FACEOFF: Rams vs. Patriots in Super Bowl
January 31, 2019
East meets West... once again. The L.A. - Boston rivalry is about to welcome a pair of new partners as the Los Angeles Rams meet the New England Patriots for the very first time in the 53 years of the Super Bowl this Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. It's the old versus the new.
The franchises met once before when the Patriots beat the then St. Louis Rams, 20-17, in Super Bowl XXXVI at the then-named Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. But this year's battle is a different kind of rivalry in more ways than one. It's billed as the greatest coach and quarterback of all-time against a pair of upstarts with a combined league experience of five NFL seasons.
Pats head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are the standard for years to come. They have combined for a record-tying five Lombardi Trophies since that first year when they took out the high-powered St. Louis Rams. The Rams haven't been back to the NFL Championship since after deteriorating into the one of worst league franchises following that loss.
The Rams move back to Los Angeles changed everything. Nobody in their right mind expected the Rams to be fighting for the league title so soon. Since the Rams hired Sean McVay as their head coach last season the team is tied for the best regular record at 24-8. More importantly, under McVay's guidance quarterback Jared Goff has quickly evolved into the leader the team expected when they selected him number one in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The game will ultimately hinge on Brady and the Pats offense versus the Rams defensive front line anchored by Aaron Donald, the NFL's best defensive player over the past two seasons. Remarkably, Donald led the league in sacks with 20.5 sacks as a defensive tackle despite being double and triple-teamed all season.
Along with Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers and Dante Fowler the Rams frontline will determine if Brady will have the pocket time to dissect the L.A. secondary. If they don't stop him, wide receiver Julian Edelman, less than 100% tight end Rob Gronkowski and their post-season rushing attack the Rams have little chance of winning the game. The Patriots have relied on the run to balance their offense in their two playoff victories with 82 total rushes for 331 yards.
Yet the Rams have led all playoff teams in rushing with 350 yards gained on 74 carries behind the sudden dynamic duo of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson. That includes the victory over the New Orleans Saints where the rushing attack took a back seat as the Rams had to rely on the Goff's passing and the special teams in their come-from-behind victory.
The Rams are going to need an effective Gurley, the league leader with 21 total touchdowns this season. He is the unknown factor due to his continuing recovery from knee injury late in the season. Against the Saints, Gurley rushed for only 10 yards on four carries but scored the team's first touchdown. The week before against the Dallas Cowboys he and Anderson combined for 238 yards rushing on 39 carries and three touchdowns.
Statistically, the Rams are the better team. They tied for the best record in the league with 13 wins during the regular season, two more than the Pats. The Rams were second in the league in scoring with 527 points while the Patriots finished fourth with 436 points. The Rams finished second in total offense compared to the Patriots at fifth.
Defensively, the Rams actually have a slight edge with both finishing in 19th and 21st respectively in total yards allowed per game. However, the Patriots yielded only 325 points during the regular season compared to the Rams who allowed 384 points. The Rams also have the edge in special teams with kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker. It was Zuerlein's 57-yard field goal in overtime that propelled the Rams to the title game.
The Rams got off to an 8-0 start this season while the Patriots lost two of their first three games. Both teams struggled in December yet found their groove during the playoffs. New England took apart the Los Angeles Chargers, 41-28, in their Divisional game that was a blowout by halftime. The Rams handled the Cowboys, 30-22, shutting down the NFL's leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott in the process.
Both teams went down to the wire to win their respective Conference Championship in overtime. Brady and company jumped out to a 17-7 lead against the Kansas City Chiefs and held on for dear life including some generous calls for the 37-31 victory.
Fortune also played a roll as the Rams overcame a 13-0 deficit, rallied to tie the game in regulation including capitalizing on the ultimate non-penalty call to beat the Saints, 26-23. Regardless, luck is a winning number cherished by the victor. You can bet on it.