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

Quarterback matchup in Super Bowl LIII. (CBS Sports photo)


We’re doing Key Matchups a bit in another way for the Super Bowl. Fairly than taking a look at one specific matchup on both sides of the ball, we’re moving into in-depth breakdowns of all the totally different matchups that can probably have an effect on the consequence of Super Bowl LIII, so we will actually get the full image of what will decide whether the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams take house the Lombardi Trophy.

There’s no need for an extended preamble right here. Let’s get right 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 submit, but the thoughts games performed between Phillips and Brady will be just as essential to the final results of this recreation. Brady modifications play-calls at the line of scrimmage as typically as any quarterback in the league, and his talent at identifying rushers, altering protections, and getting the ball out as shortly as attainable to the receiver probably to be open the soonest after the snap is likely the single biggest asset he has.

It’s served him extremely nicely in certain matchups towards Phillips’ protection in the past, however it’s value noting that Brady has had a few of his worst 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 performance of his whole profession.

2005 SD 19 32 224 1 1 78.1
2006* SD 27 51 280 2 3 57.6
2007** DAL 31 46 388 5 0 129.6
2012 HOU 21 35 296 Four Zero 125.Four
2012* HOU 25 40 344 3 0 115.0
2013 HOU 29 41 371 2 1 104.8
2015 DEN 23 42 280 Three Zero 99.Three
2015* DEN 27 56 310 1 2 56.Four
2016 DEN 16 32 188 0 Zero 68.2
2001-18 Wade 218 375 2681 21 7 91.2

If Phillips is ready to scheme his cross rush into place to generate strain on Brady shortly enough that he has to move off his spot in the pocket, that will go a great distance towards putting the Rams in place to tug off an upset. However if Brady is able to neutralize the strain, it could possibly 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.

New England’s offensive line may need been the greatest in the league this season. In line with Football Outsiders, the Pats ranked first in Adjusted Sack Price; and per Professional Football Focus, Brady was pressured on only 25.8 % of his drop-backs this season, the third-lowest fee in the NFL. That strain price was 8.1 proportion points south of the NFL common, which is the single greatest mark of the PFF period (since 2007) for the Patriots.

Throughout the playoffs, the Pats have been even better up entrance than they have been during the regular season. Whereas Brady’s strain price of 25.8 % throughout the yr was already absurdly low, it has plummeted to a totally ridiculous 15.6 % in two postseason contests. In truth, Brady has not even been sacked throughout New England’s run to the Super Bowl. And he has been hit whereas throwing the ball only one time in 90 makes an attempt.

The offensive line will face its hardest process but during the Super Bowl. Aaron Donald is probably going the single greatest participant in 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 normal. 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 own Will Brinson he expects the Patriots to double or triple-team Donald and Ndamukong Suh on almost every snap, forcing Brockers, Fowler, and Sam Ebukam to beat them up entrance.

“If I could place one bet this week, I will bet Aaron Donald will not have any impact on this game. The Patriots will take him out. They will double team him, they will triple team him,” Volin defined. “They will let Michael Brockers wreck the game. They will let Mark Barron wreck the game. They will not let Aaron Donald wreck the game. And that goes for Suh as well. The offensive line has been outstanding. Dante Scarnecchia, another unbelievable performance by their offensive line coach. When they played in 2016, they were literally triple teaming Donald on some passing plays. They will not let those 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 games he’s performed this season, and this yr was his fifth healthy season in a row averaging no less than six catches per recreation. (He’s remarkably consistent, averaging between 6.1 and 6.Eight catches and between 66 and 77 yards per recreation each single yr since 2013.) As normal, Edelman spent most of his time in the slot this season, aligning there on 67 % of his routes, per Pro Football Focus.

