- The Super Bowl 2019 matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams is a close one.
- Both teams are talented and well-coached, and each side has some unique advantages over the other.
- Perhaps the key matchup will be Tom Brady versus Aaron Donald, and whether the Rams’ talented pass rush can bother the 41-year-old.
- The Rams scheme better than almost anyone on offence, but there are some question marks heading into the game.
- Ultimately, the Patriots’ experience and flexibility give them the edge.
- Check out all of INSIDER’s Super Bowl coverage here.
The Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams has the potential to be a classic.
It pits the old-timers versus the newcomers. Tom Brady, the GOAT, versus Jared Goff, the rising 2016 No. 1 pick. Bill Belichick, perhaps the greatest coach ever, versus Sean McVay, the coach everyone wants.
The Rams spent big to build a star-studded team. The Patriots mine the fringes for useful players and adapt them to their system.
Both teams are smart, talented, and efficient. Who will be the winner? We’re not so sure it’s clear. But by breaking down some key matchups, storylines, and factors, we have a pick.
Check out the key matchups into deciding who will take home the Lombardi trophy:
The key matchup is Tom Brady versus Aaron Donald.
What a matchup! The greatest quarterback of all time versus the best defender in the NFL and possibly the most impactful player in the league.
The goal of every defence is to throw off Brady by pressuring him. No quarterback likes being pressured, least of all Brady, who, at 41, tries to avoid contact when possible and isn’t a threat with his legs.
According to The Ringer’s Kevin Clark, when Brady was pressured up the middle, he posted a passer rating below 65. That’s … not good. Where does Donald do his work? From the inside. The man registered 20.5 sacks in 2018 by attacking the most fortified part of an offensive line. He’s more impactful at getting to the quarterback than edge rushers who face less resistance.
A good thing for Brady and the Patriots: Their offensive line hasn’t let up a sack in the playoffs. Will they be up to the task against the best of the best?
The Patriots want to get the ball out quickly … is that a good thing?
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell made an interesting note in his preview about the competing dynamics of the Patriots offence and the Rams defence.
Brady gets the ball out of his hands quicker than most quarterbacks. Brady passed the ball within 2.6 seconds in the regular season and had released it an average of 2.4 seconds in the postseason, according to Barnwell.
That’s good news for the Patriots. With Donald fighting up the middle, it’s only a matter of time until he breaks through. Brady will want to get the ball out quickly to avoid sacks and knockdowns.
Or is it good? According to Barnwell, the Rams defensive backs posted the seventh-best passer rating when quarterbacks threw the ball in 2.5 seconds or less. That allows the Rams to disguise their coverage, fool offenses, and shut down opportunities. But when quarterbacks threw the ball after 2.5 seconds, the Rams’ passer rating fell to 29th in the league. The more time offenses took to digest the coverage, the better they were.
So, will Brady get the ball out quickly to avoid Donald and the Rams’ pass rush, or will he buy enough time to carve up the Rams defensive backs? If Brady throws the ball quickly, he will have to be precise (and this has been one of his least accurate seasons). If he holds onto the ball longer, the Rams secondary will have to hang in there.
James White could become a matchup nightmare.
White has become one of Brady’s favourite weapons over the years. He had three touchdowns in their Super Bowl win over the Falcons two years ago. He has 25 touches in the postseason so far.
The Patriots might be able to use White like the Saints used Alvin Kamara in the NFC Championship. Kamara and White aren’t the best traditional runners (Kamara is much better, but struggled running against the Rams), but both players are excellent receivers.
The Rams are strongest in their pass rush and the secondary. The linebackers can be exploited. White might have success lining up in the slot, creating mismatches with the linebackers, and breaking free for runs. Kind of like Kamara did here:
There’s an opportunity for Brady to dink and dump to White, gaining chunks at a time and moving up the field.
The Patriots’ fullback could be a game changer.
Barnwell also made an interesting point about how the Patriots could use their fullback, James Develin, to read the defence. Develin isn’t used much, but when he’s in the game, the Patriots mostly use him to run.
