Super Bowl LIII Preview/Prediction
19 years ago, the Greatest Show on Turf stopped the Tennessee Titans at the one-yard line to capture the first Super Bowl title in Rams franchise history. Two years later, the Rams returned to the big game and found an upstart New England Patriots team on the opposite side of the field. Before the game began, Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl made a bold proclamation. He stated, “tonight a dynasty is born baby”. His statements became a reality after that night, but it wasn’t the Rams dynasty that was born. Instead, Super Bowl XXXVI turned out to be the birthplace of the New England Patriots dynasty. A dynasty that is still alive and well to this day. A dynasty that features the greatest quarterback and head coach of all-time. As for the Rams, the era of the Greatest Show on Turf would come to an end. The Rams would be mired in mediocrity for over a decade. They would even make a return to the Los Angeles market. Now, they’re led by a group of young upstarts that look like the elite Rams teams of the past. And so, here we are. Will the Patriots dynasty continue with another victory over the Rams? Or will the Rams serve as both the genesis and the terminus of the Patriots dynasty?
Keys for Rams
Pressuring Brady: It has been the go-to game plan for every team that has beaten Tom Brady in a big game. They were all able to get pressure on Brady. 11 years ago, the New York Giants were able to get pressure on Brady with their front four and hold the then-perfect Patriots to just 14 points. Four years later, the Giants managed to knock Brady down six times and keep constant pressure on him. During Peyton Manning’s final season, the Denver defense sacked Brady four times and put him on the ground 17 times total. So far this postseason, Brady hasn’t been sacked and has only been hit once. The Patriots are averaging 39 points per game this postseason as a result. The Rams will need to find a way to pierce the Patriots o-line and keep the pressure on Brady. Aaron Donald will be the obvious first name to come to mind, but New England will likely have a game plan centered around limiting his production. So now, we have to look to Ndamukong Suh. Suh has been playing well during the postseason. If he can continue to cause havoc, the Patriots won’t be able to focus solely on Donald. That could open things up for the rest of the defense. Donte Fowler and Michael Brockers will also need to take advantage of the attention focused on the interior line. If the Rams can get to Brady enough times, they’ll put themselves in a good position to win the game.
Stop the Run: The Rams have to make a commitment to taking away at least one aspect of the Patriots offensive attack. Both the Chiefs and Chargers failed in this aspect. The rushing attack of the Patriots have been running defenses over and have been the key to lengthy drives that keep offenses on the sidelines. The Rams would be doing themselves a favor if they can keep the Patriots rushing attack under control. They already proved they can do it when they slowed down the Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliot.
Keep Goff Clean: Another thing the Patriots have done well this postseason is to apply pressure on the opposing quarterback. They were able to get after both Philip Rivers and Patrick Mahomes pretty well. Mahomes and the Chiefs were still able to score some points but were basically rendered non-effective during the first half of the AFC Championship. As for Philip Rivers, he had more temper tantrums than first downs in the first half of his game against the Patriots. Jared Goff has already proven he can be rattled if enough pressure is applied. Keeping him clean and giving him time to make throws will be crucial to the Rams success.
Establish the Run: Now will be a good time to remind everyone that we’re not completely sure what Todd Gurley has left in his tank. He played well against the Cowboys but looked like a shell of himself against the Cowboys. But since he’s going to play anyway, the Super Bowl will be the perfect time to empty the tank. And even if Gurley is limited, C.J. Anderson has been a solid option to run the ball as well. The Patriots have not been that strong against the run all season. They’ve allowed the fourth most yards per attempt in the league. If they can force the Patriots to load up the box, they can give the Rams more chances to use play action and get the ball down the field.
Play Mistake Free Football: Los Angeles has to make it a priority to not make too many mistakes. Turnovers will simply give Tom Brady more opportunities to do damage. Silly penalties can keep a Patriots drive going or kill their own drives. And of course, a silly penalty or mental blunder can end up costing you the entire game. Ask the Chiefs about that. Their defense finally made a play and secured the game-sealing interception. The only problem is, Dee Ford was lined up offsides and the Patriots kept the ball. There’s never been a team better than the Patriots when it comes to taking advantage of other team’s mistakes. The Rams would be wise to remember this.
Keys For Patriots
Keep Brady Upright: New England’s offensive line has already done a great job of keeping Tom Brady clean in the pocket. Brady hasn’t been sacked this postseason and has only been hit once. The key in this game will be containing Suh and Donald. How they’ll do that is a good guess. Double teaming Donald will leave room for Suh to make plays. Focusing too much on the interior will allow other pass rushers chances to make plays. So I believe the Patriots will utilize sets with a fullback and an extra tight end to block. That way, they can cover all of their bases. And as long as Brady can continue to get the ball out of his hands quickly, the Patriots should be able to dink and dunk the Rams to death.
Ball Control: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Patriots winning formula during the playoffs has included a heavy dose of Sony Michel. Michel’s dominance in the running game has allowed the Patriots to put together long clock killing drives together while keeping opposing offenses on the sidelines. While the Rams ranked 23rd in rushing defense during the regular season, they have shown improvement in the playoffs. L.A. has limited the likes of the Cowboys and Saints rushing attacks to 2.3 yards per carry. The key for the Patriots is to not abandon the run too early.
Attack Rams Weakness: Los Angeles has a weakness on that defense that needs to be exploited. The Rams struggle with support from the second level of their defense. This leaves them susceptible to screen passes, bootlegs, and running back draws. Two of those things are the Patriots bread and butter. Which brings me to James White; a man who always seems to bring his A-Game to the Super Bowl. White will be the key player on those screens and bootlegs. He’s a player that can exploit the Rams weakness and have a huge game.
Make Rams One-Dimensional: The Patriots cannot allow the Rams offense to have access to their full array of weapons. They have to decide which aspect of the Rams offense they wish to slow down. The easy answer is the rushing attack of the Rams. Gurley may be compromised, but he’s still the focal point of the Rams offense. When he plays well, the Rams offense is hard to stop. Without him, the Rams have proven they can adapt, but their offense is not nearly as explosive. If the Patriots can manage to take away the Rams running game, they put the onus on Jared Goff to win the game with his arm.
Start Fast: For one reason or another, the Patriots have failed to score a touchdown in any of their past eight Super Bowl appearances. In fact, last year was the first time they even scored a point in the first quarter of a Brady/Belichick Super Bowl. Starting fast would set the tone for the Patriots. It lets the Rams know they can be scored upon. It may also put pressure on the Rams to start the game. For Los Angeles, this will be the first Super Bowl for a lot of young players. As for the Patriots, they’ve been in every conceivable situation in the Super Bowl. They know how to handle the adversity no matter the situation. Do the Rams? How will they handle being down two possessions? The Patriots should start fast and see the answer for themselves.
There’s no easy pick for this game. Both teams are well coached and feature top of the line talent. I believe this will be a close game with both teams countering each other with adjustments. The difference will be the Patriots style of play. They'll put together a game plan that will limit Aaron Donald's effectiveness. They'll make Jared Goff be the one to win the Rams the game, but the young quarterback won't be up for the task. And finally, I believe it will come down to one drive, and I can't bet against Tom Brady in that scenario. My apologies to everyone living outside the New England area. The dynasty isn't dead quite yet.
Final score: Patriots win 28-24
MVP: James White