History has not been kind to team's entering the Super Bowl with the top-ranked offense going against the No. 1 defense but that doesn't mean Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is sleeping any easier these days.
Five times the top offense and defense have met in the Super Bowl and on four occasions the team with the best defense came out on top. That was the case in 2013 when Denver got waxed by Seattle, 43-8, as the Broncos were buried under an avalanche of Seahawks pressure.
The only time offense won out in these matchups was in 1989 when the 49ers trounced the Broncos, 55-10, behind Joe Montana.
Patricia will now be tasked with containing the best offense in football in 2016. The Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game in the regular season and racked up 80 more in playoff wins over Seattle and Green Bay. The potent attack is led by MVP-candidate Matt Ryan as well as Julio Jones, one of the most dynamic receivers in the game.
"Obviously with the quarterback position, Matt Ryan, and then Julio Jones and all the skill players that they have, they have tremendous dynamic weapons," Patricia began yesterday on his conference call with the media. "But Julio Jones is just, to me – we saw him a couple of years ago and studied him. He's probably just one of the most dynamic players in the league. I usually don't wind up comparing him to other people; I wind up comparing other people to him just because of his skill set and his ability. The things that he does for them and what he can do is he does a great job of moving around into different positions.
"Coach [Kyle] Shanahan puts him in different spots. He'll try to get him working different positions to get a matchup that he likes, or a particular formation that gives the defense problems, and then they'll really use him in a variety of ways. He can run underneath routes, he has great speed, he has great hands, he has great body control, and he's very, very strong."
Jones is coming off a nine-catch, 180-yard, two-TD performance in the NFC title game victory over Green Bay. That followed another tremendous season for the 2011 first-round pick out of Alabama, one that saw him rack up 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns despite dealing with a toe injury that cost him a pair of games.
"A bigger corner, smaller corner, whatever it is, he can push on the [defensive backs], lean and be able to play physical at the line of scrimmage, plus physical downfield with them, and still come up with the ball," Patricia continued. "He does a great job of tracking the ball in the air, can go up and high point it and get it. He's got great hands and like I said, does a great job after the catch. Just his ability to get the ball, get vertical into the defense towards the end zone, stiff-arm a defender, break a tackle, run away from guys, it's just he's such a dynamic player in that aspect that he can give you a lot of problems."
Jones is certainly the Falcons most dangerous weapon but he's not alone. Atlanta has a pair of running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and both just as comfortable catching the ball as running with it.
"With this offense, what they've been able to do, with as much attention that goes into the passing game, rightfully so, it's allowed them to run the ball extremely well," Patricia said of Freeman and Coleman.
"They do a great job up front blocking. Alex Mack is in the middle there and he kind of controls everything. They do a great job of kind of identifying the fronts and getting the ball run through, I'll call it the space of the defense, and both of these backs have an explosive ability to see the scene, get downhill quickly, get into the defense quickly. They run with good pad level, good body control, very good short-space quickness, and then some long speed too or speed you'd be able to get outside if you don't have the edge of the defense in a good force positon."
Bother averaged well over 4 yards per carry while also contributing to the passing game. In addition to his 1,079 yards rushing, Freeman added 54 catches and scored 13 total touchdowns while Coleman averaged an astonishing 13.6 yard per catch on his 31 receptions. He added 11 combined touchdowns.
"It's a one-two punch. They both have some good power. There are some slight differences between the two and some quickness and some short space stuff," Patricia added. "They read the blocking scheme very well. Atlanta does a great job of just kind of running their runs. They practice the particular running style, the stretch game that they run. They do a good job of creating separation of the defense both horizontally and vertically, so as those backs take those angles and really get the defense to run kind of in a sideways manner, they open up those holes where these guys, they stick that foot in the ground and they just come downhill and they hit that thing at 100 miles per hour.
"That's very difficult to defend, especially if the front may be a little bit light, depending on what you've got to put on the coverage aspect of it to handle the passing game."
History may suggest the Patriots have no concerns with the Falcons, but Patricia knows otherwise.