Week Three Preview: Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at New England Patriots (1-1)

Tim JacksonCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2009

ATLANTA - AUGUST 11: Pierre Woods #45 of the New England Patriots tackles Fred McCrary #44 of the Atlanta Falcons during their preseason game on August 11, 2006 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo By Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Vitals:

Total Offense:

The New England Patriots are ninth in the NFL, with 370 ypg. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons are currently 18th, posting 326 ypg.

Passing YPG:

The Patriots are in the top five when it comes to passing yards, averaging 292 yards passing per game, good enough for fourth in the league. The Falcons are ranked 17th overall, posting 216.5 yards passing per game.

Rushing YPG:

This has been an area of weakness for the Pats, and it shows in the rankings, where they are sitting at 26th in the league, averaging 78 rushing yards per contest. The Falcons have been solid so far this season, averaging 109.5 rushing yards per game, good enough for 16th in the league.

Total Defense:

New England's defense has been surprisingly stingy so far this season, yielding only 265 yards per game (third overall). Coming in at 22nd in the league, the Falcons allow 349.5 yards per game when they're on defense.

Points Per Game:

The Patriots are currently ranked 22nd overall, posting 17 points per game. The Atlanta Falcons have fared better so far this season, putting up 23.5 points per game, which has them at ninth overall.

Patriots Keys to the Game:

Establish a Running Game: The New England Patriots have been throwing the ball close to 50 times a game so far this season. In order to have a successful offense, the attack needs to be more balanced, especially with Brady struggling to get his rhythm back.

This would be the week to do it, as the receiving corps is gimpy at the moment, and, unlike Buffalo and New York, Atlanta does not have a Top 10 rushing defense, allowing 120 yards on the ground per game (19th overall).

Continue the Solid Defense:
So far this season, Patriots have had more to worry about offensively than defensively. Even without stud linebacker Jerod Mayo manning the middle of the field, the Patriots defense is still ranked third in the league in yards allowed, and 15th in points allowed. This unit has been solid so far this season, and it needs to contain Matt Ryan and company if New England hopes to snag its second victory.

No More Injuries:
Even though a Bill Belichick injury report essentially means nothing (he is notorious for being overly cautious—Brady has been on the injury report every game for four years with an elbow problem), it is clear that the Pats don't need any more injuries.

Receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss are a little banged up, linebacker Mayo is out for an extended period of time, and the Pats have a couple other injuries out there as well. While they are not in a dire situation yet, one more injury on either side of the ball could cause major problems.

Players to Watch:

Tom Brady: It is clear that Brady is not all the way back yet. He has seemed timid in the pocket, is missing some of his targets, and is still trying to regain confidence after he hurt his knee last season. It will be interesting to see if he has made progress this week, and if his confidence has risen at all, especially in the face of pressure.

Gary Guyton:
The undrafted rookie free agent out of Georgia Tech was a pleasant surprise last year, and he has now been thrust into the spotlight with Mayo out for several more weeks. He has performed well so far, but it is clear that he is no Mayo, sometimes struggling in coverage.

Watch to see whether he is making strides not only in the physical aspects of the game, but as a leader as well (he's currently calling all the plays for the defense).

Wes Welker:
If he plays, that is. Knee issues dating back to the preseason have plagued Welker. He missed last week's game against the Jets, and it looked like Brady could have used his help with the onslaught of Jets defenders rushing the quarterback. If he's on the field, look to see how much he has progressed with his knee. It will be important to get him healthy.

If he doesn't play, watch to see if Brady and Welker's replacement, Julian Edelman, have made any strides in their timing and chemistry.

Patriots Concerns:

Receiver Depth: As mentioned before, a Belichick injury report is basically worthless up until gametime. However, if it turns out that Welker and Moss are either out or hobbled come gametime, then the Patriots could have some concerns offensively. This would leave Edelman and newcomer Joey Galloway as the two primary targets. Edelman looked solid in his debut against the Jets, but Galloway has struggled so far this season, struggling to either learn the offense, develop chemistry with Brady, or both.

Pass Rush off the Edge:
The Falcons have John Abraham, who has established himself through the years as an excellent off the edge rusher. Last season, he recorded 16.5 sacks, and in 2007, he racked up 10.

Patriots tackles Matt Light and Nick Kaczur are both solid blockers, but have struggled against speed rushers in the past. It will be important for them (along with help from the tight ends and backs) to keep Abraham and his teammates off of the still recovering Brady.

Patriots Win. I don't like predicting scores, however, I feel like New England will win a close one. If the Patriots control the ball with a solid running game and continue their surprisingly solid defense, then they could make life frustrating for the Falcons. 
However, the Patriots could be in for a long day, and their losing streak could hit two, if Abraham can get to Brady and the Pats resort to throwing the ball 45-50 times. 
This game has the makings of an exciting, even matchup on paper. Now it's up to the Patriots to execute.


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