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Matchup to Watch: OLB Beasley vs. OT Cannon

As the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg wrote Tuesday, forcing Tom Brady to make mistakes is far from easy. What isn't quite as difficult, however, is formulating a blueprint to achieve that goal. Greenberg, Dwight Freeney and Justin Tuck, who was part of the Giants teams that beat New England in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, all agree on the answer: get consistent pressure on the Patriots' signal caller, and do so with a four-man rush.   

The numbers agree with their analyses. In SBXLII, New York pressured Brady on 23 of 38 dropbacks, yet blitzed only nine times. IN SBXLVI, New York pressured Brady on 20 of 43 dropbacks. They sent an extra rusher on just five occasions during that contest.

The Falcons are capable of rattling Brady without blitzing frequently, and Vic Beasley Jr.'s presence is a big reason why.

Beasley, who recently garnered his first Pro Bowl nomination, tallied an NFL-best 15.5 sacks during the regular season and gained 14.5 between Weeks 5-17 – four more than anyone else recorded in that span.

The Clemson product also forced six fumbles, which were tied for the most in the league, and returned one for a touchdown in Los Angeles.

The 6-foot-3, 246-pounder has notched a pair of tackles and six pressures in two playoff appearances, and while those numbers might not jump off the page, it's worth noting he spent a lot of time during those matchups spying on Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Given how much Brady's mobility differs from Wilson and Rodgers', Beasley can spend most of SBLI focusing on what he does best.

Attempting to foil the Clemson alum will be Marcus Cannon. Considering what New England's right tackle has accomplished of late, Beasley figures to take on a considerable challenge at NRG Stadium.

Cannon has allowed just two sacks all season, according to Pro Football Focus, and both of them were surrendered in Week 1. Since then, he's contained the likes of Von Miller, Jerry Hughes and Cameron Wake, earning a second-team All-Pro nomination for his efforts.

"He's had a tremendous year, really had a lot of success," New England fullback James Develin said of Cannon. "He's blocked some of the best defensive players every week. Week in and week out he's been going out there and doing his job and doing it at a high level."

Cannon knows he, too, will have a difficult assignment on Sunday. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound lineman out of TCU supposed Beasley was a star based on the raw numbers and reputation, and when he turned on the tape, those expectations were confirmed.  

"You hear all about him, because he was up there in sacks, and of course as a first-round pick last year," Cannon said. "But it wasn't until I really looked at film and seen everything he can do, and you see what a good player he is. [He's] fast. He's super fast. Athletic. He's really gifted, given trouble to a lot of tackles. He's playing really well."

The only team to defeat the Brady-led Pats in 2016 were the Seahawks, who, like the aforementioned Giants clubs, were effective in the trenches. Seattle's defensive front had two sacks that evening, and more importantly, it wreaked havoc on a constant basis. If Atlanta can produce similar results, it'd go a long way towards finishing on top.  

"It's so important that we get to him, even if we get him off the spot," Beasley said. "Tom Brady doesn't get knocked down that much so put pressure in his face and get him off his spot and get him kind of frustrated will definitely help us at least try to come out with the win."

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