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Kyle Shanahan: Patriots defense the biggest challenge we've had this year

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the architect behind the NFL's top-scoring offense, emphasized the tough challenge ahead against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Shanahan was asked about some of the criticism the Patriots have received despite boasting the league's top scoring defense this season, giving up only 15.6 points per game.

"That blows my mind that people would be doing that,'' Shanahan said. "It's the best defense that we've seen in the NFL this year. The numbers show it. And watch the film and you see exactly why their numbers are the way they are. They are extremely tough to score against. That's why their No. 1 in the NFL. I believe only one game this year someone scored 30 points.

"They have very good players all around: players that are interchangeable that can be pass-rushers, that can be linebackers, that can be corners, that can be safeties. And they have an extremely good scheme. So, it's by far the biggest challenge we've had this year.''

Shanahan's offense, behind MVP frontrunner Matt Ryan, averaged 33.8 points during the regular season. In the playoffs, the Falcons scored 36 and 44 points, respectively, in wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

During the regular season, the Falcons faced three top 10 scoring defenses in the Seahawks (18.3 ppg), Broncos (18.2 ppg), and Chiefs (19.4 ppg). They averaged 25 points in those games and went 1-2.

In contrast, the Patriots faced three top 10 scoring offenses in the Arizona Cardinals (26.1 ppg), Pittsburgh Steelers (24.9 ppg), and Buffalo Bills (24.9 ppg). The Patriots surrendered 19.5 points per game in those four games -- including two matchups with the Bills -- and went 3-1. New England gave up 16 and 17 points, respectively, in playoff wins over the Texans and Steelers leading up to the Super Bowl.

On the flipside, the Patriots had the third-best scoring offense in the league this season, averaging 27.6 points. The Falcons were 27th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 25.4 points.

However, the Falcons have given up only 19.3 points per game during their current six-game winning streak, including the playoffs.