The Patriots have had more of an up and down season than ever before during the Brady-Belichick regime. Entering week four with an embarrassing 1-2 record, with losses to the Jaguars and Lions, the Patriots found their footing and went on to take down Kansas City in week six. Fast forward to week 10 when the Titans embarrassed the Patriots in a 34-10 blowout. That loss led to worrisome defeats against Miami and Pittsburgh that had New England falling all the way to the fourth seed in the playoffs.
New England limped into the postseason — barely securing the number two seed — and awaited an expected date with the L.A. Chargers. New England Dominated L.A. at home with a 41 point offensive explosion that left the Chargers dazed and confused. The following week the Patriots shut the mouths of all their critics by pulling out an overtime win against Kansas City — the Super Bowl favorites — in a game where New England led the entire time.
Now New England has less than a week until they face the epitome of new school offense: The L.A. Rams. This matchup pits one of the greatest dynasties of all time against a rising powerhouse who is changing the way the offensive game is played.
A victory on February 3rd would certainly add a new perspective to the ever-growing accolades associated with the Brady-Belichick Patriots.
Los Angeles Rams
First off, yes, the NFL missed a pass interference call that should have sent the Saints to the Super Bowl and the Rams home for the winter.
Having said that, one play does not diminish the success that L.A. worked for the entire season. This team is a force to be reckoned with and has a bright future ahead of them.
The Rams have come a long way since they were the bottom of the barrel in St. Louis. Since right before their relocation the Rams drafted Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, resigned Aaron Donald, and hired Sean McVay… the rest is in the numbers.
In 12 of the Rams 16 games this season, the offensive unit scored 30 points or more. Jared Goff threw for over 4,600 yards, Todd Gurley accounted for over another 1,200 yards on the ground, and both Brandon Cooks and Robert Woods managed to go for for over 1,000 yards this season. Not to mention Aaron Donald, who finished two sacks short Michael Strahan’s NFL record, ending his season with 20.5 sacks.
Offensively, the Rams are everything the NFL has ever wanted.
The way they effortlessly score points — particularly with underrated, athletic players — is entertainment gold for the league. Defensively, the Rams are as fast and strong in the secondary as any great defense of recent memory ( Seattle, Denver ). This young and well-rounded franchise will take their new school approach head to head with the kings of old school in less than a week.
Keys to the Game
- Run the ball early – It would be insane for any offensive coordinator to expect the young Jared Goff to out throw the greatest quarterback of all time in Brady. The run game, led by Todd Gurley, outshines the front seven of New England in every way. The run defense of the Patriots finished in the middle of the pack in opponents yardage gained, but surrendered 4.9 yards per carry – among the league’s worst percentages. Gurley and change-of-pace back CJ Anderson will be pivotal X factors on Sunday.
- Get pressure in the middle – The duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh have wreaked havoc for opposing offenses all season. Every NFL defensive coordinator knows exactly how to stop the Patriots offense: stop Tom Brady. History has proven that to be easier said than done, but the Rams might have the recipe. Brady has struggled under pressure due to his lack of mobility outside of the pocket. If Donald and Suh are able to collapse the center of the pocket — forcing Brady to roll out — the over the middle offensive game plan of New England will be torn apart.
- Hold onto the ball – New England proved against Kansas City that they can defeat a high powered offense even when losing the turnover battle. The same may not be true for L.A., but to better their chances Goff and Gurley should keep a tight grip on the pigskin. Maintaining possession and keeping Brady on the sideline for as long as possible is one of the easiest ways to steal a Super Bowl from New England.
New England Patriots:
- Win the battle over field position – Other teams often wonder how the Patriots are able to maintain their high level of play for so long. The answer is that they pay attention to the little things. Punting the ball away for most teams is a failed drive on offense. But for New England, forcing the opposing offense to drive 85 yards instead of 65 could make all the difference in the game. You can bet the punt / return team will have as equal importance as offense or defense in practice this week for New England.
- Don’t let Gronk disappear – Having Rob Gronkowski on your offense can be the difference in winning or losing the Super Bowl. If Brady can get the ball in Gronk’s hands multiple times on the first drive, the Rams will be forced to either double cover him or waste their biggest corner (Marcus Peters) on Gronk the whole game. That would then open up one-on-one coverage for Edelman or force linebackers to catch up to James White in the flats. But when Gronk struggles early he has the tendency to disappear until the fourth quarter, when it may be too late.
- Keep Brady off the ground – The Patriots have never been successful when Brady spends most of the game getting knocked to the turf. New England will undoubtedly face their toughest opposing defensive line this week, and it will be up to one man to find a way to stop it. Donte Scarnecchia has been the Patriots offensive line coach for the last 33 years, which means he knows a little something about blocking great defensive lineman. Keeping Donald and Suh at bay is perhaps the most important gameplay the Patriots will need to come up with, mostly because no other team this season has figured out how either.
Too Early Prediction:
With time still on the clock and injury reports yet to be finalized, predicting the winner of Super Bowl 53 is still moderately premature – but I’ll do it anyway!
New England Patriots 28 L.A. Rams 23
The Rams are paving the way for a new school style of offense in the NFL. Not even the 2007 Patriots who went 18-1 were able to dominate each team they played in the regular season like the Rams. However, the median level of NFL teams has decreased since then. The NFL has polarized in a similar way to the NBA, in a structure that classifies around eight teams as the elite and the rest are mediocre.
L.A. has yet to convince me that they are leaps and bounds better over any NFL team in the league (they should’ve lost to New Orleans last week!). For that reason, my early edge goes to the old school style of play and the New England Patriots.
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