The Falcons near-flawless offence is definitely a strength. NFL Gamepass
Coaches Film

Assessing the Falcons' biggest strengths and weaknesses ahead of Super Bowl LI

The best offence in football but what about that defence?


THE ATLANTA FALCONS have the league’s highest scoring offence and it’s obvious they’re going to have to rely on that in Houston if they are to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Matt Ryan has been brilliant this year — and will deservedly win the season’s Most Valuable Player award — but even more so than Tom Brady in New England, a lot of his success is down to his offensive co-ordinator.

Simply put, Kyle Shanahan is the best co-ordinator in the league and will likely leave for the San Francisco 49ers head coaching job after the Super Bowl which is a shame really, because this offence is so much fun to watch.

Not just fun, but sometimes unplayable. Midway through the second quarter of the hammering of the Packers in the NFC Championship game, Shanahan called a play that was virtually impossible to defend:

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First off, the two-back I-Formation forces the Packers to respect and, indeed, expect the run. Even after the ball is snapped, the play-action hand-off to Devonta Freeman results in the linebackers stepping up instead of back-pedalling.

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Fullback Patrick DiMarco’s (pink) route holds Ha Ha Clinton Dix in the flat. Mohamed Sanu (blue) runs the seam route to keep the second safety, Morgan Burnett, honest. Over on the right, tight end Levine Toilolo (red) draws the attention of two Packers defenders, Damarious Randall and Micah Hyde.

This leaves Julio Jones (yellow), the best receiver in football, working one-on-one against LaDarius Gunter and, to be frank, Green Bay are lucky this play only went for 17 yards because, if the route and pass had been to the outside, Jones was running 80 yards for a touchdown.

Oh, and if you think a better pass rush would have got to Ryan, despite running play-action, the time from snap to release was just 1.93 seconds.

The Falcons have scored 30 points or more in 13 games this season. It would be an insult to suggest they have anything resembling a real weakness.

However, if there is one way New England can get to them, it’s through right guard Chris Chester.

Per Pro Football Focus, Chester was responsible for six sacks and 45 pressures over the course of the regular season, plus a quarterback hit and this sack against Seattle in the Divisional Round.

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If you look above, Chester is the slowest of the offensive linemen to react and Ahtyba Rubin (77) takes full advantage.

However, Matt Ryan was only under pressure on 11 of his 40 dropbacks against the Packers and came out of the game pretty much untouched.


While it’s hard to find a flaw in the Atlanta offence, it’s equally difficult to find a strength in the defence.

Desmond Trufant’s season-ending injury made an already suspect secondary worse while — as I discuss below — outside of one player there is not much of a pass rush.

However, against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers last week, the much maligned defence stepped up, particularly the defensive backs and their speed to the football — something Dan Quinn made his trademark in Seattle.

Jalen Collins and Robert Alford were excellent at limiting the Packers’ receivers to short gains while Brian Poole was a constant threat to Rodgers on blitzes.

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The most important play of the game came from Collins, whose aggressive approach in the tackle ripped the football from Aaron Ripkowski’s hands on Green Bay’s second drive, changing the momentum of the game:

It was, in truth, a fumble the Packers never recovered from and the best part, from a Falcons point of view, is that it is repeatable because of the way the defenders swarm to the football.

Vic Beasley may lead the league with 15.5 sacks this season but it flattered him greatly as he only ranked 18th in terms of total quarterback pressures.

Three of them, including this, came against the Rams in one game:

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Beasley’s speed and strength are on show here but, even if you don’t agree that sacks are overrated, there is little to no pressure created by any player not wearing the number 44 on that play.

Indeed, Adrian Clayborn is the next best Falcon this season with just 4.5 sacks and the only other Atlanta player in the top 100.

The Falcons have managed five sacks in two games this postseason — exactly equal to their 2.5 per game during the regular season — so at least they have been consistent but it is unlikely to be much use against New England.

Tom Brady has been pressured on 31% of his dropbacks this season, but only taken a sack on 10.6% of those plays, the lowest total in the league.

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