Such an alignment will match him up on most snaps with Nickell Robey-Coleman, who has been in the information quite a little bit of late, in case you haven’t observed. Whereas most informal observers right now know Robey-Coleman as the player who dedicated the blatantly obvious, however uncalled move interference and helmet-to-helmet hit penalties toward the end of the NFC title recreation towards the Saints, he has truly been considered one of the better slot corners in the NFL over the previous two seasons. He ranked eighth in opponent’s passer score on throws to the slot throughout the regular season, and he has allowed just two catches for 16 yards on six slot throws in his course in two playoff games to date. (Edelman has caught 10 of 12 slot throws in his path for 156 yards during the playoffs.)

Apparently, if Edelman is seeing a ton of target volume, that won’t essentially be a very good factor for the Patriots. They have been undefeated (10-Zero) this season when Edelman had 10 targets or fewer, but simply 1-3 when he had 11 or extra. Since 2013, nevertheless, the Pats are 19-4 (0.826 profitable proportion) when Edelman will get 11 or extra targets in a recreation, and 36-8 (0.818) when he will get 10 or fewer. In different phrases, they’re virtually all the time actually good and it may need just been a fluke that they lost in his highest-volume video games this season.

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

This is where the Patriots feel the lack of Josh Gordon, who once once more violated the league’s substance-abuse policy and is as soon as again looking for remedy.

After jumping out to a robust begin in 2017, Hogan’s manufacturing has fizzled over the previous yr and a half and he isn’t necessarily a consistent 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 staff however made some splash performs this yr, and seems to have Brady’s trust in the pink zone, which suggests he could possibly be an element once they get close to the objective line. Dorsett made his biggest impression throughout the first 4 video games of the season while Edelman was injured, racking up 16 catches for 165 yards and two scores. He then went quiet for the better a part of the common season (11 catches for 91 yards from Week 5 by means of Week 16) before re-emerging in the regular season finale and the playoffs with 10 grabs for 104 yards and three touchdowns.

Neither participant seems all that more likely to dominate a matchup with the Rams’ perimeter corners, although it is value noting that Peters has been prone to double moves throughout his profession and has noticeably come up brief in several huge games this yr. Talib, nevertheless, has been incredible throughout the yr (when wholesome), and has had a dramatic effect on the Rams’ cross defense together with his presence alone. The Rams allowed a passer score of just 69.0 with Talib on the area, however when he was either on the sideline for a relaxation or out with an damage, that score skyrocketed to 108.6.

Because the Patriots’ perimeter receivers are so much much less threatening than their other targets, nevertheless, Talib may actually have a unique position on this specific recreation than his typical spot at left cornerback, where he played 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 regular self this season. The burly tight finish posted his worst receiving numbers since his rookie yr, when he was part of a decent end timeshare, and he appeared noticeably slower and more hobbled than ever before as he maneuvered by way of opposing defenses.

2010 16 2.6 34.1 13.0 10
2011 16 5.6 82.9 14.7 17
2012 11 5.0 71.Eight 14.4 11
2013 7 5.6 84.6 15.2 Four
2014 15 5.5 74.9 13.7 12
2015 15 Four.8 78.Four 16.3 11
2016 8 Three.1 67.5 21.6 Three
2017 14 4.9 77.4 15.7 Eight
2018 13 3.6 52.5 14.5 Three


He actually only had two Basic Gronk video games throughout the common season, a seven-catch, 123-yard, one-touchdown performance towards the Texans in Week 1 and an eight-catch, 107-yard, one-touchdown destruction of the Dolphins in Week 14. We saw during the AFC title recreation, nevertheless, that Gronk can nonetheless attain back into the reserves when he has to and provide you with big performs at the most opportune occasions. He beat Eric Berry down the left sideline for an enormous fade to set New England up for a landing opportunity, and he later beat Berry once more on a third-down slant to select up a conversion. He completed the recreation with six catches for 79 yards, both of that are more than he had in the Patriots’ previous four games combined.

