Let’s start by saying that this is sage advice, given that The Ringer’s Danny Kelly has written about the Falcons as well as anyone this postseason.
I would highly recommend you read the entire article, but today, we’re going to focus on Kelly’s final question, which is a great one that hasn’t come up much. That question is simply this: How aggressive will the Falcons and Patriots be, and how aggressive can they afford to be?
This is a great question precisely because it’s one both Dan Quinn and Bill Belichick will be forced to grapple with in what should be a close game. As Kelly notes, neither defense is likely to have an enormous amount of success stopping the other one. Unless this game gets wildly out of hand early on, at some point the temptation to send the house on a blitz or gamble for an interception or go for it on fourth down is going to become a factor.
To quote Kelly:
In a game like that, the winner gets decided by one mistake, one lucky bounce of the ball, or one incredible individual play. The only way that really changes is if either coach’s game plan tweaks his team’s potential. You’ve made it this far, so do you want to leave it up to chance — whether it’s the randomness or a tipped pass or the possibility that one team just happens to outperform the other on this given Sunday — or do you want to risk disaster in order to tilt the odds in your favor by attempting to block a punt or play a never-before-seen defense?
Frankly, it’s almost a lock that we’ll see Quinn and company gamble at some point. The Patriots might be the most complete team Atlanta has faced this year, and the reality is that unless they get a handful of guys in that front seven playing out of their minds, New England’s probably going to be able to move fairly easily. That’s not a knock on this Falcons defense, which has been surprising all of us and may well continue to do so. It’s an acknowledgement that the Patriots are very good, and that the Falcons may have to turn to a risky blitz or two to try to force an uncharacteristic Brady mistake.
Similarly, on offense, the Falcons aren’t going to be able to punt or even settle for field goals all that often if they want to win. If it gets to a fourth and short scenario at midfield and the Falcons are trailing by just a little...well, who knows? They’ve got the weapons to convert that, and the last thing they want to do is have to play catch-up against one of the best teams in NFL history.
The Patriots will likely confront this if (or really, when) Matt Ryan and company start picking apart their defense. If you’re already struggling to stop someone, why not try for the play that’s going to change the tide of the game?
Both of these coaches have an appetite for risk, so it’s just a question of whether the game will dictate they take them. Given that these are two of the best offenses in the NFL, I suspect it will come to that.