Superbowl LIII is upon us, and after that we all go off the great cliff of the off-season. The focus for now will be on this weekend’s championship game. The match up features the #2 seed from both conferences, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. No doubt, many SKA’er will be begrudgingly rooting for their hated division rival.
Rams defense vs Patriots offense
The important thing for the Rams will be controlling time of possession. Brady has clearly proven time and time again when the pressure is on he delivers. People can say the best way to attack him is pressure up the middle, x y and z. The true way to beat him is to keep him on the bench. To do this, the Rams have to stop the Patriots ground game. In both playoff wins for the Patriots, their offensive line has been able to dominate the line of scrimmage and push the defense off the ball. This has resulted in the Patriots being able to execute a balanced attack, which has been essential to their success of their offense. In the Rams two playoff wins, they have held Ezekiel Elliot, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined to under 100 yards rushing. An important element to this success has been the play of Ndamukong Suh, who finally seems to have settled in with the Rams defense. Between him and Donald, they will have to have success against a stout Patriots offensive line that will no doubt try to establish the run. The Rams feature enough CB depth to match up on an under manned Patriots WR corps. That being said, Tom Brady is certainly capable of carving up even the best units. Another factor will be how much they intend to use Gronkowski. Rams safety John Johnson might find himself lined up against him. While Johnson has had a good year, Gronkowski’s size alone presents a tough matchup. While Gronkowski is not the receiving threat he once was, he blocking ability is as good as ever. For the Patriots ground game to be successful, both him and FB James Develin will have to perform at a high level.
Rams Offense vs Patriots defense:
The Rams run out of “11 personnel” more than any other team in football. It helps establish mismatches against teams playing in pass defense formations. How the Patriots choose to counter this will be interesting. The Patriots have allowed a league high 5.1 yards per carry against this formation during the 2018 season. Obviously, this is a fact that both Sean McVay and Bill Belichick are well aware of. Another massive factor in this game is the health of Todd Gurley. After rushing for 116 yards against Dallas, Gurley only had 5 touches against the Saints. While he did score a touchdown, him being essentially a non factor during the game certainly raised a great deal of attention. The team continues to insist he is fine and healthy, but whether or not that is a smoke screen is another debate all together. CJ Anderson has performed admirably in Gurley’s stead, however he is not the caliber of player that Todd Gurley is. The Rams offensive line has been a top unit all year, and should provide holes for Rams RBs to run through during the game. The Patriots also do not have a top end pass rusher. Ideally, this is a matchup the Rams O line should win. The Patriots CB on paper does not seem too deep, but they have been able to get good play out of lesser known cornerbacks like JC Jackson and journeyman Jason McCourty. How these guys are able to contain a deep Rams WR corps will be an interesting matchup. The Rams TEs also should match up favorably against Patriots linebackers. Veteran Patriots safety Devin McCourty will be a tough matchup for whomever he draws.
The most interesting battle of all here will no doubt be between the schemes of Bill Belichick and Sean McVay. They have only ever gone head to head once, albeit with McVay as an OC with the Redskins at the time. The result was a 27-10 Patriots win in Foxboro. Both coaches have no doubt scoured over the tape of that game. Obviously, comparing the pedigree of both coaches at this point in time is a fool’s errand. Belichick is a first ballot HOF coach, while McVay is only in his 2nd year. That being said, the match up is someone of a new school vs old school type of battle. Much will be made of McVay’s inexperience and youth, however the Rams coaching staff is stocked with veteran coaches. The best example of that is Wade Phillips. His defenses over the years have been abused by Brady, but Phillips has been able to win the last two games – one of which was in an AFC Title game.
Prediction: Rams 24-21
Obviously a homer pick by me, but I don’t think this game is decided by more than one score. I also don’t think this game is extremely high scoring. Both teams will come in prepared and play well. Turnovers will be the key here, if either team starts accumulating those the score could get more lopsided. However, the Patriots seem to be better built for maintaining a lead opposed to storming back from a deficit. However, betting against them in any scenario is a risky proposition.