Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall says the Falcons have an offensive dynamic that could make life miserable for the Patriots


When the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons kick off from Houston on Sunday in Super Bowl 51, all eyes will of course be on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

In some ways, the game itself is less interesting than what might happen after the final whistle, if the Patriots manage win their fifth ring and first post-Deflategate title.

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What will go down on the podium between Belichick and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell? What if Brady wins the Super Bowl MVP in the same year he was suspended four games? Will he hug Goodell? And hey, how many times over the course of the game will Donald Trump tweet about his very good friends from New England, or call the commish a dope?

But before any of that juicy drama can unfold, indeed in order for it to unfold, Belichick and the Patriots must figure out a way to stop an Atlanta offense that stacks up with some of the best in football history.

This year, the Atlanta offense put up 540 points (505 offensively) during the regular season, which was tied for seventh-most ever. An additional 80 points in the playoffs (in just two playoff games!) puts them at 620, up to fifth in all-time scoring.

20 PHOTOS
Atlanta Falcons 2016 season (11-5 record)
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Atlanta Falcons 2016 season (11-5 record)

Week 1: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24

(Photo via Getty Images)

Wek 2: Falcons 35, Raiders 28

(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Week 3: Falcons 45, Saints 32

(Photo by Tyler Kaufman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Week 4: Panthers 33, Falcons 48

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Week 5: Falcons 23, Broncos 16

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Week 6: Falcons 24, Seahawks 26

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

NFC Divisional Round: Seahawks 20, Falcons 36

(Photo by John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Week 7: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Week 8: Packers 32, Falcons 33

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Week 9: Falcons 43, Buccaneers 28

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Week 11: Bye

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Week 10: Falcons 15, Eagles 24

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Week 12: Cardinals 19, Falcons 38

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Week 13: Chiefs 29, Falcons 28

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Week 14: Falcons 42, Rams 14

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Week 15: 49ers 13, Falcons 41

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Week 17: Saints 32, Falcons 38

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Week 16: Falcons 33, Panthers 16

(Photo by Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NFC Championship: Packers 21, Falcons 44

(Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

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Points aren't the only way to measure a good offense, though, and more advanced metrics bolster the case for Atlanta's place in the pantheon of great NFL offenses. From Falcons blog The Falcoholic:

"Atlanta averaged 3.06 points per possession this season, which is second among the seven highest-scoring offenses in NFL history. The Falcons scored points on more drives than any other team besides the 2007 Patriots, which averaged 3.37 points per possession."

Defensively, Belichick and the Pats are known for taking away their opponent's biggest threat. As former Belichick confidante Michael Lombardi put it this week at The Ringer, "Belichick doesn't take away what the opponent does best, but what their individual playersdo best."

The problem when it comes to Atlanta, though, is that they are packed to the gills with dominant offensive players. Kyle Shanahan's job as offensive coordinator has likely earned him a head coaching job in San Francisco (he is 37). Matt Ryan is having an MVP season. Julio Jones is the scariest, most physically gifted wide receiver in football, and Mohamad Sanu is no slouch either. And then there are the running backs, Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, a one-two punch of both speed and power — both as rushers and, crucially, pass-catchers out of the backfield.

It's this well-balanced approach makes the defensive task on Sunday so difficult for the Patriots.

Here's how longtime NFL wide receiver and burgeoning football analyst Brandon Marshall explained it:

"It's a combination between the play-caller, the quarterback, and having a No. 1 receiver. But I have to put this in too, it's also having a really good No. 2 receiver," Marshall told Business Insider from Houston, where he is spending the week as a social media correspondent for Audience Sports.

"The reason I say that — and we're not even talking about the running backs yet! — is when you have that dynamic with those top three guys on the same page, it's almost impossible for defenses to slow down that offense," Marshall continued. "When you look at a no. 1 receiver, Julio Jones, he demands two or three guys on him at all times. If you don't then he's going to go 70 yards for a touchdown like we saw a couple weeks ago."

As Lombardi noted, Jones is more of a threat for a big play than he is for a ton of catches. From The Ringer:

"Belichick knows that Jones's number of total catches pales in significance to his number of big plays (anything over 20 yards). When Atlanta lost to Philadelphia in November, Jones finished with 10 catches (his second-highest total all season), 16 targets, and 13.5 yards per catch. Big numbers, right? The Falcons scored a season-low 15 points."

Still, the simple presence of Jones out wide opens up the rest of the field for everyone else.

"What does [Jones] do?" Marshall said. "He gives favorable matchups to the other wide receivers. If you have a receiver on the other side, and they do in Sanu, that can beat one-on-one coverage, it's just hard. Sanu's going against the no. 2 corner, sometimes your number 3, and it's one-on-one all day pretty much."

Marshall went on: "And then you have a freaking dynamic running game with that two-headed monster, they demand eight men in the box. Pick your poison. Which person do you want to stop? Which phase of the game do you want to stop?"

There is no easy solution, and like all great offenses, the Falcons are scary in the play-action:

As Lombardi noted, the most important thing for the Patriots is to stop the run game:

"When the Falcons run game stumbles, which rarely happened in 2016, their play-action passes are basically incapacitated. Belichick's first point will center on setting the edge; the second will be about New England grabbing the lead first, so Atlanta never gets going."

Of course, if anybody can stop the Falcons, it is Belichick and the Patriots. Plus, on the other side of the ball, Tom Brady ain't half bad, either.

"I guess the question I want answered is, does New England have enough to stop this high powered offense?" Marshall said. "That's really what it comes down to. And I guess the other question could be, does New England have enough to keep up with that offense? Does Tom Brady and that offense have enough to keep up with that offense?"

We'll find out on Sunday.

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Best of Super Bowl media day and opening night
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Best of Super Bowl media day and opening night
Jan 30, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; American gymnast Simone Biles (middle) takes a selfie with New England Patriots defensive end Jabaal Sheard (93) during Super Bowl LI Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett is interviewed during Super Bowl LI Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Television actor Kel Mitchell with Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins (32) and teammate Ryan White (39) during Super Bowl LI Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts to a question about his father during Super Bowl LI Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) during Super Bowl LI Opening Night at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio interviews Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots and Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan speaks with the media during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: The Vince Lombardi Trophy is seen onstage during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots speaks with the media during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons is introduced during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons speaks with the media during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Cooper Manning interviews LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 30: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons (L) hugs Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots during Super Bowl 51 Opening Night at Minute Maid Park on January 30, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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