HOUSTON -- The Falcons, as has been documented, are not a good defensive team. They were 28th against the pass and 17th against the run in the regular season.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Falcons, after pressuring the quarterback on 25 percent of dropbacks in the regular season, have ramped that up to 45 percent in the playoffs. Should they find a way to get to Tom Brady Sunday, New England would need two things: To not let Atlanta’s No. 1-ranked offense mount and build on an early lead, and for one of their running backs to take over a Super Bowl perhaps for the first time in the Brady/Belichick era.
Quick: What running back has had the most rushing yards for the Patriots in a Super Bowl? It was Antowain Smith in Super Bowl XXXVI: 18 carries for 92 yards. His longest run in that game was a 17-yarder in the third quarter.
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No Patriots running back has run for 100 yards in a Super Bowl, nor has one rushed for multiple touchdowns. The Pats have lived and died by Brady in Super Bowls since he took over in 2001, and for good reason. That’s meant strong rushing performances, when the Pats have received them, have often been complementary.
PATRIOTS’ LEADING RUSHERS IN SUPER BOWLS UNDER BELICHICK
2001: Antowain Smith: 18 carries, 92 yards, (long 17); 1 rec, 4 yards
2003: Antowain Smith: 26 carries, 83 yards, TD (long 9); 0 rec
2004: Corey Dillon: 18 carries, 75 yards, TD (long 25); 3 rec 31 yards
2007: Laurence Maroney: 14 carries, 36 yards, TD (long 9); 2 rec, 12 yards
2011: BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 10 carries 44 yards; 0 rec
2014: LeGarrette Blount: 14 carries, 40 yards; 2 rec, 15 yards
Backs have played large roles in the passing game, with Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen all making various impacts.
Will Sunday be the game that sees a Patriots running back turns in a performance on level with Smith, Corey Dillon or better? The Falcons weren’t good against the run in the regular season, but their run defense has improved into the playoffs.
Interestingly enough, in both of Atlanta’s games this postseason, the leading rusher for the opponent was their quarterback: Russell Wilson with 49 yards in the divisional round and Aaron Rodgers with 46 yards in the NFC Championship. Wheels Brady? Eh, probably not.
LeGarrette Blount, on the other hand? Dion Lewis? Perhaps. It’s worth noting that the Pats haven’t had a 50-yard rushing performance this postseason. In a discussion about trick plays, Belichick alluded to coaches using up every trick they have up their sleeve because it's empty-the-tank time.
Belichick will use any game strategy that he feels gives the team the best chance to win. It’s a statement so true that it even sounds like a typical boring Belichick answer. Having Brady usually makes the strategy fairly obvious.
But if running the ball provides that opportunity, perhaps Belichick, Josh McDaniels and the Patriots, who have only given a back 15 carries in half of Bill Belichick’s Super Bowls as head coach, will bring a different offensive gameplan than folks have grown accustomed to in New England’s Super Bowls.