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 end in an effort to take that participant out of the recreation, and it might not be shocking if Phillips tried to do the similar on Sunday. It will necessitate enjoying man coverage greater than the Rams sometimes like, nevertheless it could 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 during the NFC title recreation? Drew Brees was throwing to him on virtually each play, and Kamara ended the recreation with 11 receptions for 96 yards. He cut up his injury equally towards Littleton (5-36) and Barron (4-34), and the Saints notably took benefit when a coverage scheme received him matched up towards a defensive end. Anticipate the Patriots to do the whole lot attainable to generate the similar kinds of seems to be for White, who is probably the greatest pass-catching back in the league and spent a lot of this season operating as Brady’s de facto No. 1 receiver.

The Patriots additionally put some fascinating seems on tape during their title recreation win over the Chiefs, operating with White four totally different occasions on third and brief, including 3 times out of shotgun. Both of those issues are so extraordinarily rare for the Patriots that it virtually looks like they did it specifically to place it in the Rams’ heads that it’s potential they could do it once more during the Tremendous Bowl, so they can get an additional linebacker or lineman on the subject and simply maintain throwing it. White was the greatest participant on the subject during the Patriots’ Super Bowl win two years in the past, and if he can put collectively a performance that appears anything like that one (6 carries, 29 yards, 2 dashing TD, 14 catches, 110 yards, 1 receiving TD), let’s just say the Rams will be in hassle.

Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead vs. Rams’ front seven

New England had a superb run recreation during the regular season, and the Patriots have turn out to be an much more run-heavy staff in current weeks. They referred to as for a run on 49 % of snaps from Week 12 by way of Week 17, the third-highest fee in the NFL, based on Sharp Football Stats. That they had a 53 % success price on those runs, making them one among the greatest dashing teams in football. Throughout their two playoff video games, they’ve been almost as run-heavy and almost as successful: 48 % of their playoff performs have been runs they usually’ve been successful on 51 % of these plays.

The blocking up entrance for Michel and Burkhead has been terrific. During the season, the Pats ranked third in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. Additionally they ranked fourth in stuff fee, permitting solely 15.9 % of runs to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. That blocking helped New England to the ninth-most efficient dashing attack in the league, per DVOA, and it helped Sony Michel rank ninth in dashing success price out of 47 players with 100 carries or extra during the regular season. Michel also ranked 13th among the 60 operating backs who performed at the least 250 snaps this season in yards before contact per attempt.

The Rams’ regular-season run protection left lots to be desired, rating 28th in DVOA and 21st in both Adjusted Line Yards and proportion of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage (16.4 %). During their two playoff games, nevertheless, the Rams have held the Cowboys and Saints — two elite dashing teams — to 98 dashing yards combined, on 43 carries. That is an insane 2.28 yards per carry average. The operating backs from the Rams’ two playoff opponents averaged (I swear this can be a real number) Zero.09 yards per carry earlier than contact during these games, which, once more, I swear is an actual quantity. That sort of efficiency will be troublesome to duplicate towards the Patriots, naturally, however you by no means would have thought it could possibly be achieved towards the Cowboys and/or Saints, both.

When the Rams have the ball

Jared Goff vs. Invoice Belichick

Jared Goff is 24 years previous. This is his third yr in the NFL and second as a full-time starter beneath Sean McVay. He’s been quite good these past two years, and he made some implausible throws during the NFC title recreation towards the Saints. He is a large a part of why the Rams are even in this recreation. But he is going up towards an entire lot of dangerous history, given the success price of young quarterbacks like himself towards the Patriots throughout the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady period.

Since 2001, quarterbacks underneath 25 years previous have began 61 regular season and postseason video games towards the Belichick-Brady Patriots. Their teams are just 12-49 in those games, yielding a Zero.197 profitable proportion that is the equal of a three-win season. Their passing performance in these games is … not good.

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

So, that’s not great. And it’s not a lot better if you isolate the playoff video games. Beneath-25 quarterbacks are 2-5 in seven playoff begins towards the Belichick-Brady Pats, though 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 must play to your weaknesses with a purpose to win, as a result of he’s going to take away your strengths. The Rams have considered one of the most artistic offensive methods in the league and Goff has proven terrific potential to work within it. But in games the place groups have taken away what the Rams do greatest (play-action passing), he has struggled. The stretch from Weeks 13 via 15 showed the downside for the L.A. offense, they usually need to determine a solution to avoid that on Sunday.

