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The 13 key matchups that will decide if the Patriots or Rams win the Lombardi Trophy

The 13 key matchups that will decide if the Patriots or Rams win the Lombardi Trophy


We’re doing Key Matchups a bit in another way for the Tremendous Bowl. Fairly than taking a look at one particular matchup on all sides of the ball, we’re moving into in-depth breakdowns of all of the totally different matchups that may probably have an effect on the result of Tremendous Bowl LIII, so we will actually get the complete image of what is going to decide whether or not the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams take residence the Lombardi Trophy.

There’s no want for an extended preamble right here. Let’s get proper into it.

When the Patriots have the ball

Tom Brady vs. Wade Phillips

We’ll get into the stylistic and play-calling matchup between Phillips and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in our teaching matchups publish, however the thoughts video games performed between Phillips and Brady will probably be simply as necessary to the last word results of this recreation. Brady modifications play-calls on the line of scrimmage as typically as any quarterback within the league, and his talent at figuring out rushers, altering protections, and getting the ball out as shortly as attainable to the receiver more than likely to be open the soonest after the snap is probably going the only biggest asset he has.

It’s served him extraordinarily properly in sure matchups towards Phillips’ protection prior to now, nevertheless it’s value noting that Brady has had a few of his worst video games towards Phillips-coached defenses in current seasons. That 2015 Denver Broncos, for instance, have been famously capable of frustrate Brady into what was doubtless the worst playoff efficiency of his whole profession.

2005 SD 19 32 224 1 1 78.1
2006* SD 27 51 280 2 Three 57.6
2007** DAL 31 46 388 5 Zero 129.6
2012 HOU 21 35 296 Four Zero 125.Four
2012* HOU 25 40 344 Three Zero 115.Zero
2013 HOU 29 41 371 2 1 104.Eight
2015 DEN 23 42 280 Three Zero 99.Three
2015* DEN 27 56 310 1 2 56.Four
2016 DEN 16 32 188 Zero Zero 68.2
2001-18 Wade 218 375 2681 21 7 91.2

If Phillips is ready to scheme his move rush into place to generate strain on Brady shortly sufficient that he has to maneuver off his spot within the pocket, that may go a great distance towards placing the Rams in place to tug off an upset. But when Brady is ready to neutralize the strain, it might be an extended night for the Rams’ again seven defenders.

Talking of neutralizing the strain …

The offensive line vs. Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers andDante Fowler Jr.

Through the playoffs, the Pats have been even higher up entrance than they have been in the course of the common season. Whereas Brady’s strain price of 25.Eight % through the yr was already absurdly low, it has plummeted to a totally ridiculous 15.6 % in two postseason contests. The truth is, Brady has not even been sacked throughout New England’s run to the Tremendous Bowl. And he has been hit whereas throwing the ball solely one time in 90 makes an attempt.

The offensive line will face its hardest process but through the Tremendous Bowl. Aaron Donald is probably going the only greatest participant within the NFL. He led the league in tackles for loss, sacks, and complete pressures (sacks plus hits plus hurries) this season, and it’s not like this was some entire new degree for him. It’s his regular. Invoice Belichick unironically referred to as him “unblockable” earlier this week, and we should always anticipate the Patriots to game-plan accordingly.

Pats beat author Ben Volin informed our personal Will Brinson he expects the Patriots to double or triple-team Donald and Ndamukong Suh on almost each snap, forcing Brockers, Fowler, and Sam Ebukam to beat them up entrance.

“If I might place one guess this week, I’ll guess Aaron Donald won’t have any impression on this recreation. The Patriots will take him out. They’ll double staff him, they’ll triple workforce him,” Volin defined. “They may let Michael Brockers wreck the sport. They may let Mark Barron wreck the sport. They won’t let Aaron Donald wreck the sport. And that goes for Suh as properly. The offensive line has been excellent. Dante Scarnecchia, one other unbelievable efficiency by their offensive line coach. Once they performed in 2016, they have been actually triple teaming Donald on some passing performs. They won’t let these guys beat them.”

Good luck with that.

