Super Bowl LIII preview


One of the defining conflicts of the 2018 NFL season has been the way the NFL versus the way the NFL will be. It is fitting that the Super Bowl will reflect this perfectly. The New England Patriots, led by 66-year-old Head Coach Bill Belichick and 41-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, will face off against the NFL’s bright future in the Los Angeles Rams and their young coach and quarterback duo of Sean McVay and Jared Goff (who are 32 and 24-years-old respectively).

While the Rams had the more impressive regular season record at 13-3 (as compared to New England at 11-5), they enter this Super Bowl XXXVI rematch as slight 2.5 point underdogs against the experienced Patriots. It’s fair, based mostly on the vast Super Bowl experience gap that exists between the Pats, who are entering their fourth Super Bowl appearance in the past five years, and the Rams who last played on the biggest stage in the 20-17 defeat to the Pats in 2002.

The Rams have shown they can handle adversity of a difficult stage, overcoming a raucous crowd in New Orleans to make it to Atlanta, and they will have to prove themselves up to the challenge again against a vastly more experienced opponent in their biggest challenge of the season.

While New England’s Super Bowl exploits dwarfs Los Angeles, that may be the only category in which they have a decided advantage. The Rams are a deep and talented group, one that is as talented as any team the Patriots have faced in the Super Bowl since at the very least, the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.

The Rams offense will prove to be a formidable test for a Patriots defense that has done an admirable job of shutting down such high-powered offenses such as Chiefs and Chargers throughout their playoff run. They will face a difficult test in trying to contain what might be the most dynamic offenses in football led by Todd Gurley, Goff and the playcalling of McVay.

Tom Brady (right) will play in his ninth Super Bowl on Sunday (photo credit: Kirby Lee/ USA Today).

Gurley is the talented engine behind the Rams run game that has amassed 1,800 total yards on the season and 21 touchdowns as both a runner and receiver.  Pairing with the former Georgia Bulldog over the past few weeks has been running back C.J Anderson, who has provided the thunder to Gurley’s lightning.

The pair has been relentless in wearing down opposing defenses, most notable in the Rams’ divisional round victory against the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys came into the game with one of the most talented young defenses in football and the Rams running back pair wore them out.

New England will need to be able to limit the Rams running game to get into rhythm, especially early in the game, as Los Angeles will likely be relying on the run to power them through the nerves of the first quarter of the big game and set up the play-action.

Belichick’s defense was a bottom five team in yards per carry allowed in the regular season so this will definitely be a point of emphasis in his plan to slow down Los Angeles.

Through the air, the talent and play calling abilities of Goff and McVay have been on full display this season. Goff to put up close to 4,700 passing yards and logged 32 touchdowns, without what one would consider a ‘marquee’ wide receiver.

The tandem have employed a strategy of using the no huddle offense to essentially always plan for their opponent’s on field weakness. The offense gets lined up as quickly as possible and while they still have their headset communication available (up until 15 seconds left on the play clock), they survey the defense and McVay will call the play at the line, through Goff, to target the weakness of the defense lined up across from them.

If there is one coach that will be able to stymie this strategy however, its the coach lined up across the field from the Rams this Sunday.  Coach Belichick is one of the foremost defensive minds to ever coach football and I would suspect that he has game-planned on how to disguise his defenses and blitzes to the point that the the Rams hurry up offense may be grounded to a certain degree.

While the Rams are considered the more prolific offense of the two teams on Sunday, the Patriots are nearly as prolific a scoring offense as Los Angeles (fourth in scoring offense to the Rams second ranked offense).

In many ways, the Patriots actually mirror the Rams offensively.  While they lack the individual talent of Todd Gurley, running back duo of James White and Sony Michel give a running game that is equally as productive.  They get Gurley’s pass catching ability and then some, in the steady hands of White who caught 87 passes this season and shredded the Chargers in the Divisional round with 15 catches on 17 targets.

The Patriots passing game has been effective as it has ever been, under the ageless wonder that is Brady. The former sixth round pick has continued to pick apart defenses this year with quick, intelligent passing to essentially papercut his opponents to death. Through White and receiver Julian Edelman, he has continued to methodically wear out opposing defenses.


The formidable duo of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald should be tough test for the Patriots Offensive line (photo credit: Los Angeles Rams)


If there seems to be one Achilles heel in Brady’s game, it has been his struggles against elite pass rushing and being hurried in the pocket.  So far this postseason, behind a line that has been playing spectacularly, Brady has yet to be sacked and has only been hit by opposing defenders three times. Its not like New England has been playing against bottom dwellers either: both the Chiefs and Chargers have elite pass rushes.

In the Rams, Brady and the Patriots line might just have found a serious challenge in the form of the interior pass rushing duo of Ndamukong Suh and All-Pro Aaron Donald. Suh, and especially Donald, are elite interior pass disruptors with the ability to bull rush lineman backwards.

While the Chargers and Chiefs had terrific pass rushes, they specialized in outside pressure.  Brady was able to quickly combat their effectiveness by getting the ball out of his hands through quick passes to White or Edelman. If Donald and Suh are able to get the kind of pressure inside that they are hoping for, this will trouble Brady’s ability to step up and get the ball out.  The Rams pass rush will be a key to winning this game and if its effective Sunday, it might be a long night for Brady.

When the Rams and the Patriots meet Sunday night in Atlanta, it should be a meeting of two very exciting offenses, two capable defenses two teams on very different journeys.  The Patriots will look to cement their legacy and show the NFL that no matter how much the landscape of the league has changed, they are still the Kings of the league. For the Rams, with a victory on Sunday, it might be the dawn of a new world order.


About Author

based in Frederick, MD, USA. Multi-sport correspondent for Prost International and Prost Amerika focusing mainly on Soccer/Football and American Football

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