If the Patriots put Malcolm Butler on Julio Jones on Super Bowl Sunday, that means that former college teammates and suitemates Logan Ryan and Mohamed Sanu could see quite a bit of each other.
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Or the Pats could opt to put Ryan on Jones, or try some combination of one of their top three corners with safety help.
Whatever they do, there’s a pretty good chance that Ryan is going to have to face either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu in the most important game of the season. If that sounds difficult, it's because it is.
“It’s a huge task,” Ryan said Sunday. “I mean, they’re one of the most productive [groups] in the league, obviously offensively. We see what they do. We see what they did to other secondaries so we have our work cut out for us.
“But at the same time, Pittsburgh was the same way and a lot of guys that we’ve played have – I mean receivers are the best athletes in the world, honestly. A lot of those guys are extremely athletic. Our job is tough -- we know that -- but we’ve got to do it together.”
Ryan has two points there, both of which are correct. The Falcons have been able to throw on secondaries good and bad. The Broncos gave up the fewest passing yards this season, yet Matt Ryan still managed a respectable 267 yards against them. He threw for 335 yards with three touchdowns and a pick against Seattle, the No. 8 pass defense in the league.
The other point that Ryan raises is that it isn’t like the Patriots haven’t spent time preparing for top receivers all postseason long. Even going back to the divisional round, DeAndre Hopkins posed a threat even without a quarterback. Antonio Brown did have a quarterback, but the Pats managed to keep the Steelers in check.
The Falcons are a different animal, however. From Jones to Sanu to running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, the weapons Atlanta possesses are legitimate. Factor in that Matt Ryan had a career year and defending them becomes even more daunting.
Sunday marked the Patriots’ final practice in Foxboro before they travel to Houston Monday. Ryan said preparations have been “extremely productive.”
“Bill fortunately has done this a couple times, more than a couple times,” Ryan said. “So I think he has a good plan for us and [it’s] similar to 2014, the schedule. We kind of know what to expect and like I said, it’s our last practice at home so we’re going to have fun with it.”
Just how New England’s secondary fares against Atlanta’s passing attack will determine how much fun it actually proves to be. It’s only fitting that the Super Bowl provide the toughest challenge they face.