Tyler Krusz and Christian Martinelli
“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The Patriots, one day, were the heroes- the young, underdog quarterback and weird head coach taking down the greatest show on turf. The problem is, they never died. Each and every year, a new hero steps up to try and take down the long-time villain, someone strong and noble enough to end the evil empire. And what better team, than the ones who fell in defeat to the Patriots 17 years ago?
Krusz: The Rams Offense
Think about it- a handsome quarterback (the guy looks like Ryan Gosling), playing in Hollywood, leading one of the most powerful offenses in the league is a perfect candidate for this year’s hero.
Jared Goff and the Rams head into Atlanta off of one of the best seasons in the franchise’s recent history. Starting at the quarterback position, Goff is a complete stud. The Rams finished third in the NFL in yards per passing attempt, fifth in passing yards, and 8th in touchdowns with 32. Goff averages nearly 300 yards a game with 293, and finished with 4688 yards on a 64.9 completion percentage. To put the cherry on top, he had a 101.1 Quarterback Rating in the regular season, putting him 8th overall.
He’s got the clutch gene- too; of his 32 touchdowns this season, 16 of them were to either take the lead or tie the game. However, in his three postseason games, Goff has only thrown two touchdowns, one of them coming last week against New Orleans, and the other last year to Cooper Kupp. Goff is a young quarterback with several flaws. He threw a four interception game, with no touchdowns, in a loss to the Bears later in the season. Expect Belichick to pick on him a little, and make Goff earn the title. However, what makes Goff so dangerous is his big-play ability. He threw 15 touchdowns of 15 yards or more this season, and a lot of these long passing plays are set up by the Rams dangerous running game.
There are so many ways to say how good Todd Gurley is. Since his rookie year, he has been one of the most dominant backs in the league, leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns in back to back seasons, while finishing second in yards per game with just over 89. He had seven 100+ yard games, including one in the divisional round against the Eagles. In fact, no other offensive player on the Rams should single-handedly scare Patriots fans more than Gurley.
He hits holes at the speed of Ladanian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson, has the patience of Le’Veon Bell, and is as difficult to tackle as Jerome Bettis. However, Gurley has been a controversial topic surrounding Super Bowl Week. The Rams came into the Conference Championship boasting a physical run game, and then proceeded to give Gurley the ball only four times, and left him on the bench all third quarter.
He finished with just ten yards and a touchdown, while CJ Anderson handled most of the load- carrying the ball 16 times for 44 yards. Anderson, the former Broncos back, had three straight 100 yard games, including one against the Eagles in the divisional game. While Gurley may have slow nights, Anderson has gained the trust of McVay as well as the rest of the offense and has produced. However, Belichick is no stranger to Anderson, and should he be the single player to beat the Patriots- let him. Gurley and the passing game are much more dangerous.
The Rams boast some of the fastest receivers in the NFL, next to the Chiefs, in Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. Between Woods, Cooks, Josh Reynolds and Gurley, Los Angeles has 20 touchdowns through the air. Patriots fans remember Cooks, as he underperformed in last year’s Super Bowl. Nonetheless, Cooks is a talented receiver with some wheels, who could give New England’s secondary a great deal of trouble when coupled with Woods and Reynolds. Woods on his own could take over a game, with 1219 yards this season next to 1204 from Cooks. All three of their main receivers have big play ability, and that can easily open up things for other guys, knowing how good Goff is.
Martinelli: The Rams Defense
The Los Angeles Rams undoubtedly have one of if not the best offense in the league, but their defense, although good doesn’t deserve the same merit. Coach Sean “Belichick Jr.” McVay and General Manager Les Snead did a fantastic job last offseason, and during this season, acquiring playmakers on both sides of the ball. Especially on the defensive side.
DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, and DE Dante Fowler are the main pieces the Rams added that have been key contributors on defense end. The front office should be complimented for getting two shutdown corners, a great pass rusher, and a stud run stuffer. They made some impressive moves, and certainly improved the talent of an average defense from 2017.
