Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cover 9@9: Patriots have undergone a makeover since Super Bowl LI

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It's our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m Wednesday that  you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (3-2). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the New England Patriots (4-2) at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

1. THE SUPER BOWL REMATCH:  The Falcons' starting lineup has remained essentially the same since facing New England in Super Bowl LI, while the Patriots have undergone an extensive makeover.

The Falcons flipped just two starters on offense and three on defense. They have replaced just five of the 22 starters from the Super Bowl. On offense, Derrick Coleman will start for the departed Patrick DiMarco and Wes Schweitzer will start for Chris Chester. Taylor Gabriel may start for Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) if he can't make it back from injury.

On defense, cornerback Desmond Trufant will start for Jalen Collins. While Adrian Clayborn will start for Dwight Freeney and Dontari Poe will start for Ra'Shede Hageman, who was released after his domestic violence case was settled.

"There are more similarities than differences to last year in all three phases of the game, but there are certainly some differences," New England coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call with the Boston media on Tuesday.

Against the Jets last week, the Patriots started four different players on offense and six on defense from their Super Bowl starting lineup. On offense, wide receiver Brandin Cooks (Julian Edelman was the Super Bowl LI starter), tight end Rob Gronkowski (Martellus Bennett), right tackle Marcus Cannon (Joe Thuney) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (Malcolm Mitchell) are the new starters.

On defense,  defensive end Lawrence Guy (defensive back Duron Harmon as Pats opened in nickel), defensive tackle Deatrich Wise (Andre Branch), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (Shea McClellin), linebacker Elandon Roberts (Rob Ninkovich),  cornerback Johnson Bademosi (Logan Ryan) and  safety Jordan Richards (Patrick Chung).

The Patriots are preparing for the Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

“This run game is real explosive," New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said during his conference call. "Both of these guys are running extremely strong. Big play after big play. ... Freeman is an extremely quick guy and does a good job of getting into space and taking advantage of defenders leverage.

“Coleman is another guy who is a strong runner. He has excellent speed. He really does a great job of making the defense commit and tries to cut it back behind the over pursuit.”

The Pats have noted that Freeman and Coleman also have been able to do some damage in the passing game.

“The thing that makes those guys so dangerous is their ability to get out in the passing game,” Patricia said.  “Two extremely talented backs in both the run and the passing game. They do a great job of getting them the ball.”

Patricia noted that quarterback Matt Ryan directs all of the traffic and knew that most of Ryan's interceptions (four of six) came off of tipped passed where his receivers failed him.

"Atlanta is going to be a huge challenge for us," Patricia said.

2. THE GRONK SHOW: Gronkowski will stress the Falcons defense, which struggled to cover Buffalo's Charles Clay.

Clay broke loose for 112 yards and five receptions against the Falcons. Gronk is bigger and faster and the Patriots will move him around the field.

“Rob does a lot of different things for us," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "He was in protection the other day. He did some things, some good things in the running game. He was at the point of attack on  our goal-line run. He certainly makes an impact in the passing game also. Rob is a guy who is involved in most aspects of the offense.”

3. SACK ATTACK: The Falcons had their streak of 19 games with a sack snapped against Miami. They'll have some opportunities to get to Tom Brady in the Patriots' vertical passing attack.

The Falcons had five quarterback hits and batted down seven passes against Miami's Jay Cutler, who threw a lot of quick passes. Brady will have the ball longer while he looks to take shots down the field.

Left tackle Nate Solder has struggled so Adrian Clayborn and Takkarist McKinley should be able to dominate. He's been getting beat around the edge all season.

Brady has been sacked 16 times, which ranks 16th in the league. The Falcons have 12 sacks, which ranks 21st in the league.

4.  KEY MATCHUP  NO. 1: Falcons RB Devonta Freeman vs. Patriots LBs: Freeman, who failed to pick up a blitz in the Super Bowl, has been chipping and blocking well this season. He'll be ready to atone for his Super Bowl mistake against the Patriots, who like to send their linebackers, especially Dont'a Hightower, off the edge.

5. KEY MATCHUP NO. 2: Falcons SS Keanu Neal vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. Neal was beaten badly by Clay. He won't have Gronkowski all of the time, but when he does he must be a force. Gronkowski has caught 26 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns. Neal has a big challenge going against Gronkowski, who didn’t face the Falcons in the Super Bowl. Neal is second on the team in tackles with 32 and has one pass breakup.

6. KEY MATCHUP NO. 3: Falcons DT Grady Jarrett vs. Patriots RG Shaq Mason. Jarrett had an unnecessary roughness call that helped the Dolphins rally last week. He won the matchup in the Super Bowl as he had three sacks and dominated Mason at times. Mason, who played at Georgia Tech, is a mauler in the run game.

7. SERIES HISTORY: This is the 14th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead the series 7-6. The Patriots defeated the Falcons in Super Bowl LI in overtime in February. The Patriots trailed 28-3 before storming back to a 34-28 victory. The Patriots have won the last five meetings with the Falcons, including a 30-23 victory in 2013.

8. PRACTICE SQUAD UPDATE: The Falcons made several roster moves involving the practice squad on Tuesday. Running back Brian Hill, quarterback Garrett Grayson and defensive lineman Joe Ivie were signed to the practice squad. Grayson and Ivie are new to the team. To make room, the Falcons released kicker Mike Meyer and placed quarterback Trevor Knight on the practice squad-injured list

Grayson played collegiately at Colorado State and threw for 9,190 yards and 64 touchdowns in four seasons. He was selected by the Saints in the third round of the 2015 draft. He was on the Saints practice squad before being waived in September.

9. DEPTH CHART: Marvin Hall is listed third wide receiver behind Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel on the Falcons official depth chart released by the team Tuesday. Hall, who had a 40-yard touchdown catch against the Dolphins last Sunday, is listed ahead of Nick Williams.

Here’s the official depth chart released by the Falcons:


WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow

C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland

RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward

FB 40 Derrick Coleman


DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley

DT 92 Dontari Poe, 93 Taniela Tupou

DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 94 Joe Vellano

DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby

SLB 44 Vic Beasley Jr.

MLB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Jermaine Grace

WLB 59 De'Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 52 Jordan Tripp

CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 20 Sharrod Neasman

S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael


K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy

PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

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