How the Patriots and Rams match up in the Super Bowl
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What: Super Bowl LIII
When: Sunday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
TV, radio: CBS, WBZ-FM 98.5, WEEI-FM 93.7
When the Rams run
Todd Gurley is an angry and aggressive runner with outstanding vision, burst, and power. Gurley has great size (6 feet 1 inch, 224 pounds) and strength, and he rumbles with excellent leg drive and keeps those pistons pumping even after multiple hits. Gurley will tear through arm tackles and wear down defenses. He has thrived as a workhorse; he rushed for at least 105 yards in five of the six games in which he had 20 carries this season. Gurley has had an odd month. He missed the final two regular-season games with a knee injury, ran all over the Cowboys in the divisional round, then turned in his worst effort of the season in the NFC title game (four rushes, 10 yards). If he’s healthy, he’s big a problem for the Patriots. If he’s not, that’s a big problem for the Rams. C.J. Anderson (5-8, 225) is deceptively light on his feet for a man of his width. He runs low and with good balance and toughness. He will pick up the hard yards between the tackles and can also wiggle out of defenders’ arms and burst onto the second and third levels. Center John Sullivan wins his battles with smarts and quicks. But he will get ragdolled on occasion. Left guard Rodger Saffold is technically sound and consistently lands good inside punches. Right guard Austin Blythe is quick and shifty. Patriot run stuffers Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy will collapse blockers and clear space for the linebackers. Elandon Roberts attacks running lanes like a runaway locomotive and will knock running backs right off their tracks.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME
Los Angeles offense: 139.4 (third)
New England defense: 112.7 (11th)
When the Rams pass
Jared Goff is a perfect fit for LA with his Hollywood good looks, and he’s a perfect fit for LA’s offense with his strong and accurate arm. Goff (6 feet 4 inches, 222 pounds) has great size, puts excellent zip on downfield passes, and can squeeze his throws into very tight windows. Goff also can play the short game. He puts a nice touch on underneath throws and is adept at leading his receivers. Goff is a top-notch ballhandler and an exceptional play-fake magician. He is by no means a scrambler, but he can slide in the pocket and buy and an extra tick or two. Familiar face Brandin Cooks is Goff’s top target. Cooks has tremendous quickness, speed, and route-running ability. He has awesome acceleration and tracks the deep ball well. If he gets a step on his defender, Goff will hit him in stride. But Cooks (5-10, 183) lacks size and physicality, and won’t win a lot of 50-50 ball battles. Robert Woods is a versatile receiver who runs every route in the tree and is very decisive and explosive in and out of his cuts. He’ll come back to bail out his quarterback and he has strong hands. Lanky Josh Reynolds has deep speed but is easily jostled. Tyler Higbee is a big, swift, athletic tight end with monstrous mitts. Todd Gurley has soft hands and can turn short screens into long runs. New England’s secondary is deep. Stephon Gilmore is a physical, lockdown corner. J.C. Jackson is quick and sticky, and Jason McCourty can play inside and out. Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are heavy-hitting range rovers.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
Los Angeles offense: 281.7 (fifth)
New England defense: 246.4 (22d)
When the Patriots run
Sony Michel’s emergence as a durable and dependable demon out of the backfield has transformed this into a multidimensional and dangerous offense. Michel has excellent presnap recognition and flashes a very nice burst to the hole. He can absorb glancing blows without losing much momentum and does a nice job reading his blocks through the second level and into the secondary. The rookie will continue to churn his muscular legs after heavy hits. Rex Burkhead has the quicks and instincts to get to the hole and the deceptive strength to break tackles. He will give second and third effort. James White’s sweet feet allow him to cut on a dime and freeze defenders. All three will follow the blocks of the toughest kid on the block, fullback James Develin. New England’s offensive line has been bullying people for the last month. This quintet is solid and strong at the point of attack, but they’re also athletic and quick enough to get out and provide open-field convoys. Pancakes have been on the menu all month. But the line will face its toughest challenge to date, as the Rams’ front is stacked with disruptive players, starting with twin terrors Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Donald is preposterously quick and a practically unblockable penetrator. He shoots the A gaps in a flash and lands devastating hits. Suh is a bad man. He has outstanding size and strength and can cut off lanes and occupy multiple blockers. If there’s a late-hit opportunity, he’ll take it.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME
New England offense: 127.3 (fifth)
Los Angeles defense: 122.3 (23d)
When the Patriots pass
Tom Brady slowing down? The reigning NFL MVP keeps silencing the critics and pushing defenses off a cliff. Brady has been playing at a superb level since mid-December. The most accomplished and well-prepared quarterback in history reads defenses, makes on-the-fly adjustments, and delivers pinpoint lasers. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has developed tremendous game plans, and Brady executes them flawlessly — and adjusts when needed. His lightning-quick release along with another stalwart outing from his personal protectors will be needed in this one. The Rams can bring pressure from the middle (see: Donald & Suh, above) and off the edges. Michael Brockers is a high-energy, high-strength guy who can ragdoll blockers and tear apart quarterbacks. On the other side, Dante Fowler is a powerful and physical presence. He can dip his shoulder and go, or use his strong hands to sift through traffic and get to the ball. Brady is at his best when he’s spreading the ball to everyone. Julian Edelman is quick and clutch. He shakes defenders at the line and owns the middle of the field. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman likely will line up as the nickel, and while he can match Edelman’s quickness, he lacks the physicality to eliminate him. Rob Gronkowski has the size and strength to make an impact. His ability to shield defenders from the ball, and his reliable hands, will always make him dangerous. James White’s knack for slipping to open spaces and his bevy of moves make him a nightmare for linebackers.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
New England offense: 266.1 (eighth)
Los Angeles defense: 236.2 (14th)
Rams’ key player: RB Todd Gurley
Don’t let his lack of production in the NFC title game trick you into thinking he’ll be a nonfactor. Gurley is a dangerous weapon. He’s a beastly runner out of the backfield and a brilliant receiver when lined up outside.
How he beats you: With agility and versatility. Gurley sees paths quickly as a runner and has the body control to avoid hits and find cutback lanes. He can run every route in the receiving tree — watch those deep patterns.
How to shut him down: By landing big blows. Gurley runs a tad upright, leaving him susceptible to thundering hits. Give him the Marshall Faulk treatment and hit him on every play. Whether he has the ball or not.
Rams’ keys to victory
1. Los Angeles chargers: Creating pressure on Tom Brady up the middle without blitzing is a must. This falls on the broad shoulders of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. If Brady gets time, he’ll carve up any secondary.
2. Los Angeles traffic: Rerouting Julian Edelman and the other receivers will throw off the precision timing they have developed with Brady. Give them a clean break off the line and they’ll break your back.
3. Los Angeles kings: Get Jared Goff comfortable with some easy early throws. He can be erratic, but once he gets hot, he’ll sizzle. This also sets up the big play to Brandin Cooks later.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1. Wham: James Develin, Rob Gronkowski, and Dwayne Allen must come in motion and lay some wham blocks on Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. It could buy Tom Brady an extra half-second, and that’s all he needs.
2. Bam: Take some deep shots to the speedy Phillip Dorsett. At best, it’s a big play. At worst, it forces the defense to respect it and will open up the underneath stuff for Julian Edelman and James White.
3. Thank you, Van: Kyle Van Noy has become a versatile and vital member of this defense. He needs another standout game where he disguises his duties and destroys ballcarriers.
PREDICTION: Patriots 31, Rams 23