Super Bowl LIII brings us a matchup between the seasoned veterans that are here seemingly every year in the New England Patriots and the upstart offensive juggernauts in the Los Angeles Rams. Head Coach Sean McVay has transformed the Rams from a laughing stock that was jockeying for a top draft pick into the creme of the crop and a perenial Super Bowl contender.
The reincarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf gets their first chance at a title against the team that ended their dynasty in the first place. With all of the storylines and statistics, it’s easy to think that the Rams offense is nearly unstoppable and the only way to win is to just score more points in a shootout. But a closer look reveals a secret weapon that the Patriots can exploit to stop the Rams juggernaut in it’s tracks.
The Rams have only had one objectively bad game this season: Week 14 in Chicago against the Bears. An offense that averaged 34.9 points per game up to that point was held to just 6 by the league-leading Bears defense. Jared Goff threw 4 interceptions and Todd Gurley was held to just 28 yards, providing a blueprint for how to shut down their explosive offense.
They key, as the Saints showed in the first half of the NFC Championship and the Bears showed in their Week 14 matchup, is to force Goff to make easy throws. Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but it’s his biggest weakness.
Vic Fangio’s defense was able to dominate the Rams by completely selling out on the run on first and second down. The reason Gurley could only get 28 yards and, more importantly, 11 carries, is that the Bears swarmed the run on early downs and didn’t give Gurley anywhere to run. This created long third downs that are good for ANY defense.
The second step is to dedicate the secondary to stopping the deep play action pass. The Rams thrive on the play action, and their biggest plays in their biggest games have all come off the run fake. Step 2 also includes getting pressure on Goff when he does fake the run. Goff still struggles if he’s not able to set his feet, and any pressure on a play action will amplify any error in his throws.
All of this leads to Step 3: force Goff into check downs. Yes, this is always a strategy against any offense, but it is the key to keeping Goff in check. Goff’s interceptions against the Bears were not due to Sean McVay calling the wrong plays, as McVay said in his post-game interview. They were due to Goff being frustrated about settling for the short throw and wanting to stretch the field.
If the Patriots want to make Goff uncomfortable, they’re gonna have to give up the easy throws. The young quarterback had been frustrated when he’s not able to air it out like the Rams are so used to doing this season, and he’ll make some bad decisions in the Super Bowl.
The way to keep LA in check is to force Goff into as many of these situations as possible. Piss him off, and Goff will throw the ball right into the teeth of the Patriots secondary. And as seen in the AFC Championship Game, New England is more than capable of taking away the deep ball. Patrick Mahomes only made the same bad decision Goff made against the Bears one time, and it was nearly a game-sealing interception that Tyreek Hill had to break up.
Super Bowl LIII is a game full of stars, and most of them are on the Rams. LA has more talent on their roster than most other teams, and they will win if they’re able to play their game. In stopping the Rams, the game will come down to one thing and one thing only. If the Rams play the way they NEED to, they will be victorious. If they play the way they WANT to, the Patriots will lift their sixth Lombardi trophy. It’s as simple as that.
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Photo Credit: CBS Sports, The Comeback, Los Angeles Daily News, USA Today Sports