Well, if you expected to see an exposition of offense in this game, it looks like it’s here. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that defense will win this game — red zone defense.
So far, both offenses appear to have moved the ball at will (although without Jamaal Anderson’s 15-yard roughing-the-passer call, who knows how the Falcons defense might have fared better). Yet both defenses came up big in the red zone. So whoever scores more touchdowns or can create turnovers is going to have the leg up.
Let’s look at the first two drives for each team. The Falcons’ drive was 11 plays, 72 yards and lasted 5 minutes 39 seconds. The Patriots’ first drive was 15 plays, 81 yards and lasted 8:39. If this going to be a game of time of possession with each coach trying to shield his defense as much as possible from the other’s offense — that appeared to be a key to the Falcons’ 28-20 victory last week over Carolina; at one point in my notes I wrote that the Falcons had the ball for 28:15 to Carolina’s 19:22 with 12:23 left in regulation — then making just a few stops in the game could be critical.
One thing came out on New England’s possessions: Troy Aikman was saying that with all the pressure the Jets brought on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week that New England seems to be trying to alleviate it with these screen passes. Evidently, the Pats know they have to slow down John Abraham and not let him be a factor.
I’m guessing the Patriots might also have seen video of the Falcons’ third preseason game against San Diego when Philip Rivers shredded the Falcons secondary with screen passes. Of course, Brian Williams wasn’t playing for the Falcons then and the Falcons didn’t put a whole lot of time into game-planning.
A couple of key plays there: Curtis Lofton’s tackle to force the Patriots to kick a 21-yard field goal was huge (bend but don’t break). And Joey Galloway’s mistake of stepping out of the back of the end zone cost his team a touchdown. Tough mental mistake.
This game looks so close that it might not be able to afford those.