The Los Angeles Rams opened as Super Bowl LIII favorites in a lot of places, but the public immediately began to throw money down on New England.
I don’t blame them.
The Patriots’ playoff run has been impressive following an unspectacular yet still good enough to get the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs type of year. It hasn’t been New England-like, but Bill Belichick has his troops looking like New England now.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, was rolling through the regular season until a late season slip-up when the offense took a dip. The Rams lost back-to-back games to Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively, and were aided by a controversial non-pass-interference call in the NFC Championship to help get them to Atlanta.
I can see why the public has a lot of confidence in New England at the moment, but the Rams match up extremely well with the Pats.
And I think they’re going to win the game.
It all starts up front with the offensive line. While the Rams are known for their prolific offense and deep play-action passing attack, they were eighth in the NFL in rushing attempts and averaged a healthy 4.9 yards per tote, which was third. Pro Football Focus ranked Los Angeles’ offensive line as the best run blocking unit in the NFL.
— NFL (@NFL) January 31, 2019
Obviously in order to get maximum effect from the play-action, you have to run the ball effectively, but I’m not so sure the Rams will have to throw the ball a ton on Sunday. The Patriots have improved their run defense in the postseason, but allowed 4.9 yards per carry (29th) during the regular season. According to Football Outsiders, LA’s offense led the league in adjusted line yards up the middle, while in contrast New England’s defense was 26th in this area. C.J. Anderson has been a bowling ball churning yards up the middle since he was inked in December. I also expect Todd Gurley to bounce back from his 4-carry, 10-yard performance against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game.
But let’s break this down even further, because the Rams run more 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) than any team in the NFL, while the Patriots’ run defense against 11 personnel is one of the worst in football. New England’s defense has surrendered a league-worst 6.8 yards per carry out of 11 since Week 11. It also gave up 6.1 yards per carry to Philadelphia in last year’s Super Bowl out of 11 personnel.
Since week 11, vs runs from 11 personnel, the Patriots run defense has allowed:
• 61% success rate (NFL worst)
• 6.8 YPC (NFL worst)
I wrote about this last yr before the Super Bowl. The Eagles running from 11 vs NE helped them avg 6.1 YPC & win.https://t.co/2v5W246leB
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 11, 2019
The Rams should be able to control the line of scrimmage and run on the Patriots. If they can also incorporate their deadly play-action passing game, something they use more frequently than any other team in the NFL, Brian Flores’ bunch could be in for a long night. Goff averaged 9.0 yards per play off play-action (3rd) and finished 10-of-12 for 108 yards and a score in the NFC Championship Game off of it.
— NFL (@NFL) January 29, 2019
The other interesting caveat will be watching the line of scrimmage pre-snap. New England loves to disguise its blitz looks, while McVay is the puppet master diagnosing defenses before the snap.
Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has had mixed results against Tom Brady and the Patriots in his career, but his 2015 Denver Broncos beat up on Brady in the AFC Championship Game and this Rams defense has the recipe. Rushing with four and dropping back seven is how you beat Brady, but having an interior presence where you can collapse the pocket quickly is paramount.
Enter Aaron Donald. Enter Ndamukong Suh.
New England’s offensive line has been phenomenal in the postseason, Brady seemingly hasn’t even been touched in both Patriots wins. Donald and Suh are different animals, however. This has been the Kryptonite to Brady in the past, solid interior pressure like the Giants exemplified in both of their Super Bowl wins over the Pats. Donald led the NFL in 20 1/2 sacks, the trio of Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason will be in for a long night.
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2019
Another factor could be special teams and the Rams in my opinion have the best one in the league. They have both the best punter and kicker in the league in Jonny Hekker and Greg Zuerlein, respectively. Zuerlein was 38-of-40 during the regular season and nailed the game-winning 57-yarder in OT against New Orleans.
There’s no doubt that the Rams are going to have their struggles too, they are dead last in defending the run (5.1 yards per carry) and New England has run for 155 and 176 yards in its first two playoff games. Brady is going to be Brady and pick apart the Rams’ defense when the rush doesn’t get there, but the Rams match up pretty well.
Two years ago the Atlanta Falcons didn’t keep their foot on the pedal.
Last year, Doug Pederson did.
If the Rams do indeed run all over the Patriots and toss the ball around using play-action, McVay knows that he has to maintain his aggression until the clock says zero. If he does, the Rams will win Super Bowl LIII.