Al Thompson
David Andrews, the Patriots starting center, is 24 years old, his quarterback is 39. Photo by Al Thompson

HOUSTON: There will be weaknesses on both the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots that each team will try to exploit.

One area each team considers a strength is their respective offensive lines.

The Patriots starting five have not played for any team other than the Patriots, which would give them an ideal level of continuity.

The Falcons have Alex Mack, who is listed by former NFL lineman Brian Baldinger as the “best center in the game.” Mack, who was drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns in 2009, was able to, on
March 2, 2016, void his contract with the Browns, making him a free agent.

On March 9, 2016, Mack signed a reported five-year, $45 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, including $28.5 million in guaranteed money.

More than a few people believe he was the difference-maker propelling the Falcons to second best offense in the NFL and capturing the NFC title.

Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan talked about his impact on his and the Falcons success.

“Well, I think the addition of Alex has been huge,” the Philadelphia Native said. “Obviously, him coming in and solidifying our offensive line, the center position, was really important for us. He has done a great job all season. I think, also, the combination of him playing next to Chris Chester and Ryan Schraeder on the right side, who are in their second year playing next to each other, and then on our left side, Andy Levitre and Jake Matthews. I think the continuity on those two outside positions, and then adding a great player like Alex has led to a lot of really productive play for us from the offensive line.”

Schraeder, the starting right tackle, also talked about what Mack has meant to the line that helped running back Devonta Freeman rush for 1079 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Ryan also had his best season as a pro throwing for 38 touchdown passes against just seven interceptions.

“Alex, ever since he came here, you knew he was a great player,” said Schraeder, listed at 6-foot-7, 300 pounds. “The way he goes about his business, the way he works, everything he does, everybody’s watching and that that kind of rubs off on the rest of the team. He’s really solidified us up front. It makes Matt feel more comfortable when he’s got a guy like that. So it’s a cool deal…Alex has been big for us this year.”

On Thursday, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 1161 yards on 299 carries and 18 regular season touchdowns, was asked about the continuity of the Patriots offensive line that includes Davis Andrews at center, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon at tackle plus Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney at guard.

“That’s huge,” said Blount, 30, now in his second stint with the Patriots. “The offensive line grows stronger and stronger when they get closer to each other. They know how each other play, know how things are done and what they have to do. They learned that during the course of the season. They’ve been together the whole season. They’ve gotten really close with each other. They’re a really tough offensive line and I feel like one of the best in the league if not the best. They don’t get the recognition that they deserve. They deserve a lot more recognition that they do. We just have to make sure that they stay healthy and go out there and play. It all starts with them.”

Tom Brady has had a pretty solid season despite missing the first four games of the season, serving a suspension for his role in “Deflategate.”

And if you are not aware of what that is, there is no use in explaining it now.

Brady, whose suspension nickname has its own Wikipedia page, threw for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.

Brady is the only player left on the Patriots team that beat the Eagles in 2005. In fact he is the only player left from either team.

Brady was asked about the challenge of being so much older than a lot of his teammates.

“It is,” he said. “I think that’s part of the fun part for me. Your role always changes and still as a leader and as a veteran I still can express things to my younger teammates and see the things that they’re going through and try to help them through those things because I’ve been through those things. I’ve had a lot of experiences where Tedy (Bruschi) helped me and Rodney (Harrison) helped me and Willie (McGinest) helped me when I was their age. And now I’m – well I’m older than all those guys – but I still have the ability to be a positive influence in their lives. It may not be like we’re going out together on Friday nights, but it might mean more than that. I might be able to share things that might be able to help them in their career or help them with their family just because the experiences that I’ve had, taking care of themselves. I’m so on them about maximizing their potential and actualizing the things that they want to achieve because I’ve had people that really mentored me and if I can do that for other players, I love that. I try to embrace that and I have so many players on this team that are willing to listen and that’s a great responsibility because I love being that person for them.”

Andrews is one of those players. Just 24, Andrews talked about keeping it all business, not age.

“Tom’s a great player,” said Andrews, a free agent out of Georgia , now in his second season. “He does a great job of taking care of his body. He really knows how to do that. At the end of the day he’s just a teammate. We just go out there and work together and no let the age gap get in the way. You try not to think about it. That’s just how football is. We’re out there to do a job.”

PREDICTION: These teams are really well matched, well coached and very even.
Both teams have Porsche-like offenses, can play defense, especially the Patriots and have stud quarterbacks at the top of their game.
The outcome will likely be determined by which team makes a mistake towards the end. I think it will be the Patriots defense, in particular the secondary, will blink. Final score: Atlanta 41, New England 35.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii

4 Feb 17 - College football, Football, Football Training, NFL - Al Thompson - No Comments