PFF Analyst: Defense Is The Key For Both Sides

If you believe the oddsmakers, Super Bowl LI could be the highest-scoring Super Bowl in NFL history. 

It’s easy to see why. The Falcons led the league in scoring offense this season, averaging 33.8 points per game, while the Patriots finishing third with 27.6 points per game. More recently, the Falcons have averaged 39 points over their last six games, while the Patriots are averaging 36.5 over their last four. Both offenses, it’s fair to say, are clicking on all cylinders.

Which is why, in the end, neither Tom Brady or Matt Ryan will decide the winner.  

“I think both defenses will be the key to the game,” Pro Football Focus lead analyst Sam Monson told Paul Nanos, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “We know what we’re going to get from the offenses. Both sides have very good offenses. Atlanta’s is fantastic, New England’s is pretty good and you’ve got a reasonable idea that Tom Brady knows what he’s doing back there. So the key is going to be which defense is able to step it up, and the Falcons definitely haven’t had the best defense over the course of the year, but they’ve got some talent there and they’ve got the ability to create turnovers and make impact plays from the linebacker position. Guys like Deion Jones has more passes defensed than any other linebacker in the NFL this year, and De’Vondre Campbell, one of his teammates, is second. So those guys can impact plays. It’s going to be a case of can one of these defenses force a turnover or force a couple of stops in a row and just get momentum on the side of their offense? I think defense is key for both sides.”

Bill Belichick is known for taking away an opposing team’s No. 1 offensive option, but even if the Pats take away Julio Jones, the Falcons have several pieces capable of stepping up – and dominating. 

“I think that’s your problem,” Monson said. “The Falcons have been really good this year when teams have shut down Julio Jones. They’ve got a bunch of other places they can go with the ball. They can go to Mohamed Sanu, to Taylor Gabriel, to the two tight ends, to two running backs out of the backfield. They’ve got weapons all over the field. One of the key differences between the two teams is that the Falcons have just way more options than the Patriots do in terms of guys that are independently great in and of themselves – not just a product of the quarterback. Atlanta just has these weapons that they can hit even if you do take away Julio Jones, which I think has to be their No. 1 priority.”

In other news, Monson weighed in on the San Francisco 49ers hiring John Lynch as general manager. 

“I don’t think my initial reaction is fit for radio,” Monson said, laughing. “But it’s not so much that you come up with a left-field answer to the question. The Browns did that a year ago. Teams that are bad have more incentive to go outside of the box and find creative ways of coming up with the answer rather than just doing the same things they’ve been doing for years that haven’t been working. So that bit I get. It’s more the way it’s being described as happening, which is they had this big organized search for a new GM, they interviewed seven candidates, it got whittled down to four candidates and they were there and then John Lynch calls them up and says, ‘Hey, guys, how about I do it?’ And they said, ‘Sure, how about six years?’ It sounds ridiculous.”

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