Greeting from Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII.
As we inch closer to kickoff, it's time to dig deeper into the dynamics that will actually play out between the Patriots and Rams on Sunday night.
Since the final game of this season could be decided in the trenches, it's only appropriate that we start there.
No Pro Bowls? No Problem
It's hardly a coincidence that the teams with the most continuity up front happen to be the last two standing. The only offensive line in the NFL that played more snaps together this season than the Patriots was that of the Los Angeles Rams. How these units were awarded zero Pro Bowl honors is stupefying, but nonetheless, they've been elite collectively.
Get to know the Los Angeles Rams by looking through the 53-man roster!
Get the GOAT
Tom Brady has not been sacked in 90 drop-backs this postseason against some of the fiercest pass rushers in the AFC – we're talking Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Chris Jones and Dee Ford.
The five-time Super Bowl champion quarterback not only has a great line, but he protects himself like an offensive coordinator and operates a lightning quick passing game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, his average time to throw of 2.42 seconds in the playoffs is the shortest of any QB to play in the 2018 postseason.
However, as we've seen throughout this season with Aaron Donald, and have witnessed increasingly with Ndamukong Suh during the playoffs, interior pressure is the calling card of the Rams defense. For a quarterback like Brady, who isn't known for his mobility, it's also the most disruptive. And if you need to get to a quarterback quickly? There are no shorter routes than the ones Donald takes.
The matchup with the fantastic interior of the Patriots line – Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason – is the most important of Super Bowl LIII.
Rule suggestion for your watch party: No talking during commercials, fine. But also, no talking on third down.
It's the biggest reason New England and Los Angeles are in this game. This postseason, the Rams defense has allowed the Cowboys and Saints to convert just 29% of their third down chances.
Meantime, the Patriots offense went an astonishing 13-of-19 against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, which enabled Brady to run 94 plays and control the football for over 43 minutes.
The Same, But Different
The juxtaposition of these offenses is fascinating.
The Patriots are relatively predictable (see: Tony Romo broadcasting the AFC Championship Game), but impossible to stop. Conversely, the Rams are unpredictable…and also unstoppable.
For instance, when running back Sony Michel is on the field, the Pats run it three out of every four snaps. When James White is in the backfield, the Patriots pass almost 80 percent of the time, per PFF.
It's a quintessential example of: You know what's coming; you still can't stop it. Their personnel is perfectly suited to roles, and the execution is flawless. New England is at once a power run and spread shotgun offense.
How many times this season have we heard Sean McVay talk about "marrying the run and pass" or making "everything look the same?" With a limited number of formations and packages, and through their run-pass balance, the Rams create a dilemma for opponents. When LA is operating efficiently and staying on schedule, the defense is always wrong.
Two different methods. Both extremely effective.
Leading Los Angeles
If I were to offer you a second-half lead on Sunday, you'd sign up in a heartbeat.
Under McVay, the Rams are 19-0 when leading at the half, but that's fairly arbitrary, so let's put it this way: They've only lost ONCE in two seasons when they held a second-half advantage.
The defense has made wonderful adjustments throughout Wade Phillips' tenure. And offensively, when that playbook is completely open and the Rams can lean on opposing defenses with a heavy dose of run and play-action? There's nothing more effective in pro football.
So yes, playing with the lead in the Super Bowl would be wonderful.
…except for Tom Brady.
He's coming off the 57th game-winning drive of his career. For context, Goff has played in 41 games, period.
12 of Brady's game-winning drives have come in the postseason. In the AFC Championship Game, he orchestrated a 13-play, 75-yard march in which he converted 3rd and 10 thrice!
When trailing in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, Brady has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions. It's uncanny.
Still, it would be nice to have the lead in the second half on Sunday. Right?
To Be The Best, You've Gotta…
Before you go back to work on Monday, the Rams will have faced all but one of PFF's top seven signal-callers from 2018 (Rams record against them this season):
- Drew Brees (1-1)
- Patrick Mahomes (1-0)
- Tom Brady – TBD
- Andrew Luck – Did not play
- Aaron Rodgers (1-0)
- Russell Wilson (2-0)
- Phillip Rivers (1-0)
All of those guys are going to Canton. (Jared Goff finished No. 8, for what it's worth.)
And sure, there were a few Sam Bradfords and an occasional Nick Mullens in the mix. However, LA also contended with Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles.
In hindsight, maybe this season had to end with a showdown against Brady, because the 2018 Rams schedule will go down as one of the greatest quarterback gauntlets in NFL history.
With one more win, not only will Los Angeles have survived it, they'll have earned a World Championship against it.