The offensive line vs. Trey Flowers and firm

Keep in mind all the things we stated about how good the Patriots’ offensive line is? Properly, that all applies to the Rams as properly. L.A. completed the regular season ranked first in the NFL in Soccer Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, which assigns credit in 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 line of scrimmage, at just 14.6 %.

Moreover, the Rams ranked sixth in Adjusted Sack Price and allowed Jared Goff to be pressured on solely 32 % of his drop-backs, a below-average figure. Goff has the second-lowest strain price of any quarterback during 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 just once.

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 Football Focus, an above-average mark. They acquired strain 36 % of the time when dashing four and 45 % of the time when dashing five or six, indicating that their blitzes have been typically profitable. Their greatest strain participant was Trey Flowers, who strains up all over the place and produced 7.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, and 52 complete pressures during the regular 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 plays. 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). Both strategies usually worked, though Patrick Mahomes was extra capable of work his magic than was Philip Rivers. (It’s value noting that Goff is more of a participant in the mould of Rivers than Mahomes, as he isn’t quite 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 though his enjoying time has dropped throughout the playoffs, he’s nonetheless a helpful 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 middle.

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

How the Patriots strategy this matchup is one among the most fascinating tactical intrigues of the recreation. With Cooper Kupp out of the lineup, the Rams use Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds as their perimeter receivers most of the time, while Robert Woods mans the slot most of the time. Cooks aligned on the outdoors on 71 % of his snaps this season, favoring the left aspect of the subject (55-16), while Reynolds lined up outdoors on 67 % of his snaps, principally favoring the right (48-19).

Cooks is obviously the much more dangerous player of the two, and New England’s protection technique on the perimeter will virtually certainly be based mostly around what Invoice Belichick and Brian Flores feel is the greatest method to cope with him, somewhat than Reynolds. There are a number of totally different options here:

  • The Patriots can shadow Cooks with Stephon Gilmore, their greatest cover corner, having him comply with Cooks regardless of the place he aligns on the area. They have been extra prepared to shadow with Gilmore than virtually some other nook during the Belichick period, they usually even used him to sometimes go together with Keenan Allen when he bumped down into the slot a number of weeks back — something that’s very rare for the Patriots’ protection.
  • The Patriots can assign Gilmore to Josh Reynolds, and bracket Cooks with J.C. Jackson (or Jonathan Jones, who came in for Jackson when he took a couple of penalties during the AFC title recreation) and safety help over the prime. This can be a strategy the Patriots typically used throughout the one season that they had Darrelle Revis, assigning him to utterly remove the opposing staff’s secondary perimeter receiver from the recreation while bracketing the No. 1 wideout on every single snap. If the Pats select this feature, the bracket assistance is more than likely to return from Duron Harmon, so Devin McCourty can keep his typical position in the center of the area.
  • The Patriots can simply have Gilmore and Jackson (or Jones) play sides, and modify their protection accordingly based mostly on where Cooks and Reynolds line up. Doing this enables the Rams to dictate what matchups they need, though, so it looks like the least doubtless of the out there choices.

The Patriots play extra man coverage than any workforce in football and the Rams’ offense, heavy on crossing patterns and mesh ideas, is designed to beat man coverage, so how New England decides to strategy this will play a huge position in figuring out the recreation.

Robert Woods vs. Jason McCourty

McCourty’s transfer into the slot again in Week 12 coincided with the major step ahead taken by New England’s move defense, and his position on the inside will match him up with Woods for most of the recreation. Woods has aligned in the slot on 68 % of his passing-down snaps since Cooper Kupp tore his ACL, by far the highest mark on the group. He is Goff’s most persistently dependable goal, catching no less than 67 % of throws in his course 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 foundation of the Rams’ offense: On throws within 10 yards of the line 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 touchdown, and two picks. Mixed, Goff’s passer score on these throws is 104.Three, a number of factors greater 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 across eight video games. That seems like rather a lot, nevertheless it’s solely because he’s been targeted so typically on account of the excellence of New England’s perimeter corners throughout that time frame, and the reality that it’s best to finish passes to fit receivers. He’s been fairly good, and it will 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 even more on the run in current weeks than they did early in the yr. Given their reliance on play-action passes to gasoline their aerial attack, that is probably not shocking. And what can’t be shocking anymore is the degree of success they’ve operating the ball, whether with Todd Gurley or with C.J. Anderson.

