To say this is a must win for the Falcons would be an understatement. The Falcons have started off the season 1-2, which was very unexpected. They've lost an absurd amount of players to injury, which was also unexpected.
So now, with the pressure and injuries continuing to mount, this is do or die time for this team.
To fall to 1-3 would be devastating, especially considering that rival and division leader New Orleans is 3-0.
Here are a few things to watch out for during Sunday night's game.
GETTING THE VERTICAL GAME GOING
The Falcons have struggled to unleash their big game offense due to the ankle sprain that has really limited Roddy White's effectiveness, and the offensive line not giving Matt Ryan enough time to find receivers that are further away than 10 yards from him.
For the Falcons offense to truly be effective, the Dirty Birds need the deep route. Until the O-line can actually hold a block for more than half a second, it's just not going to happen.
Having Trueblood and Baker on the field at the same time, could definitely improve this, if that's the route that Coach Smith wants to go.
For a team that must score 30+ points a game to have a real shot of winning, it's hard to do that without a great vertical game.
The Patrots are also doing a great job in limiting opposing quarterbacks thus far, only allowing 188.6 yards per game through the first three games of the year. Granted that was against Buffalo, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay. The Patriots haven't played against a guy like Matt Ryan this year.
RETURN OF THE GRONK
Tom Brady has had a good season thus far, but he's been without some of his key receivers, and that includes Rob Gronkowski. It hasn't been determined whether or not the man known as "Gronk" will play on Sunday, but if he does, it could be big trouble for the Falcons.
The Falcons linebacker corps. has really struggled to cover tight ends dating back to last year's playoffs. If Gronkowski can even be half of what he normally is, this could really open up Brady's passing game.
The Falcons have to do a better job at covering tight ends, but until they do, look for Bill Bilichick to attempt to exploit that weakness.
KEEP UP THE PASS RUSH
The Falcons did a great job, repeat, great job rushing the quarterback last week. They were constantly in Ryan Tannehill's face and collected five sacks in last Sunday's loss.
We haven't seen a pass rush like this from the Falcons in years. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for this D-line that looked like it had something to prove last week after losing DE Kroy Biermann for the year.
The Patriots have given up seven sacks in three games, which averages out to 2.3 per game. If the Falcons can continue their good pass rush, it'll definitely help their cause in trying to pull of this upset.
The Falcons have had a tough schedule to open up the season, playing against two quality teams in New Orleans and what appears to be Miami. New England on the other hand, hasn't played anyone of note thus far, dispatching the Bills, the Jets and Tampa Bay. This will be their first real test of the year, on the road, on Sunday night.
The Falcons have been one of the better home teams in the NFL during the Smith/Dimitroff/Ryan era, going 33-7. While home field doesn't mean everything, it can't hurt the Falcons to have the Georgia Dome rocking against a tough opponent like New England.
Will the Falcons tough start and strenuous early schedule benefit them in this game against a team like New England who hasn't played anyone of note this year? We'll find out on Sunday.
TOM BRADY VS. THE SECONDARY
The Falcons' young secondary is having a rough outing to begin the year, allowing 295 yards per game through the air. They're facing one of the best quarterbacks of all time this week, and while Brady hasn't had the weapons he's used to around him this year, he's still a force to be reckoned with.
If the Falcons can't get to Brady, it'll be up to the young secondary to attempt to shut down New England's passing attack.
Thomas DeCoud, a pro bowl safety last year, has been getting torched this season. With Asante Samuel up and down due to injury, and Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant still learning the ropes, only William Moore and Robert McClain can truly be trusted to deliver at this point in the secondary.
Hopefully something can materialize this week. Alford and Trufant have shown flashes, while DeCoud is definitely capable of playing far better than he did last week. If they play like they did in the second half in Miami, it could be a long night for the Falcons.
TIME: 8:30 EST
RADIO: 790 The Zone AM/Star 94.1 FM
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