Under the guidance of Bill Belichick and the leadership of the legendary Tom Brady, the New England Patriots have amassed the greatest dynasty in the history of professional football. Their greatness rivals the New York Yankees, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, and John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.
New England’s dynastic rule over the NFL began seventeen years ago with the exact same matchup, except things were not predicted to go in the favor of a then-inexperienced Tom Brady.
The St. Louis Rams were favored over Brady back in Super Bowl 36, who had recently taken over for Drew Bledsoe under center. However, with under a minute left, Brady led his Patriots down the field like it was nothing, and Adam Vinatieri put the nail in the coffin to seal the 20-17 upset win.
However, offense is just half the battle. Defense is what wins championships, as the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens reminded us in recent years.
Stopping the run
Belichick often forces the opposition to beat New England without a main contributor, as he attempts to eliminate a key facet of the opponent’s offense en route to victory. This year, Bill Belichick will stack the box against Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, forcing Jared Goff to beat them through the air.
In all three of the Los Angeles Rams’ losses during the regular season, Todd Gurley failed to eclipse 70 rushing yards (68, 28, 48). The New Orleans Saints appeared to come up with the answer in NFC Championship, as C.J. Anderson, who out-touched and out-produced Gurley, finished with only 44 yards on the ground.
Letting Jared Goff throw at will (297 passing yards) was not enough to outmuscle the Saints’ similarly high-octane offense. If not for an officiating blunder, it would be Drew Brees and the Saints facing the Patriots on Sunday.
In fact, in two of the Rams’ three losses prior to the postseason, Goff threw for 330-plus yards (391, 339) and it wasn’t enough to win. Cooper Kupp, who accounted for 89 of Goff’s 391 yards against New Orleans in their regular season tilt, tore his ACL midseason and will not be of service to Goff in Super Bowl 53.
Goff struggled mightily once Kupp was lost for the season. In the six regular season games after Kupp’s injury, Goff threw for 300-plus yards just twice.
Brandin Cooks was in the other locker room a year ago, suiting up for the Patriots against the Eagles, though he was concussed early in the contest. The Patriots know his strengths, which mainly consist of his electric speed, and his weaknesses.
As a result, Robert Woods, the 1,000-yard weapon that has been the main attraction in the film room, will face tight coverage time and time again. Tight end Tyler Higbee and Josh Reynolds, who has stepped up in Kupp’s absence, will be tasked with making plays through the air.
In taking away Goff’s backfield, Belichick will force him to win the game with his arm. The box will be stacked against Gurley, who will have to prove effective out of the backfield (unlike in the NFC Championship) and render Anderson less-effective than Gurley.
By sticking a top corner on Woods, likely Stephon Gilmore, Belichick will force Goff to look elsewhere for aerial production. It’s not as though Cooks is invisible opposite Woods, though the Patriots are fully aware of his blazing vertical speed and will likely prepare a zone approach to bottle him up for the most part.
If the Rams are to win this game, Sean McVay will have to master the art of play action early and often, spreading out the defensive line and leave room for Gurley and Anderson to operate.
Goff scoring 28 points with his arm won’t do the trick here, as the Patriots proved they haven’t lost their offensive mojo after outshooting the Kansas City Chiefs in their own building. They also finished with the 11th-most passing yardage allowed, finishing atop the AFC East and claiming the AFC’s second seed despite that.
Delayed draws won’t fool this Patriots defense that allowed the 10th-fewest rushing yards during the campaign. Options won’t do all that much good either, as Goff doesn’t exactly fit the scrambler profile.
Who wins Super Bowl 53?
If the Patriots race out to a large lead early on, that will force McVay’s hand towards the passing game. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, that is exactly what Belichick wants to happen.
The Rams cannot allow the Patriots to run up the score in the early going and they cannot afford inefficiency on the ground. If either, or both, of those two things happen, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will add more jewelry to their cabinets.
Then again, stopping Todd Gurley, who had the third-most rushing yards and the most rushing touchdowns in the league, and C.J. Anderson, who has 466 rushing yards in just four games with the Rams, is a tall task. It is easier said than done.
If anyone can conjure a way to limit them, however, it’s Bill Belichick.