Falcons wary of Patriots defensive front seven

Falcons wary of Patriots defensive front seven
September 25, 2013, 2:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- It won't get any easier for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in Week 4. Not against the Patriots defense that has allowed only 13 points in the last two games combined.

Weak schedule or not, New England allowed just three points in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. Entering Week 4, the Patriots rank second in the NFL in points allowed per game, at 11.3, behind Seattle which allows nine points per game.

Falcons coach Mike Smith has noticed where New England's defensive success begins.

"When you look at their defense," said Smith in a conference call on Wednesday, "I think it starts with the front seven. Vince Wilfork is playing at a very high level. He's playing a lot of snaps in the game. I've been very impressed with him. He can take over the inside. You've got to get four hands on him."

Of course, when you do that, there's more than just Wilfork.

"Chandler Jones and [Rob] Ninkovich help out quite a bit, with the pressure that they can apply on the quarterback," said Smith. "Ninkovich from the outside, and of course, Chandler can line up inside or outside."

Once you get past the line of scrimmage, Smith also recognizes just how tough New England's linebacker group can be.

"And then I think they've got very physical, big linebackers in [Brandon] Spikes, [Jerod] Mayo, and [Dont'a] Hightower. It's probably the most physical group. They have capabilities with Ninkovich to play both 4-3 and 3-4. So they can be very multiple, and that's something that coach Belichick and his staff do a great job of, is giving you different pictures and different looks.

"I think Jerod Mayo is a tackling machine," added Smith. "He led their team in tackles last year. So, I think defensively, their front seven is as good as any front seven in the NFL."

When your front seven is as good as the Patriots' is, that helps out the secondary. But regardless of what's going on up front, the Falcons will know exactly where Aqib Talib will be at all times.

Smith called Talib New England's "best cover guy."

"He's a very physical, athletic corner that has the capabilities that they want to to match him up with a number one receiver," said Smith. "We're very familiar with him, having played against him while he was in Tampa. So we've seen him a number of times, and we know that he's an outstanding player, and we anticipate we'll get his best shot this week. He's a good football player, their best cover guy by far."