By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The game felt well in hand for most of the Patriots’ win over the Falcons on Sunday night, but Atlanta had their chances to make things interesting. The Falcons’ fourth-and-1 chance from the Patriots’ 1-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter was perhaps the best opportunity they had to reverse momentum – and the Patriots just blew it up.
With a chance to punch the ball in with one of their running backs and cut the Patriots’ lead to 13 points with plenty of football left, they instead decided to try a jet sweep to receiver Taylor Gabriel. It’s beyond fair to question Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian for his play-calling, and head coach Dan Quinn for letting it happen. But credit is also due to Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers for killing the play – really, before it even got started.
You can see below that Van Noy recognized the play immediately due to Gabriel’s position well behind the line, fixing his eyes on the wideout a split second before he even got into his break. If Van Noy didn’t get into motion as quickly as he did, he may not have been able to get to Gabriel in time.
But taking an even closer look at the play reveals that Van Noy would not have been able to make the tackle without the effort of Trey Flowers on the edge. Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo was supposed to chip Van Noy on the play, which if successful may have given Gabriel enough time to swoop into the end zone. Instead, Flowers threw enough of a block on Toilolo to send him tumbling to the turf. This impeded Gabriel’s route and left Van Noy free to pursue him and make the tackle.
Bill Belichick took notice of the effort by both Flowers and Van Noy on the play.
“Kyle made a great play, made a very instinctive play. He recognized the motion and then saw that the defender was a little bit behind the receiver and so he moved into position to have better leverage on the play,” Belichick said after the game on Sunday. “Trey Flowers also saw that and it might have forced him a little bit deeper. Kyle might have made the play anyway but Trey got a good read on it, too, and was able to partially disrupt the play.
“Trey made a good play on that and Kyle’s awareness, and the quickness with which he got outside with all of the traffic so that he could kind of have a clear shot to come up the field, was a real heads up play on his part.”
Van Noy has begun to embrace more of a leadership role on the defense after coming to New England midway through the 2016 season. He’s shown great instincts and preparedness at times when manning the middle of the defense, and his epic fourth-down stop against the Falcons was arguably the best example yet.
Flowers continues to be the defense’s best playmaker up front, but Van Noy could be starting to stabilize the linebacking corps if his performance on Sunday night is any indication. Continued success from those two and the rest of the front-seven could give the unit a worthy complement to its surging secondary.
Deep Looks examines key plays from the Patriots’ latest games, spotlighting subtle but important details that you may have missed. Check it out to see the play within the play.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.