5 Bold Predictions for the Patriots' Week 4 Matchup Against the Falcons
After a relatively easy trio of games to kick off the 2013 season, the New England Patriots are about to enter their season's toughest stretch. It begins with a road game against the defending NFC South Champion Atlanta Falcons, led by quarterback Matt Ryan and an offense loaded with weapons at the skill positions.
A big game like this deserves bold predictions, so here are five for the Pats' Week 4 matchup.
Chandler Jones Will Have 2.5 Sacks
Left tackle has been a problem for the Falcons this year.
LT Sam Baker the NFL's lowest ranked tackle at pass protection per ProFootballFocus (subscription required) at minus-10.8. He struggled in his first two games, then he missed Week 3 due to knee and foot problems and was replaced by Lamar Holmes. Holmes wasn't any better, grading out at an awful minus-5.3 at pass protection in Week 3.
Look for Chandler Jones to take advantage of the Falcons' LT issues. Jones has three sacks already on the year, including two against D'Brickashaw Ferguson in Week 2. If the Pats' interior lineman can occupy multiple blockers and get Jones one-on-one matchups on the outside, he'll have his best day of the season against Atlanta.
A Hobbled Roddy White Will Match His Season Output in Week 4
It's a testament to cornerback Aqib Talib's growth this season that the Patriots are the best in the league at defending opponent's top receivers, per Football Outsiders. Talib was able to hold Tampa's Vincent Jackson to just three catches and 34 yards on six targets before Jackson left with an injury in Week 3, after which time Talib completely shut down Mike Williams.
The Pats will likely give Atlanta's Julio Jones the Talib treatment in Week 4, perhaps with a deep cover safety shaded towards his side for deep support. That leaves Roddy White, the other monster in Atlanta's Scylla-and-Charybdis receiving corps, to be dealt with. White has struggled this season due to an ankle injury, registering just 56 yards total so far in 2013.
As good as the Pats are at covering opponents' top receivers, they are just 30th at covering No. 2 receivers. White is an excellent route runner and will be able to take advantage of mismatches underneath, where the Pats will be focusing on Tony Gonzalez with occasional bracket coverage.
Expect something like 60-65 yards receiving for White: Not a banner day as he continues to recover from his ankle injury, but still more than he's racked up all season to this point.
Tom Brady Will Throw for Three Touchdowns
Tom Brady hasn't quite stormed out of the gates this season. He completed just 48 percent of his passes in Week 2 against the Jets, and threw an inexcusable red-zone pick in Week 3 (which a better team than the Buccaneers would have capitalized on).
Expect that to change this week against the Falcons.
The Falcons are banged up on defense with Kroy Biermann (four sacks in 2012, second on the team) on season-ending injured reserve and Sean Weatherspoon (93 tackles in 2012) on the IR-Designated to Return list.
Their defense has struggled as a result—they're ranked as the 22nd overall defense by Football Outsiders' DVOA metric through the first three games. They haven't been able to generate a consistent pass rush (just 23rd in the NFL in adjusted sack rate at 5.4 percent), and their defensive backfield is either on the wrong side of 30 (Asante Samuel) or a little too green (Desmond Trufant).
Jacquizz Rodgers Will Have over 100 Total Yards
The Falcons are without Steven Jackson, the kind of bruising back that could leave half a defense in shambles. But the silver lining for Atlanta is that Jacquizz Rodgers acquitted himself nicely in Week 3, with a 4.8 yards per carry average and 93 total yards.
While New England has improved steadily in the passing game, they've had a few minor struggles against the run this season. Doug Martin racked up 88 yards on 20 carries last week against the Pats, who rank just 16th overall in rush defense by DVOA. Rodgers isn't Doug Martin, but he'll get enough chances to put up 70-75 yards against a Patriots defense that will likely spend plenty of time in sub packages to counter the Falcons passing attack.
In addition to the run game, Rodgers possesses the kind of short-area quickness as a receiver that could be a problem for the Pats. They'll likely need consistent bracket coverage underneath on Tony Gonzalez and/or Roddy White, meaning Rodgers should see some pass-catching opportunities out of the backfield one-on-one with linebackers.
Overall, Rodgers should total something in the area of 100 to 115 total yards in Week 4. The Falcons simply have too many weapons for the Pats to stop everybody, and Rodgers should be one of the players who slips through the cracks to some degree.
The Pats Will Win
Yes, it's a road game against a tough defending divisional champ on the ropes at 1-2. Yes, it's by far the best QB the Patriots will have faced yet this year. Yes, we still don't know if Gronk will play, or if Danny Amendola has any chance of lacing up in Week 4.
Regardless, the Pats will be able to take advantage of an injured and largely ineffective defense in posting their best offensive output of the season in Week 4. Expect Matt Ryan to throw for a lot of yards and put up a few touchdowns of his own, but the Patriots' defensive personnel is superior to that of the Falcons.
Tom Brady will finally remind us of the Brady we've come to love (and who has been largely absent since the Pats' Divisional Round romp against the Houston Texans last year) with a vintage performance in Week 4. It won't be a blowout, but the Pats will pull out their first signature win of the year.
New England Patriots 30
Atlanta Falcons 24