Julian Edelman vs. Nickell Robey-Coleman

If Brady has enough safety, his go-to man on the perimeter is Julian Edelman. Edelman has four-plus catches in 13 of the 14 video games he’s performed this season, and this yr was his fifth wholesome season in a row averaging a minimum of six catches per recreation. (He’s remarkably constant, averaging between 6.1 and 6.Eight catches and between 66 and 77 yards per recreation each single yr since 2013.) As ordinary, Edelman spent most of his time within the slot this season, aligning there on 67 % of his routes, per Professional Soccer Focus.

Such an alignment will match him up on most snaps with Nickell Robey-Coleman, who has been within the information fairly a little bit of late, in case you haven’t observed. Whereas most informal observers proper now know Robey-Coleman because the participant who dedicated the blatantly apparent, however uncalled move interference and helmet-to-helmet hit penalties towards the top of the NFC title recreation towards the Saints, he has truly been one of many higher slot corners within the NFL over the previous two seasons. He ranked eighth in opponent’s passer score on throws to the slot through the common season, and he has allowed simply two catches for 16 yards on six slot throws in his path in two playoff video games to date. (Edelman has caught 10 of 12 slot throws in his course for 156 yards through the playoffs.)

Apparently, if Edelman is seeing a ton of goal quantity, which may not essentially be a great factor for the Patriots. They have been undefeated (10-Zero) this season when Edelman had 10 targets or fewer, however simply 1-Three when he had 11 or extra. Since 2013, nevertheless, the Pats are 19-Four (Zero.826 profitable proportion) when Edelman will get 11 or extra targets in a recreation, and 36-Eight (Zero.818) when he will get 10 or fewer. In different phrases, they’re virtually all the time actually good and it may need simply been a fluke that they misplaced in his highest-volume video games this season.

Chris Hogan and/or Phillip Dorsett vs. Marcus Peters and/or Aqib Talib 

That is the place the Patriots really feel the lack of Josh Gordon, who as soon as once more violated the league’s substance-abuse coverage and is as soon as once more looking for remedy.

After leaping out to a robust begin in 2017, Hogan’s manufacturing has fizzled over the previous yr and a half and he isn’t essentially a constant a part of the offense. Dorsett, in the meantime, was acquired in a preseason commerce in 2017. He barely did something throughout his first yr with the group however made some splash performs this yr, and seems to have Brady’s belief within the pink zone, which suggests he might be an element once they get near the aim line. Dorsett made his biggest influence through the first 4 video games of the season whereas Edelman was injured, racking up 16 catches for 165 yards and two scores. He then went quiet for the higher a part of the common season (11 catches for 91 yards from Week 5 by means of Week 16) earlier than re-emerging within the common season finale and the playoffs with 10 grabs for 104 yards and three touchdowns.

Neither participant appears all that more likely to dominate a matchup with the Rams’ perimeter corners, although it’s value noting that Peters has been vulnerable to double strikes all through his profession and has noticeably come up brief in a number of massive video games this yr. Talib, nevertheless, has been incredible all year long (when wholesome), and has had a dramatic impact on the Rams’ move protection together with his presence alone. The Rams allowed a passer score of simply 69.Zero with Talib on the sector, however when he was both on the sideline for a relaxation or out with an damage, that score skyrocketed to 108.6.

As a result of the Patriots’ perimeter receivers are a lot much less threatening than their different targets, nevertheless, Talib may very well have a special position on this specific recreation than his typical spot at left cornerback, the place he performed 92 % of his snaps this season, per Professional Soccer Focus.

Rob Gronkowski vs. Lamarcus Joyner, John Johnson III, and/or Aqib Talib

Rob Gronkowski was not his traditional self this season. The burly tight finish posted his worst receiving numbers since his rookie yr, when he was a part of a decent finish timeshare, and he appeared noticeably slower and extra hobbled than ever earlier than as he maneuvered via opposing defenses.