The Rams have been the greatest run-blocking line in the NFL this season, ranking first in Professional Soccer Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards, and their outdoors zone-heavy system was incredibly troublesome to cease. The Rams had 280 outdoors zone carries during the regular season, based on Sports activities Information Options, most in the NFL. They ran for 1,555 yards on outdoors zone, most in the NFL, and 946 of these yards came after contact, most in the NFL. These runs resulted in 84 first downs and 14 touchdowns, most in the NFL. They usually averaged 5.6 yards per keep on those plays, greatest in the NFL.

They racked up these numbers by dictating defensive formations with their very own personnel (more on that in a second). The Rams virtually all the time had one operating back, one tight finish, and three receivers on the subject, in order that they virtually all the time confronted nickel or dime defenses. Consequently, throughout the common season Gurley confronted eight or more men in the box on solely 8.2 % of his carries, the third-lowest fee in the NFL behind only Tarik Cohen and Wendell Smallwood. Anderson, meanwhile, ran into an eight-man box on 11 of his 20 carries during his Rams debut again in Week 16, but has seen eight-man packing containers on solely seven of 62 carries since, a fee of 11.3 % that would have ranked sixth-lowest in the NFL during the regular season. It isn’t at all surprising that Gurley averaged 4.9 yards per carry during the yr and Anderson is rampaging with a 5.7 yards per carry common during his four video games with the Rams.

New England had a slightly under common run protection throughout the common season, ranking 19th in DVOA, 26th in Adjusted Line Yards, and just 24th in the proportion of opponent runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage (15.8 %). The Patriots held the Chargers and Chiefs to only 60 dashing yards combined throughout the previous two games, but a lot of that is just as a consequence of the reality that they jumped out to leads so shortly. Their run protection has actually not been tested during the playoffs but.

Rams personnel groupings vs. Common-season tendencies

Certainly, you’ve heard this before: For most of the regular season, the Rams aligned in 11 personnel (one operating back, one tight finish, three broad receivers) on a near every-snap basis. They even used just about the similar 11 gamers on damn 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 similar right as much as the point where they snapped off and ran one thing totally different, and it was immensely complicated for opposing defenses. However then Kupp obtained injured, Woods ran into the slot, Josh Reynolds entered the lineup, Todd Gurley obtained banged up, teams stopped reacting as strongly to the bells and whistles in the design of Sean McVay’s offense, they usually began sitting in zones. The L.A. offense struggled for a number of weeks earlier than finally getting again on monitor late in the yr with robust performances towards a couple of weak opponents.

These get-back-on-track performances came along with a dramatic shift in personnel usage. Check out the following chart and see if you’ll be able to spot the very apparent distinction.

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


Increased utilization of 12 personnel (one operating again, two tight ends, two broad receivers) fueled the Rams’ C.J. Anderson-led operating recreation during 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 usage into the postseason, though they’ve reverted to a more affordable 80-15 cut up, with 5 % of their plays popping out of either 13 (one operating back, three tight ends, one receiver) or empty (5 receivers) sets.

How the Rams elect to deploy their personnel will dictate which Patriots defensive backs are on the subject, and in addition how many of them are on the market at the similar time. A lot of 11 personnel would doubtless mean more Duron Harmon, while 12 personnel would presumably convey a lot of Patrick Chung. Performs out of 11 usually tend to see the Patriots respond with five, six, and seven defensive-back sets, while performs out of 12 might deliver even out a few of the base Four-3 protection.