scout. Anderson and Biermann will have to be on their A+++ game to beat Pro-Bowl Left Tackle Matt Light. The pass rush registered 4 sacks against the Dolphins, but couldn’t manage 1 against the Panthers. Is Thomas Johnson ready for the big time? He draws one hell of a first start against All-Pro Left Guard Logan Mankins. Sure would be a nice time to get Big Trey Lewis active and working his preseason form. Babineaux had some good pressures against the Panthers, but Dan Koppen is one of the best in the business. Will Vance Walker see any PT after being called up from practice squad? Abraham should fare better against Kazcur than he did against Jordan Gross. Got to have an excellent game and get pressure on Brady and not depend on the linebackers and safeties for pressure. If we get no pressure with our front four, Brady will have a big day. Edge – Revolutionaries
Falcons Linebackers vs. Patriots Backs and Tight Ends
WLB – Mike Peterson/MLB – Curtis Lofton vs. RB – Fred Taylor/Laurence Maroney/Kevin Faulk
SLB – Stephen Nicholas/SS - Erik Coleman vs. TE – Ben Watson/TE – Chris Baker
The Falcons LB corps has been one of the defense’s strengths in the first two games. Peterson is on pace for an All-Pro year with almost double-digit tackles, forced fumbles, and interceptions in the first two games. Stephen Nicholas collared his first sack of the year and has been flying all over the field, showing glimpses of his superb athleticism. Curtis Lofton has simply been the leader of the defense, delivering bone-jarring hits and tackling all over the field. The linebacking corps helped keep two of the better RB tandems in check in Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams and Deangelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart. The Panthers tandem did have their moments and rushed for a combined 149 yards, but many of the runs were on draws. They have kept the tight ends in check, but Jeff King did some plays down the field, but more in the area of the safeties. The Patriots don’t pose much of a rushing threat ranking 26th in the NFL, but the combination of Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, and Kevin Faulk add athleticism and experience. Chris Baker is solid vet at TE, but former Bulldog Ben Watson has all the tools and abilities to be one of the best TE’s in football and one of Brady’s most reliable targets. Edge – Birds
Falcons Secondary vs. Patriots QB/Wide Receivers
CB – Brian Williams vs. WR – Randy Moss
CB – Chris Houston vs. WR – Wes Welker
FS – Thomas DeCoud vs. QB – Tom Brady
SS – Erik Coleman vs. WR – Joey Galloway
Nickel – Brent Grimes vs. WR – Greg Lewis
Will we as Falcons want to pull the cover over our eyes in this match-up? Hopefully not, but this is by far and away one of the best passing attacks we’ll see all year and is great practice when the Drew Brees Express rolls up on us. The corners had a good game against the Dolphins, but showed some signs of concern against a better passing attack and better receivers in Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammed. 1st and 2nd down were not a problem, but our secondary gave up many big third and longs. Granted, Steve Smith is one of the best in game, but Randy Moss is even better, and Wes Welker is one of the best intermediate catching receivers in the NFL. Brian Williams will likely draw Moss and have the task of the day, but Chris Houston may have an even tougher assignment trying to keep up with Welker all over the field. Look to see a bunch of Grimes, Chevis Jackson, and maybe even a Tye Hill sighting since the Patriots air it out more as much as any other team. Brady’s achievements are well-documented and he will be on a fast track for the Hall of Fame. Many think he may be done, but those who bet against Tom Brady are likely broke now. If we don’t get some pressure on the Golden Boy, than it will be a long, long day. Edge – Revolutionaries
Falcons Offense vs. Patriots Defense
Falcons Offense (Total – 18th, Rushing – 16th, Passing – 17th, Points – Tied 9th)
Patriots Defense (Total – 3rd, Rushing – 14th, Passing – 6th, Points – 15th)
The Burn Unit vs. Patriots D- Line
LT – Sam Baker vs. DE – Ty Warren
LG – Justin Blalock vs. ILB – Gary Guyton
C – Todd McClure vs. NT – Vince Wilfork
RG – Harvey Dahl vs. ILB – Derrick Burgess?