2010 16 2.6 34.1 13.Zero 10
2011 16 5.6 82.9 14.7 17
2012 11 5.Zero 71.Eight 14.Four 11
2013 7 5.6 84.6 15.2 Four
2014 15 5.5 74.9 13.7 12
2015 15 Four.Eight 78.Four 16.Three 11
2016 Eight Three.1 67.5 21.6 Three
2017 14 Four.9 77.Four 15.7 Eight
2018 13 Three.6 52.5 14.5 Three


He actually solely had two Basic Gronk video games in the course of the common season, a seven-catch, 123-yard, one-touchdown efficiency towards the Texans in Week 1 and an eight-catch, 107-yard, one-touchdown destruction of the Dolphins in Week 14. We noticed in the course of the AFC title recreation, nevertheless, that Gronk can nonetheless attain again into the reserves when he has to and provide you with large performs on the most opportune occasions. He beat Eric Berry down the left sideline for an enormous fade to set New England up for a landing alternative, and he later beat Berry once more on a third-down slant to select up a conversion. He completed the sport with six catches for 79 yards, each of that are greater than he had within the Patriots’ earlier 4 video games mixed.

Stopping Gronk from dominating up the seam, over the center, and on the perimeter is just not a one-man job. It’s going to fall to the Rams’ safeties, but in addition probably Talib. Again when he performed with the Patriots, Invoice Belichick would sometimes use Talib towards a star tight finish with a view to take that participant out of the sport, and it will not be shocking if Phillips tried to do the identical on Sunday. It might necessitate enjoying man protection greater than the Rams sometimes like, however it may be value it if it means neutralizing Gronk.

James White vs. Cory Littleton and/or Mark Barron  

Did you see what Alvin Kamara did towards the Rams in the course of the NFC title recreation? Drew Brees was throwing to him on virtually each play, and Kamara ended the sport with 11 receptions for 96 yards. He cut up his injury equally towards Littleton (5-36) and Barron (Four-34), and the Saints notably took benefit when a protection scheme acquired him matched up towards a defensive finish. Anticipate the Patriots to do every thing potential to generate the identical varieties of seems for White, who is probably the most effective pass-catching again within the league and spent a lot of this season working as Brady’s de facto No. 1 receiver.

The Patriots additionally put some fascinating seems to be on tape throughout their title recreation win over the Chiefs, operating with White 4 totally different occasions on third and brief, together with 3 times out of shotgun. Each of these issues are so terribly uncommon for the Patriots that it virtually looks like they did it particularly to place it within the Rams’ heads that it’s potential they could do it once more in the course of the Tremendous Bowl, to allow them to get an additional linebacker or lineman on the sector and simply maintain throwing it. White was the greatest participant on the sector through the Patriots’ Tremendous Bowl win two years in the past, and if he can put collectively a efficiency that appears something like that one (6 carries, 29 yards, 2 dashing TD, 14 catches, 110 yards, 1 receiving TD), let’s simply say the Rams shall be in hassle.

Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead vs. Rams’ entrance seven

New England had a superb run recreation through the common season, and the Patriots have grow to be an much more run-heavy group in current weeks. They referred to as for a run on 49 % of snaps from Week 12 via Week 17, the third-highest fee within the NFL, based on Sharp Soccer Stats. That they had a 53 % success fee on these runs, making them the most effective dashing groups in soccer. Throughout their two playoff video games, they’ve been almost as run-heavy and almost as profitable: 48 % of their playoff performs have been runs they usually’ve been profitable on 51 % of these performs.

The blocking up entrance for Michel and Burkhead has been terrific. Through the season, the Pats ranked third in Soccer Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. Additionally they ranked fourth in stuff price, permitting solely 15.9 % of runs to be stopped at or behind the road of scrimmage. That blocking helped New England to the ninth-most environment friendly dashing assault within the league, per DVOA, and it helped Sony Michel rank ninth in dashing success fee out of 47 gamers with 100 carries or extra through the common season. Michel additionally ranked 13th among the many 60 operating backs who performed no less than 250 snaps this season in yards earlier than contact per try.

