The Super Bowl is about a week away, and the storylines are starting to get going. Can Tom Brady win his sixth Super Bowl? Can Sean McVay steal the throne from Bill Belichick? How will Brandin Cooks perform against his former team? And who is this mysterious person that said the Patriots suck?
I haven’t decided who I’m picking to win this game yet, but I will tell you two ways I think these teams could pull off a win in Atlanta in Super Bowl LIII.
Keys to Victory: Super Bowl LIII
For the Rams
The Man, The Myth, The Donald
Aaron Donald is the most important player in this game. The key to beating Tom Brady has always been hitting him. While sacks are ideal, the real key to beating New England is hitting their star quarterback.
During the 2018 season, the Patriots lost five games and in those games, Brady was hit an average of six times, getting contacted at least five times in each game. In their twelve wins? Only hit an average of three times. Even in the post-season so far, he’s only been hit three times through two games.
The Los Angeles Rams have to get to Brady if they want to win this game, and the good news? The NFL’s defensive player of the year just happens to be on their squad. Not only is Aaron Donald a great pass rusher, but he does it from the interior. While Patrick Mahomes might’ve just been able to roll out and make one of his nightmare throws, Brady isn’t quite as good on the run.
Donald has to let Brady know he’s there, hitting him early and often, forcing him to leave the pocket. If you can get Brady unsettled, you will win. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles (2017), Denver Broncos (2015), and New York Giants (2007, 2011).
Establish the Run
Hitting Brady is only half of the puzzle though. If you really want to beat Brady, the best way to do it is to keep him off the field. Establish the run with Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, and don’t give Brady a chance to score. The Rams have run the ball well at points this post-season, even if Gurley has been struggling to find his rhythm. Look, I’m isn’t saying anything you don’t already know.
Play fundamental football. Hit the quarterback, win the turnover battle, dominate time of possession. Make sure you score six instead of three and you don’t make any stupid decisions. It’s not rocket science, but if you make mistakes against the Patriots, they’ll kill you for it. Like Bret Hart, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, the excellence of execution.
For the Patriots
Making Heads or Tailbacks of It
Anyone who has watched any Patriots post-season football is very familiar with the name James White. Two years ago, against the Atlanta Falcons, White had 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown to go along with 29 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, plus a two point conversion, including the game winning score.
This post-season, it’s been no different. He had 15 catches for 97 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers, and 72 total yards against the Kansas City Chiefs. Sony Michel was New England’s workhorse in the AFC Championship game, but there’s no question White is Brady’s favorite target out of the backfield. Why is that relevant?
Well, because if the Rams have a weakness on defense, it’s their linebackers. They have struggled against tailbacks in the passing game. Drew Brees didn’t have his best game as a quarterback, and the likes of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib made good on their promise to take Michael Thomas out of the game. However, they were devastated by Alvin Kamara in the passing game.
Kamara led the team in receiving, catching 11 passes for 91 yards. On a Patriots squad with multiple capable receivers out of the backfield, the Rams are going to need to find a way to contain the likes of White and Michel, or else Brady will dink and dunk the whole game and even Tony Romo will get bored of predicting it.
Containing the Cook
The New England Patriots don’t need to be told how dangerous wide receiver Brandin Cooks is. Last year, he was one of Brady’s favorite weapons, and in the off-season, he made his way over to Los Angeles, where he’s been doing the same thing. He balled out against the Saints, catching seven passes for 107 yards, but the best play he made might’ve been the one that he didn’t make. Cooks intentionally dropped a screen late in the game that would’ve made Greg Zuerlein’s 57 yard game-winning field goal even more difficult.
Cooks is as smart as he is fast, and the Patriots know that. The Rams will look to establish the run, but maybe only to set up the pass. Cooks knows this defense, and he knows these defensive backs. His knowledge of the Patriots, paired with his big play ability, make him the obvious target for some kind of play action bomb. The Patriots need to keep Cooks in front of them, and give their pass rushers a chance to get to Jared Goff.