“If you can slow the running game down, the play action pass really doesn’t do anything,” Wilfork said, “but that’s going to be tough because they run the ball well.”
So far the Patriots have allowed the ninth-most yards rushing in the NFL.
“Any time a team play actions, it’s a chance we can lose some guys” in coverage, McCourty said.
“I have to do a good job reading the quarterback, trying to match guys and staying deep a lot of times in play action.”
He and fellow safeties Steve Gregory and Duron Harmon “can’t get caught biting down on the run,” McCourty said, “especially with the threats they have on the outside.”
The Patriots veteran defense has allowed just three touchdowns this season. The only newcomer to the starting lineup is defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who spent his other nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
“He fit right in, no issues,” Wilfork said. “You can’t double (team) everybody. He’s been making a lot of plays for us. When I’m on the field and I have guys around me and I just feel and know they understand what’s going on, that’s the feeling I get with these guys.”
But the Patriots have played three of the weakest teams — the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Atlanta is just 1-2, but its losses have been by six points to New Orleans and four points to Miami. Both the Saints and Dolphins are 3-0.
And the Patriots haven’t faced a receiver such as Jones, whose 27 catches are tied with New England’s Julian Edelman for the NFL lead.
“When (Jones) first came into the league it was still kind of the Roddy White show over there,” Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said.