The Rams were 20th in points allowed and 19th in total yards allowed. These numbers sound pedestrian, but you have to remember there were many games where Los Angeles cruised to wins and gave up a lot of garbage time statistics.
A real eye catching number is their turnover numbers, thirty takeaways in sixteen games. Almost two a game, making them the third best ballhawking team in the NFL. A very important attribute to have, especially when your season is now boiled down to one game, where the winner takes all. Every play is crucial.
It is impossible to talk about the LA Rams without raving about former Pitt standout, and current defensive player of the year, DT Aaron Donald. The term “game wrecker” gets thrown around too often about unworthy players, but when it is said about Donald it is an understatement. He will demoralize your offensive line, quarterback, and team as whole. His combination of strength, speed, and athleticism is unlike any we have ever seen at the interior lineman position before. He’s as fast as an edge rusher, strong as a nose tackle, and as nimble as a slot receiver. All of that together makes for a very frightening man.
This season he put up what seemed to be unthinkable numbers for his position, 20.5 sacks, 41 QB hits, 74 QB pressures, four forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, and 59 tackle. 25 of those being for a loss. These seem like fake stats I just made up, but I checked multiple times this is the unreal production he had this year. New England better double and triple team him all game, because if any player will make Tom Brady’s job difficult it will definitely be Aaron Donald.
When you combine Donald with Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers, Samson Ebukam, and Dante Fowler, you’re faced with a defensive line that has the capability to clog up the run, and get after the passer. As a group they haven’t put many great games together, but as individuals they have immense talent at every position.
This season they have had trouble stopping the run, giving up over 5.1 yards an attempt. The worst in the league. Although they have changed that narrative throughout their playoff run, only allowing 2.2 yards a rush, and 49 yards on the ground per contest. It was strange to see such a drastic reversal in their weakness against two great running teams in Dallas and New Orleans, but it shows how LA is capable of performing.
The team formerly of St. Louis has a very respectable, veteran secondary. Talib and Peters at corner have both been there and done that, they bring a swagger to the field that is infectious with their teammates.
Don’t forget about Nickell Robey-Coleman, who apparently can’t play the ball or shut his mouth. At safety SS John Johnson and FS LaMarcus Joyner are both very good tacklers, and playmakers. Johnson has 119 tackles, 11 pass deflections, and four interceptions this season making him a weapon at the strong safety spot.
The real weakness of this Rams defense is their linebacking group in this game. Cory Littleton and Mark Barron are solid in the middle, but even though Littleton had a Pro Bowl season with 125 tackles I see him and Barron as two guys that can get abused. Both are built more like safeties than linebackers, and with New England’s power running game they could get taken advantage of.
All that being said I think Los Angeles’ defense is strong at most aspects, even though the season long stats may say this is only an average defense. With the studs they possess at every position, and their recent play of late I think defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can come up with a game plan to give New England fits like he has in the past.
The key matchup is Robey-Coleman versus Edelman in the slot, I believe whoever wins that one on one the majority of the time will win the game. If New England can consistently convert on third down it will wear the Rams defense down like the Patriots have done to many other squads in the past.
The Los Angeles Rams find themselves in a spot that I don’t think they even envisioned was possible after finishing 4-12, and hiring a 31 year old rookie head coach in 2016. The Super Bowl.
Well, here they are trying to bring down the best quarterback and coach in the 99 year history of the NFL. Their offensive explosiveness and creativity gives them the chance to hang in any game, even against Tom Brady. Their playmakers on the defensive side of the ball can change the game with one play, if they can get to Brady consistently and get him out of the pocket, LA will be successful.
Are the Rams the more talented team? 100000%. Can they win? No doubt. Will they win? I wouldn’t bank on it this year against the GOAT. I see Brady and Belichick taking home their record tying sixth championship with a 34-23 victory, New England’s offensive line will hold up, and Brady will have a vintage performance. For once a New England Super Bowl won’t come down to the wire.
Check back on Friday as Krusz and Martinelli Preview the New England Patriots ahead of the Super Bowl
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