What The Rams Need To Do vs. Patriots
The Los Angeles Rams are one week away from a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, against the signature sports dynasty of the modern American pro sports, the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady New England Patriots. So what do they need to do to win? Here are our thoughts on this subject.
Win The Turnover Battle
Alternatively, at least break even. These two teams were virtually even during the regular season in turnover differential, with the Rams having a (+11) and New England (+10). We cannot give Brady extra chances to score, or he will seize the opportunities. I believe the Rams CAN win if they at least break even--but anything in the negative category is a significant problem for the Rams, minus two or more would probably be fatal.
Pressure Tom Brady
Mainly thinking about inside pressure here, teams that upset the Patriots during the regular season were the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans, in particular, all generated an inside pass rush which Brady despises. The New York Giants did the same when they upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI and ruined their perfect season a few years ago. As high as Brady is, he is not the most athletic guy, especially at age 41. On the other hand, the Patriots gave up only 1.2 sacks per game this past season, tied for fewest in the league so that it will not be easy. There is no doubt Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald will receive double teams, but a better question might be how much holding the referees will allow (generally articulating of the Patriots). Ndamukong Suh has finally resembled the player we thought he was the last couple of games, including producing 1.5 sacks versus the New Orleans Saints. If he can continue to play well, it could be one significant factor. Sacks would be ideal, of course, but if the Rams can at least make Brady uncomfortable, it would increase their chances.
Wade Phillips perceives Brady well from his days in Denver. It will be interesting to see what he develops up with for this game.
Control The Clock
Since both of these teams can score (Rams second in the NFL, Patriots fourth) time of possession could be a big deal. The Patriots cannot score if they do not have the ball. Reflecting on ball control, think of running the ball, but the short passing game can accomplish the same goal. We do not think the Patriots linebackers are athletic enough to cover Todd Gurley (and to a lesser extent CJ Anderson) coming out of the backfield on the short passing game (Kyle Van Noy, in particular, is at a disadvantage). Our personal opinion is that the talk of Gurley injury is misplaced, but if he is that could be a problem, as Anderson is not the caliber of a receiver such as Gurley. Anderson HAS, however, morphed into a big-time runner in the postseason and that could be a big deal, especially if Gurley is injured or ineffective such as last week.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams need to contain Sony Michel and James White. Michel has come alive in the post-season, rushing for 242 yards and five touchdowns after a mostly so-so regular season. The Rams rushing defense, which was at times awful during the regular season, has been remarkably better in the playoffs. However, they did allow Saints back Alvin Kamara to rack up over 90 yards in receiving yardage in the NFC title game, and White is capable of putting up a similar type of numbers.
Containing Edelman and Gronkowski
Look, we are talking about Tom Brady here, we probably have to shut him down entirely! However, we do not want him to '"go off" either, and that means keeping wide receiver Julian Edelman and Tight End Rob Gronkowski from having a huge game. The Rams had problems with elite tight ends this season, with both Travis Kelce and George Kittle having big games. Rams safety John Johnson will probably draw the primary assignment against Gronk when the Rams go to man coverage, and he needs to step up. Edelman is another issue, but the good news for the Rams is that they pretty much shut down elite receivers of Amari Cooper and Michael Thomas in the playoffs. However, Brady can spread the ball around and find weaknesses like nobody else in the history of the game.
This game could be a real chess match between Wade Phillips and Brady regarding disguising coverages and not letting the great one pick apart the Rams secondary, which he is indeed capable of accomplishing. The Rams pass defense has been much better since cornerback Aqib Talib returned, and they need a strong performance if the Rams are to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Win On Special Teams
Something that seems to have gotten lost in the uproar over penalties and the lack thereof in the NFC title game was the critical role the Rams special teams played. The pass completion punter Johnny Hekker threw to Sam Shields on a fake punt early in the game, when the Saints seemed to be on the verge of putting the game away, was huge. Merely the fact that the Rams would try that deep in their territory in a game that was on the verge of slipping away says a lot about the aggressive nature of the Rams and their ability to execute the unexpected. Hekker is arguably the best punter in the NFL, and a fake punt is always an option, given his passing ability.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed key field goals of 48 and 57 yards under pressure. He has reportedly been seen wearing a walking boot over the last few days, but the injury is not believed to be serious. Let's hope that is the case.