Super Bowl LIII Preview: New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams

By: Jonathan Chan

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tom Brady will play for his sixth Super Bowl ring in a rematch of the game that birthed a dynasty when the New England Patriots (13-5) take on the Los Angeles Rams (15-3) Sunday in Super Bowl LIII.

The Patriots will be making their third straight appearance in the Super Bowl and fourth in the last five years. A victory on Sunday would give New England six Super Bowl wins, tying them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most championships in NFL history.  

The Rams franchise is returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Can the Rams Pressure Tom Brady?

It’s no secret that Los Angeles has one of the best defensive lines in football, spearheaded by Aaron Donald, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Donald terrorized quarterbacks all season long, finishing the year with 20.5 sacks, two short of Michael Strahan’s single-season record.

Donald will need to be at the top of his game if the Rams want any chance of pressuring Brady. The Patriots offensive line has been incredible this postseason, allowing zero sacks on 90 pass plays against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs led the league in sacks, with defensive ends Dee Ford and Chris Jones ranking third and fourth this season in QB pressure, but were unable to get to Brady.

Brady has been pressured on just 15% of his dropbacks this post-season which is by far the lowest of any QB, according to Pro Football Focus. Additionally, the Patriots have allowed just three sacks to interior defensive lineman (i.e. Donald) all season long.

Can the Patriots Establish their Running Game?

Contrary to previous years, New England made a point of emphasizing their running game in 2018, ranking seventh in rushing play percentage at 45 percent. This ratio increased to 48 percent in the playoffs.

The trio of Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead have given New England a versatile and explosive rushing attack to lean on. Michel has been a workhorse this post-season, rushing for 242 yards and five touchdowns in two games.

Establishing their rushing attack will be key to keeping pressure away from Brady. The Rams’ rush defense ranked 28th in DVOA during the regular season and allowed 5.1 yards per carry. However, they have been much better in the playoffs, allowing just 2.3 yards per carry.

Controlling the time-of-possession will be key if the Patriots want to keep Jared Goff from getting into a rhythm, similar to the way they limited Patrick Mahomes in the first half of the AFC Championship game.

Can Jared Goff Pull a Nick Foles?

To state the obvious, Goff will need to have a big game for the Rams to win on Sunday. Los Angeles had the second-ranked offense in the regular season, averaging 421 yards and 32.9 points per game. However, his playoff performance has not lived up to his regular season, as he’s averaging just 241 passing yards with a single touchdown in two games.

Of course, Goff was able to overcome an awful first quarter in the NFC Championship and completed several key drives for the Rams in the second half.

If Goff can handle the pressure of New England’s blitz packages, which they run 29 percent of the time, then he should be able to move the ball down the field. However, because the Rams run play action at a league-high rate, Goff tends to hold onto the ball longer, leaving him vulnerable to pressure.

The key for the Rams will be to slow the pressure from the Patriots, which gave the Chargers (45 percent of dropbacks) and Chiefs (44 percent) fits. If LA’s sixth-ranked pass-blocking offensive line can hold, then Goff should have time to run the play action schemes.  

C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley have the potential to take over games, but it remains to be seen how each player will be used coming off a two-week rest. However, Goff will need to play well to open lanes for his running backs.

Will Nikell Robey-Coleman’s Bulletin Board Material Backfire?

If you don’t know who Robey-Coleman is, just ask Saints fans. During media week he decided to fan the flames a little more by making some choice comments about Brady.

'Age has definitely taken a toll. For him to still be doing it, that's a great compliment for him. But I think that he's definitely not the same quarterback he was,' Robey-Coleman says. 'Movement. Speed. Velocity. Arm strength. He still can sling it, but he's not slinging it as much. Whatever he was doing—because of his age and all that—he's not doing as much of that anymore. He's still doing the same things; he's just not doing as much of it. And sometimes, it's not the sharpest. But it still gets done.”

Robey-Coleman will have to back up his comments on Sunday against New England’s top aerial weapon, Julian Edelman. As laid out by Ben Cooper of Pro Football Focus, the Robey-Coleman versus Edelman matchup could be a deciding factor in the game.

As a team, the Rams struggle in the slot, where Robey-Coleman plays the vast majority of his snaps. Despite his successful season, the Rams’ nickel cornerback struggled in man coverage out of the slot, allowing a 109.3 passer rating. Brady doesn’t hold onto the all for very long, and he will make use of his best slot receiver is a plus matchup.

Conclusion

As we’ve seen throughout the playoffs, this will be another matchup of high-powered offenses, with Hall of Fame talent on both sides of the ball. The game will likely be decided in the trenches, with whichever team is able to pressure the opposing QB more coming out on top.

Like the last two Super Bowls, this will be a thrilling and tightly contested game that can either cement a legacy, or begin a new one.