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Falcons' Versatile Offense Will Be Tough to Defend

There is more work to be done. The Falcons are using this week to begin focusing on facing the New England Patriots on February 5 in Super Bowl LI.

As CBS Sports' Pete Prisco wrote Tuesday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's greatest strength is "taking away one major part" of his opponent's offense. This ability has served the future Hall of Famer well over the years -- including in 2002, when New England neutralized Marshall Faulk and "The Greatest Show on Turf" in Super Bowl XXXVI.

The Falcons have the best offense the Pats will face in a Super Bowl since that Rams squad, but there's an important distinction to be made between those two powerhouses. While St. Louis had a historically-great scoring attack, it didn't have the depth Atlanta has now.

The Falcons' wide array of talent is evident in one of many record-breaking stats the Falcons put up in 2016. During the regular season, Matt Ryan threw a touchdown pass to 13 different receivers -- the most in NFL history.

So canceling out Atlanta's top threat, Julio Jones, will not go nearly as far as it normally does for New England.

It might have worked well last season, when 40.7 percent of Matt Ryan's passing yards went to Jones. This year, however, while Jones caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns, he only accounted for 28.5 percent of Ryan's passing yards.

There are plenty of reasons why that rate dropped. Mohamed Sanu settled into the No. 2 WR role nicely. Taylor Gabriel had a breakout campaign. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, both capable of running a high number of routes, have been dangerous receivers. And five different tight ends have found the end zone.

With so many weapons in tow, it wasn't surprising to see the offense excel without Jones' services. During the two games Jones missed due to injury, the Falcons racked up 83 points, and Ryan completed 35 of 51 passes for 523 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Atlanta won both of those contests.

The Falcons had similar results during the three contests when Jones tallied three or fewer receptions, going 3-0 and averaged 33.67 points.

In total, five Falcons earned more than 400 receiving yards, and eight scored at least three touchdowns. Atlanta posted similar numbers in its first two playoff matchups. Against Seattle, eight players caught a pass, and six had 20-plus receiving yards; against Green Bay, eight players caught a pass, and seven had 20-plus receiving yards.

"They have a two-headed monster in the backfield," Oakland Raiders safety Reggie Nelson, who faced Atlanta in Week 2, told CBS Sports. "What you going to do with Sanu? And they have Taylor Gabriel. Even if they focus on Julio, there are so many other guys who can kill you. If you sit back and play zone, he is going to eat that up."

Coaches all year have said this is a "pick-your-poison" offense, and that should remain the case in SBLI. For this reason, Prisco believes Atlanta will ultimately come out on top.

"[Taking away the top option] would normally slow an offense, but not this Falcons offense, which is why I think they win this game," he wrote.

"In a battle of the top-ranked scoring offense and the top-ranked scoring defense, I think the offense will get the best of it here. Ryan has too many weapons."

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