The Rams’ regular-season run protection left lots to be desired, rating 28th in DVOA and 21st in each Adjusted Line Yards and proportion of runs stopped at or behind the road of scrimmage (16.Four %). Throughout their two playoff video games, nevertheless, the Rams have held the Cowboys and Saints — two elite dashing groups — to 98 dashing yards mixed, on 43 carries. That’s an insane 2.28 yards per carry common. The operating backs from the Rams’ two playoff opponents averaged (I swear this can be a actual quantity) Zero.09 yards per carry earlier than contact throughout these video games, which, once more, I swear is an actual quantity. That sort of efficiency will probably be troublesome to duplicate towards the Patriots, naturally, however you by no means would have thought it might be carried out towards the Cowboys and/or Saints, both.

When the Rams have the ball

Jared Goff vs. Invoice Belichick

Jared Goff is 24 years previous. That is his third yr within the NFL and second as a full-time starter underneath Sean McVay. He’s been fairly good these previous two years, and he made some implausible throws in the course of the NFC title recreation towards the Saints. He is a large a part of why the Rams are even on this recreation. However he’s going up towards an entire lot of dangerous historical past, given the success fee of younger quarterbacks like himself towards the Patriots in the course of the Invoice Belichick-Tom Brady period.

Since 2001, quarterbacks beneath 25 years previous have began 61 common season and postseason video games towards the Belichick-Brady Patriots. Their groups are simply 12-49 in these video games, yielding a Zero.197 profitable proportion that’s the equal of a three-win season. Their passing efficiency in these video games is … not good.

Beneath-25 QB 1031 1872 55.1% 12818 6.85 73 67 74.6

So, that’s not nice. And it’s not a lot better for those who isolate the playoff video games. Beneath-25 quarterbacks are 2-5 in seven playoff begins towards the Belichick-Brady Pats, although a type of wins was by Joe Flacco in a recreation the place he went Four of 10 for 34 yards and an interception whereas his protection dominated.

Belichick excels at taking away what you do greatest offensively and making you, in boxing parlance, struggle left-handed. You need to play to your weaknesses with a purpose to win, as a result of he’s going to remove your strengths. The Rams have some of the artistic offensive methods within the league and Goff has proven terrific means to work inside it. However in video games the place groups have taken away what the Rams do greatest (play-action passing), he has struggled. The stretch from Weeks 13 by means of 15 confirmed the draw back for the L.A. offense, they usually want to determine a solution to keep away from that on Sunday.

The offensive line vs. Trey Flowers and firm

Keep in mind every little thing we stated about how good the Patriots’ offensive line is? Properly, that each one applies to the Rams as properly. L.A. completed the common season ranked first within the NFL in Soccer Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, which assigns credit score within the run recreation to the offensive line based mostly on a proportion of yards gained per carry. Additionally they had the second-lowest proportion of their runs stuffed at or behind the road of scrimmage, at simply 14.6 %.

Moreover, the Rams ranked sixth in Adjusted Sack Fee and allowed Jared Goff to be pressured on solely 32 % of his drop-backs, a below-average determine. Goff has the second-lowest strain price of any quarterback through the playoffs (23.6 %), behind solely Brady. Goff has been hit whereas throwing the ball on 3 times on 68 playoff passes, and he’s been sacked simply as soon as.

Getting strain, in the meantime, was a shocking power of this New England protection; they recorded a sack, hit, or hurry on 37 % of opponent drop-backs, per Professional Soccer Focus, an above-average mark. They obtained strain 36 % of the time when dashing 4 and 45 % of the time when dashing 5 or 6, indicating that their blitzes have been typically profitable. Their greatest strain participant was Trey Flowers, who strains up all over and produced 7.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, and 52 complete pressures in the course of the common season.

In two playoff video games, the Pats have six sacks on 89 opponent drop-backs, they usually’ve generated strain on a ridiculous 47.2 % of opponent cross performs. They did it blitzing solely not often towards the Chargers (18.9 % blitz fee) however noticeably stepped up the additional rushers towards the Chiefs (44.Four % blitz price). Each methods usually labored, although Patrick Mahomes was extra capable of work his magic than was Philip Rivers. (It’s value noting that Goff is extra of a participant within the mould of Rivers than Mahomes, as he isn’t fairly as able to creating outdoors the pocket or escaping strain.)

