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Mon., Apr. 20, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Tue., Apr. 21, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:55 AM EDT
Tue., Apr. 21, 2015 11:55 AM to 2:00 PM EDT
Patriots at Falcons Pregame Six-Pack
5. Quiet the crowd/critics – Noise will be an issue for the Patriots offense. Guys like Brady and his offensive line have dealt with all that before. But it will be interesting to see how rookie receivers react to the crazy, indoor, loud environment of a primetime game on the road in a dome. They haven’t always been on the same page with Brady when they could hear him and the snap count. Will that be worse with silent counts and more difficult communication? Will the energy and the spot be too big for them, as it seemed at times during their last primetime game against the Jets in Week 2? Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have a lot of pressure on them as rookie receivers being counted on to contribute in a big way for Brady’s passing attack. That will only be magnified in this spot in their first career road primetime dome game. Another learning experience. Another chance to either fuel or quiet the critics, and the Falcons crowd.
6. Secondary depth – Kyle Arrington seemed to have his reps limited in the second half last week against the Bucs, playing just three snaps. He then was limited during practice this week with a groin injury. Depending on how you look at things Arrington is either New England’s No. 2 corner or top slot corner. Either way he’s key to the pass defense, especially against a team like the Falcons that has the weapons to challenge any nickel defense. If Arrington is limited or can’t go, that would thrust rookie Logan Ryan into an elevated role. The third-round pick is pretty untested and green at this point, and that is a dangerous state to be in on the road against Ryan, Jones, White and the rest of the Falcons aerial attack. Arrington is officially questionable to play, but there is little question that if he does not it would be a big blow to the Patriots pass defense and depth in terms of dealing with the Falcons barrage of weapons.
The Patriots should and likely will be able to run the ball in Atlanta. I also expect that Brady and Co. will make some plays through the air against a Falcons secondary that lacks something, even with a healthier Asante Samuel ball-hawking around his former team. Adding Gronkowski to the passing game would be a big boost against a team that struggles to cover the middle of the field, but I’m not sure it would be enough. This a big game for the Falcons. Not quite a must-win, but pretty important for a team looking to compete for a Super Bowl. Falling to 1-3 would be a pretty bad hole to have to dig out of. This is indeed the first real test for the much-improved Patriots defense. Ryan probably won’t miss the throws that the opposing quarterbacks did the first three weeks. Nor will the receivers likely drop the balls the way the opponents helped the Patriots defenders through the first three weeks. The home crowd also should be a major benefit for Mike Smith’s team. Put it all together and I see a 31-21 victory for the Falcons. I circled this game as the first loss of the year when the schedule first came out last spring, and I feel pretty much the same way today. If the Patriots do pull this one out on the road, and the defense plays a solid game against Atlanta, then maybe we need to reassess things a bit. But I don’t expect that to be the case.