RT – Tyson Clabo vs. DE – Jarvis Green?
It’s a huge cliché to say the game is won in the trenches, but it is particularly true in this one. The Burn Unit and Turner Burner improved from week 1 to week 2, but the rushing offense is still not on par of where it was last year and not up to expectations of a run-heavy offense. The Pats decided to trade away one of their best players in Richard Seymour in an effort to get younger on defense. They’re right in the middle of the NFL rankings in terms of run defense, so the OL will have to be on their game. Ball control offense is the way to beat the Patriots by keeping Brady and their offense off the field. Wilfork and Warren are formidable, but the losses of Richard Seymour and Jerod Mayo combined with another week of Coach Boudreau’s magic give the Falcons a small advantage. Edge – Birds
Burner, Snelling, & Gonzo vs. Pats OLB’s
TE – Tony Gonzalez vs. OLB – Adalius Thomas/SS – Brandon Meriweather
RBs Michael Turner/Jason Snelling vs. OLB – Pierre Woods
The Burner had over 100 yards rushing and 1 TD, but he earned every single yard of it as it took a while for the rushing attack to get going. The first half, Turner was bottled up for 2, 3, and 4 yard rushes and no more. He seemed to run a little softer in the first half, and came out running with authority in the second half, which made a big difference. The OL blocked much better as well. Turner is the key player in this game. The Falcons want to get the running attack going early and often, allowing them to control the clock, keep Brady on the sidelines, and opening up the play-action for Matty Ice. Norwood seems to be injury-prone this year, but this is a huge opportunity for Jason Snelling who looked fantastic in limited action against the Panthers, rushing for over 30 yards and catching a nice touchdown. Snelling can show that he deserves to be Turner’s complement back with another great performance. Simply put, Tony Gonzalez is just on another level. He has been the MVP so far in both of the Falcons wins. TG has been all the red-zone threat, 3rd down conversion machine, and way more than any of us expected. Teams intent in stopping Turner first, will get TG all day long, and no one has been able to stop him yet. Thomas, Woods, FS James Sanders, and SS Brandon Meriweather might be in for a long day. Edge – Birds
Falcons Playmakers vs. Pats Secondary
WR – Roddy White vs. CB – Shawn Springs
WR – Michael Jenkins vs. CB – Leigh Bodden
QB – Matt Ryan vs. FS – James Sanders
Slot – Marty Booker/Brian Finneran vs. Nickel – Darius Butler
The Patriots let many of their longtime corners walk into free agency and went shopping on their own in getting Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs. This should be a great match-up on Sunday. Roddy White and Michael Jenkins will have their work cut out for them with one of the better corner tandems in the league. Marty Booker looks to be taking the slot and doing a good job in it. Matt Ryan has had to go heavy in the passing attack since the running has been slow to start. He improved from week 1 to week 2, has 5 TDs on the year, and is making great decisions. Ryan threw a bad interception last game, but came back strong after that. The deep aerial attack still has yet to get on track. Like the Falcons, the Patriots have gotten younger and more athletic in the secondary, but lack experience at the safety positions. Ryan’s connection with Gonzalez barely puts this one over the top. Edge – Barely Birds
The major test awaits in Foxboro and many questions will be answered around 1 pm on Sunday. Is the Patriots shimmer fading? Exactly how far along are we in the process? Will TD’s new team trump his old one? This will be a fight to the finish, but all the pressure’s on the Patriots to prove they have enough gas left for several more titles. Although the Patriots really should be 0-2, Belichick hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2006. This one will be SO much fun!
-Who wins: Falcons or Pats?
-Is Brady, Belichick, and the Pats dynasty over?
-Who will be the difference maker on both sides of the ball?
-Will Brady have a field day, or will our secondary step up?
-How will Thomas Johnson fare in his first start?
-Will Matt Ryan have a great homecoming?
-Do Moss and Welker give you nightmares?
-Is this Turner and/or Snelling’s breakout game?