But Belichick and company can use Develin to read the defence and find a mismatch. Barnwell summarized it like this: If the Patriots line up Develin on the right side, and Rams cornerback Aqib Talib matches up with him, it’s clear the Rams are in a zone, and the Patriots can exploit a mismatch while their best cornerback is on the fullback. If the Rams use a linebacker or safety against Develin, it will be man-to-man coverage, and Brady can find the mismatch that way.
A little-used player could be someone the Patriots use to hunt mismatches, depending on who the Rams send to cover him. It ultimately points to the Patriots flexibility. They can play to matchups. And what’s more Patriots-esque than using a fullback on the game’s biggest stage?
Is Todd Gurley healthy?
The Rams say he is, with head coach McVay saying he’s got to find more ways to use him. Gurley said he played limited minutes in the NFC Championship because he was playing so poorly.
But Gurley has rushed for less than 100 yards in four of his last six games and was out-carried by C.J. Anderson, signed off the streets at the end of the season, in the NFC Championship.
Anderson has performed well – very well – but from a peace-of-mind standpoint, the Rams and their fans should hope Gurley is healthy and able to go. Allowing the centrepiece of the offence, the highest-paid running back, and leading touchdown scorer to do his thing in the Super Bowl is merely a more comforting thought than relying on Anderson to conjure his magic again.
A Brandin Cooks revenge game could give the Rams life.
Cooks could be one of the most important players to the Rams, especially if Gurley isn’t 100% healthy.
If Gurley is banged up, Cooks may be the Rams’ best chance at making big plays. Cooks averaged more yards per catch than anyone else on the Rams. His 42-yard reception in the second half of the NFC Championship was a game-changing play that led to a Rams touchdown to make the game 13-10 at halftime.
Cooks is known as a speedster, but according to the NFL Next Gen Stats, he averaged just 2.7 yards in separation from his defender at the time of the catch. That’s worse than the Rams next three leading receivers, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Josh Reynolds, and perhaps a reflection of the defensive attention he received. The Patriots could use Stephon Gilmore to match up with Cooks on the outside. Gilmore was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 cornerback in 2018.
Will Cooks have a little extra motivation against the team that traded him last season? Will he want to have a bounce-back game after being knocked out of last year’s Super Bowl with a first-half concussion?
Cooks doesn’t need to dominate, but a few big plays could be turning points in the game.
Is Goff up to the task?
Goff’s NFC Championship performance was a tad underrated.
Goff struggled with crowd noise in the Superdome in the first half, and the Rams needed a fake play from punter Johnny Hekker to wake up their offence. From there, Goff seemed to warm up, leading the Rams on scoring drives on six of their next nine drives without turning the ball over. It was an impressive performance from third-year quarterback in a hostile environment, with the game on the line. He out-played Drew Brees when it mattered.
Belichick will scheme to make Goff uncomfortable, and the key for the Rams may be to snap the ball early while McVay can still communicate with Goff over the headset. If the Rams’ play clock dips below 15 seconds (when communication over headsets cuts off), Belichick and the Patriots will try to mix up looks to confuse Goff. It will be up to Goff to diagnose the defence and make the throws.
So, who wins Super Bowl 2019? It’s close, but …
… it’s the Patriots!
These two teams are pretty evenly matched. They’re well-coached. They’re both supremely talented.
But the Patriots’ edge might be in their flexibility. They take away what teams do best. McVay is great at scheming to make his team better. Can he and Wade Phillips shut down Brady and the Patriots?
The answer is likely no. The Rams have a talented defence, but the sum hasn’t always been greater than its parts this season. Brady and the Patriots could struggle on offence, but they will come through in moments – no one holds Brady down for 60 minutes. The Rams’ path to stopping Brady might rely on Donald a little too much.
On the other end, the Rams will make big plays, too. But what if Gurley isn’t healthy? What if Cooks can’t break free enough for those big, explosive plays? What if Goff isn’t quite ready for the challenge?
The Rams have more variables, and the Patriots have thrived for two decades by taking advantage of that.
Now, check out some fun bets to make on the big game …
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