It’s value noting that run-stuffing defensive deal with Malcom Brown popped up on the damage report on Wednesday, and although his enjoying time has dropped in the course of the playoffs, he’s nonetheless a invaluable piece of the puzzle up entrance. If he’s unable to go, New England might have to show to somebody like Danny Shelton to eat up blockers up the center.

Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds vs. Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson and/or Jonathan Jones

How the Patriots strategy this matchup is among the most fascinating tactical intrigues of the sport. With Cooper Kupp out of the lineup, the Rams use Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds as their perimeter receivers more often than not, whereas Robert Woods mans the slot most of the time. Cooks aligned on the surface on 71 % of his snaps this season, favoring the left aspect of the sector (55-16), whereas Reynolds lined up outdoors on 67 % of his snaps, principally favoring the best (48-19).

Cooks is clearly the much more harmful participant of the 2, and New England’s protection technique on the perimeter will virtually certainly be based mostly round what Invoice Belichick and Brian Flores really feel is the easiest way to cope with him, moderately than Reynolds. There are a number of totally different choices right here:

  • The Patriots can shadow Cooks with Stephon Gilmore, their greatest cowl nook, having him comply with Cooks regardless of the place he aligns on the sector. They’ve been extra prepared to shadow with Gilmore than virtually another nook through the Belichick period, they usually even used him to sometimes go together with Keenan Allen when he bumped down into the slot a couple of weeks again — one thing that’s very uncommon for the Patriots’ protection.
  • The Patriots can assign Gilmore to Josh Reynolds, and bracket Cooks with J.C. Jackson (or Jonathan Jones, who got here in for Jackson when he took a couple of penalties through the AFC title recreation) and security assist excessive. This can be a technique the Patriots typically used in the course of the one season that they had Darrelle Revis, assigning him to utterly take away the opposing workforce’s secondary perimeter receiver from the sport whereas bracketing the No. 1 wideout on each single snap. If the Pats select this feature, the bracket assistance is most certainly to return from Duron Harmon, so Devin McCourty can keep his typical position in the midst of the sector.
  • The Patriots can merely have Gilmore and Jackson (or Jones) play sides, and regulate their protection accordingly based mostly on the place Cooks and Reynolds line up. Doing this enables the Rams to dictate what matchups they need, although, so it looks like the least probably of the out there choices.

The Patriots play extra man protection than any group in soccer and the Rams’ offense, heavy on crossing patterns and mesh ideas, is designed to beat man protection, so how New England decides to strategy this can play an enormous position in figuring out the sport.

Robert Woods vs. Jason McCourty

McCourty’s transfer into the slot again in Week 12 coincided with the key step ahead taken by New England’s move protection, and his position on the within will match him up with Woods for a lot of the recreation. Woods has aligned within the slot on 68 % of his passing-down snaps since Cooper Kupp tore his ACL, by far the very best mark on the workforce. He’s Goff’s most persistently dependable goal, catching at the least 67 % of throws in his path in 12 of his 18 video games this season.

Woods additionally does most of his injury on the brief and intermediate throws that type the idea of the Rams’ offense: On throws inside 10 yards of the road of scrimmage, Goff is 61 of 76 for 576 yards and three touchdowns when concentrating on Woods. On intermediate throws 10-20 yards downfield, Goff is 30 of 48 for 525 yards, a landing, and two picks. Mixed, Goff’s passer score on these throws is 104.Three, a number of factors larger than his general season-long mark.

Since shifting into the slot, McCourty has allowed 17 catches for 170 yards, three touchdowns, and a decide there throughout eight video games. That feels like quite a bit, nevertheless it’s solely as a result of he’s been focused so typically because of the excellence of New England’s perimeter corners throughout that time frame, and the truth that it’s best to finish passes to fit receivers. He’s been fairly good, and will probably be fascinating to see him go toe to toe with Woods inside.

Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson vs. Patriots’ entrance seven

Very similar to the Patriots, the Rams have leaned much more on the run in current weeks than they did early within the yr. Given their reliance on play-action passes to gasoline their aerial assault, that’s maybe not shocking. And what can’t be shocking anymore is the diploma of success they’ve operating the ball, whether or not with Todd Gurley or with C.J. Anderson.

