ATLANTA — The Patriots offense is notoriously difficult for opposing defenses to decipher.
It's been that way for years with head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and quarterback Tom Brady. This year, it worked out to the tune of New England finishing No. 4 in points scored and No. 5 in total yards.
The offense has been as effective as it's been all year in the postseason, with the Patriots racking up an average of 511 total yards in two playoff wins — including a season-high 524 yards against the Chiefs in the AFC title game.
With New England utilizing a considerable amount of "21" personnel — with a running back, fullback, and one tight end — defensive lineman Michael Brockers described the Patriots postseason offense as going "old school." That was a big part of how New England took a 35-7 first-half lead over the Chargers in the Divisional round, as the visitors in that game had been using defensive sets with seven defensive backs. That size mismatch gave the Patriots a clear advantage in playing power-type football.
According to safety Lamarcus Joyner, that's just part of what makes New England so hard to defend — the ability for the offense to evolve week after week throughout the year.
"I've seen them shift things from the first quarter, to the second quarter, to the third quarter of the season. So now I'm just wondering like, man, what's coming for the Super Bowl?" Joyner said this week. "Like I've said, the Patriots have been three dimensional this year — with the pass game earlier on, and then you go to the run, and balancing the run with the pass midseason, getting [running back] James White on the edge one-on-one with safeties and linebackers. He's been executing.
Get to know the Los Angeles Rams by looking through the 53-man roster!
"And then you go to the last quarter of the season, and you just see the run game with Sony Michel, the way he's just like, 'Wow, that's why they drafted that guy first round.' Whereas [maybe] you were wondering what was the whole point of drafting him earlier on in the season, not using him. So you just have to know their skill set, know each guy's tendencies and go from there."
One element of the offense the Patriots could use for the Super Bowl is White's ability as a receiver out of the backfield. The running back led the patriots with 123 targets, 87 receptions, and seven receiving touchdowns. He was also second on the team with 751 yards receiving.
In the Divisional round, White caught 15 passes for 97 yards on a whopping 17 targets. He didn't even have a carry in that game, as Brady was getting rid of the ball quickly to help neutralize the pass rush.
Given that the Rams gave up 11 receptions for 96 yards against Saints running back Alvin Kamara in the NFC title game, it stands to reason that McDaniels, Brady, and co. could try to attack Los Angeles in the same way.
"Each week is different," Joyner said. "Two total different athletes — both can do the same things. James White's been doing it a little longer — he don't get enough credit. But he's a great dual-threat running back in this league."
"And, you know, who knows what Belichick, those coaches see on film that they feel like attacking. But I know that they do a really good job attacking where you're weak."
Yet the Rams know those spots, too, especially after 18 games combined between the regular season and playoffs. And with a defensive unit led by coordinator Wade Phillips, Los Angeles should be in good position for whatever New England decides to bring out.
Check out photos from practice as the Los Angeles Rams prepare to face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.