With the stage now set for Super Bowl LI, here are the stats you need to know before the Atlanta Falcons face the New England Patriots in Houston.
1. Including the playoffs, Falcons WR Julio Jones has gained 3.2 yards per route run, the best mark in the NFL by almost half a yard.
Julio Jones is the toughest receiver to cover one-on-one in the entire NFL, and he has been dealing with a series of injuries this season, causing him to miss some time. When he has been on the field, though, he has been more productive than any other wide receiver by some distance. Only Cincinnati's A.J. Green came within half a yard of Jones in yards gained per route run (YPRR) over the season, and Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown is almost a full yard behind in third place, checking in with 2.4 YPRR.
— PFF (@PFF) January 23, 2017
2. Atlanta OLB Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this season, but was just 18th among edge rushers in total pressures, with 56.
Vic Beasley was a breakout player this season, but his sack total flattered his overall performance. The average NFL edge rusher converts pressure into sacks 15.1 percent of the time. Beasley did it at an unsustainably high rate of 28.6 percent this season. That could potentially be seen as a sign of elite finishing ability and athleticism, and on certain plays, that is definitely a factor, but the only player with a higher rate than Beasley this year was Colts OLB Erik Walden, so it’s probably not an achievement to hang your hat on. Beasley is definitely more of a threat than he was last season, but he isn’t an unstoppable whirlwind of pressure.
3. Tom Brady’s interception rate this season was 0.5 percent, the third-best mark in NFL history.
Only two players (Damon Huard in 2006 and Josh McCown in 2013, both at 0.4 percent) have recorded a lower interception rate over a season, and Brady threw four more regular-season touchdowns than those two players combined in their record-setting years. Brady was the most mistake-free QB in football this season, and he did it while still being as productive as anybody in terms of big plays and scoring.
4. Patriots RT Marcus Cannon hasn’t surrendered a sack since Week 1.
Marcus Cannon has developed from liability to All-Pro at right tackle for the Patriots this season under the tutelage of O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Cannon has surrendered two sacks this season in 18 games, but they both came in the first week of the season against Arizona. Since then, he has gone 17 straight games without surrendering a sack, and has been one of the league’s best tackles. He was perfect in pass protection in the AFC Championship game against the Steelers.
5. Including the playoffs, the top two receivers in terms of passer rating when targeted will play in Super Bowl LI: Taylor Gabriel for the Falcons (144.1) and Chris Hogan for Patriots (137.5).
Julio Jones may be the most dominant wide receiver in the game, but the Patriots and Falcons have been extremely efficient in targeting their secondary and tertiary targets this season. Both Gabriel and Hogan have six touchdowns this year, including the playoffs, and they have only been the intended target for one interception a piece. They have combined to catch 73.6 percent of the passes thrown their way over the year and could be real X-factors in the Super Bowl.
6. The Super Bowl will feature the No. 1 and No. 2 QBs in passer rating this season.
There seems little doubt at this point that the best two quarterbacks in the game this season will square off in the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan and Tom Brady were the best two QBs over the year in passer rating, as well as PFF grade, and while passer rating is not always a good evaluation of QB play, it is a good representation of the overall production of the passing game. What that means is that we are going to witness the two most productive aerial attacks going head-to-head.
7. When throwing the ball, Falcons WR Mohamad Sanu has a perfect career passer rating of 158.3.
The Falcons lined Sanu up in the backfield and as a wildcat QB against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game, but they didn’t break out a trick play where he attempted a pass. Sanu has five career pass attempts, however, and has completed each one, including two of the best plays of his career in the forms of a 50-yard completion and 73-yard touchdown score. Given that the Falcons set the groundwork with the formations against the Packers, don’t be surprised if Atlanta has a trick play involving a Sanu pass in the Super Bowl.
8. The Patriots had just one player in the regular season record 40-plus total pressures: Chris Long.
New England has had to rely on generating pressure from a variety of different sources, and as often with the help of the scheme as any one player winning his matchup consistently. Chris Long finished the regular season with 57 total QB pressures, but it took him 496 passing snaps to get there, and he was the only member of the Patriots to top 40 total pressures. Long got home on only five of those pressures, and if the Falcons can neutralize him, that will significantly help Matt Ryan remain safe in the pocket.
9. Tom Brady has the league’s lowest sack percentage when pressured, at 10.6.
Pocket presence isn’t just about avoiding pressure, but about being able to control how often that pressure gets home by getting rid of the football. Peyton Manning was the league’s best at that for years, and in 2016, Ton Brady has been peerless. He was pressured on 30.9 percent of his dropbacks in the regular season, the 13th-lowest rate in the league, but allowed just 10.6 percent of those pressure plays to result in sacks, the lowest percentage of any QB.
10. Including the playoffs, Matt Ryan’s passer rating when kept clean is 131.1, the best mark in the NFL by over 10 points.
Any QB can play well when he’s not under pressure, right? While that may be true, the level Matt Ryan is playing at right now when he is kept clean is a level above anyone else in the league. He has been virtually unstoppable this season when he hasn’t been pressured, and if the Patriots can’t apply some heat in the Super Bowl, it’s going to be a long day for their secondary, given the efficiency with which Ryan has been carving up the rest of the league from clean pockets.