By Piers Eaton
On Sunday February 3rd, in Atlanta, the New England Patriots will face off against the Los Angeles Rams for the NFL’s biggest accomplishment, a Super Bowl championship.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are both hoping to add another to their already record-setting five Super Bowl wins, and Jared Goff and Sean McVay have a shot at their first.
At thirty-two years old, McVay could become the youngest ever Head Coach to win the Super Bowl, and Goff could be the youngest quarterback (QB) currently with a ring.
While the talk leading up to the conference championship games were full of ‘old guard’ vs. ‘new guard’ talk, that was a bit of an over-simplification.
While Brees vs. Goff, and Brady vs. Mahomes had an element of that, the Saints had a lot of young talent in the team, and Mahomes’s coach, Andy Reid, is 60 years old. The Rams-Patriots, on the other hand, is truly the old vs. the new.
The Rams aren’t just young; their organisation has been challenging the conventional NFL wisdom.
They followed the Eagles lead from last season, they made a big splash in free agency by signing defensive tackle (DT) Ndamokung Suh, and trading for all-pro cornerback (CB) Aqib Talib, after having traded for CB Marcus Peters last year.
Suh, Peters and Talib are all big personalities with a star mentality, a quality which Belichick avoids at all costs.
Typically, Belichick will get rid of players if they act larger than life, wanting players to ‘do their job’ rather than get creative.
On top of getting big names, the Rams have a new approach to keeping their players durable. The Rams didn’t play any of their established starters for a single snap in the preseason.
They also have the least amount of practice with contact of any NFL team, meaning they have gone into the playoffs surprisingly healthy.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have actually gone back to the basics this season.
After losing in the Super Bowl last season, despite Brady passing for over five-hundred yards, and not punting a single time, the Pats went from their lead back being a ‘jitterbug’ to a ‘bruiser’ style running back (RB).
They’ve given their fullback, James Develin, an increased role, at a time when full backs are becoming less and less central to NFL offenses.
Against Kansas City, this has led to them controlling the clock better than any other team, allowing them to put together multiple long drives to keep the ball out Patrick Mahomes hands, keeping them scoreless in the first half for the first time this season.
A team usually known for their complexity in an increasingly complex league, New England are trying to show it’s not all about trick plays – good old-fashioned hard-nosed running still has a place in today’s game.
All that being said, the Rams, are no strangers to the run game, and their rushing, both in the regular and the postseason, has been more efficient than the Patriots.
This is because LA has all-pro RB Todd Gurley as well as C.J. Anderson, who has had success against NE in the past during his time in Denver.
I would expect rushing to play a bigger factor this year than the last two Super Bowls.
Keys for success:
For LA, they need to get pressure up front with their DTs, Suh and last year’s defensive player of the year Aaron Donald.
The way to beat Brady is to hit him, make him uncomfortable, and don’t let him step up in the pocket. Suh has given Brady trouble during his time as a Miami Dolphin, and Donald is as much of a game changer as any player.
The way the Giants were able to beat the Pats in the Super Bowl in 2008 and 2011 by hitting Brady hard and often.
For New England, the key to success is a balanced defence. They need to take away former Patriot Brandin Cooks the same way they took away Tyreek Hill, get to Goff the same way they got to Mahomes, and make sure they don’t give up easy runs to Gurley and Anderson.
There is no one path to success for this defence, but the key players that need to show up are defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers.
Author’s prediction: Patriots manage to run the clock down on their final drive, and win in a tight one score game. New England 34-31 Los Angeles. However, I’m a massive Pats fan so I have no objectivity.
Editor’s prediction: Patriots will have the bit between their teeth after last years Superbowl, but will see things through this year. Will be a high scoring game, but still relatively close, and could come down to the final whistle. 39-34 Patriots.
Photograph: Thomson200 via Wikimedia Commons