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Sports

September 27, 2013

Patriots expect tough time with Falcons runners

FOXBOROUGH — Vince Wilfork’s job might be easier without Steven Jackson charging at him.

That doesn’t mean the Patriots defensive tackle wants the Falcons running back to miss Sunday night’s game.

Wilfork figures if New England beats a team that’s at full strength, no one can question the victory.

“I always want to play the best because it will never give people an excuse to say, ‘If we would have had this person,’” the outcome might be different, Wilfork said Thursday. “I always want to play against the best at all times, but it’s not up to me. People get hurt.”

Jackson missed Sunday’s 27-23 loss to the Miami Dolphins with a hamstring injury. It also kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

But Atlanta has two solid backups. Against Miami, Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 86 yards and Jason Snelling picked up 53.

“Rodgers is a really good back and Snelling gives them a little changeup with his size and downhill (style),” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said, “but if you watch Rodgers on tape, he’s done a really good job, very good feet, make guys miss.

“So, for us, it’s the same. If they hand the ball off, we’ve got to surround them and get a guy on the ground.

“So we can’t just go in the game and say, ‘no Steven Jackson, no run game.’”

The Patriots take a 3-0 record and the NFL’s sixth-best pass defense into the game against Atlanta’s balanced offense. Matt Ryan has potent receivers in Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez.

If the Falcons can establish their running game, they can be more effective using play action since defensive backs might have to play closer to the line, opening more room for the receivers.

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