The Rams have been the perfect run-blocking line within the NFL this season, rating first in Professional Soccer Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, and their outdoors zone-heavy system was extremely troublesome to cease. The Rams had 280 outdoors zone carries in the course of the common season, based on Sports activities Information Options, most within the NFL. They ran for 1,555 yards on outdoors zone, most within the NFL, and 946 of these yards got here after contact, most within the NFL. These runs resulted in 84 first downs and 14 touchdowns, most within the NFL. They usually averaged 5.6 yards per keep it up these performs, greatest within the NFL.

They racked up these numbers by dictating defensive formations with their very own personnel (extra on that in a second). The Rams virtually all the time had one operating again, one tight finish, and three receivers on the sector, in order that they virtually all the time confronted nickel or dime defenses. In consequence, through the common season Gurley confronted eight or extra males within the field on solely Eight.2 % of his carries, the third-lowest price within the NFL behind solely Tarik Cohen and Wendell Smallwood. Anderson, in the meantime, bumped into an eight-man field on 11 of his 20 carries throughout his Rams debut again in Week 16, however has seen eight-man packing containers on solely seven of 62 carries since, a price of 11.Three % that may have ranked sixth-lowest within the NFL through the common season. It isn’t in any respect surprising that Gurley averaged Four.9 yards per carry in the course of the yr and Anderson is rampaging with a 5.7 yards per carry common throughout his 4 video games with the Rams.

New England had a barely under common run protection through the common season, rating 19th in DVOA, 26th in Adjusted Line Yards, and simply 24th within the proportion of opponent runs stopped at or behind the road of scrimmage (15.Eight %). The Patriots held the Chargers and Chiefs to only 60 dashing yards mixed through the previous two video games, however a lot of that’s merely on account of the truth that they jumped out to leads so shortly. Their run protection has actually not been examined through the playoffs but.

Rams personnel groupings vs. Common-season tendencies

Certainly, you’ve got heard this earlier than: For a lot of the common season, the Rams aligned in 11 personnel (one operating again, one tight finish, three extensive receivers) on a close to every-snap foundation. They even used just about the identical 11 gamers on rattling close to each snap, with their complete offensive line, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp enjoying nearly 100 % of the snaps, and tight ends Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee splitting the work at that place.

Doing this allowed the Rams to make virtually all of their offense look precisely the identical proper as much as the purpose the place they snapped off and ran one thing totally different, and it was immensely complicated for opposing defenses. However then Kupp acquired injured, Woods ran into the slot, Josh Reynolds entered the lineup, Todd Gurley acquired banged up, groups stopped reacting as strongly to the bells and whistles within the design of Sean McVay’s offense, they usually started sitting in zones. The L.A. offense struggled for a number of weeks earlier than lastly getting again on monitor late within the yr with robust performances towards a few weak opponents.

These get-back-on-track performances got here together with a dramatic shift in personnel utilization. Check out the next chart and see for those who can spot the very apparent distinction.

Week 1-11 95% 2%
Week 13-15 97% 1%
Week 16-17 57% 39%


Elevated utilization of 12 personnel (one operating again, two tight ends, two broad receivers) fueled the Rams’ C.J. Anderson-led operating recreation in the course of the ultimate weeks of the season, as Anderson racked up 299 yards and two scores on 43 carries. The Rams have carried heavier 12 personnel utilization into the postseason, although they’ve reverted to a extra affordable 80-15 cut up, with 5 % of their performs popping out of both 13 (one operating again, three tight ends, one receiver) or empty (5 receivers) units.

How the Rams elect to deploy their personnel will dictate which Patriots defensive backs are on the sector, and in addition what number of of them are on the market on the similar time. A lot of 11 personnel would possible imply extra Duron Harmon, whereas 12 personnel would presumably deliver a lot of Patrick Chung. Performs out of 11 usually tend to see the Patriots reply with 5, six, and 7 defensive-back units, whereas performs out of 12 might deliver even out a few of the base Four-Three protection.