Super Bowl LIII Preview - War In Trenches Will Decide Winner

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Lindsay Van Gyn

February 2nd, 2019

Super Bowl LIII is exploding with variables, weird juju (not Smith-Schuster), overrated opinions and controversy. Ingesting them all will only lead to placing ill-conceived bets. Let all the noise fade away, and listen to me: This game will be decided on how the Patriots’ offensive line reacts to the Rams defense. It will be that simple. So, put aside all the uncontrolled variables and let's break down the tug-of-war that will happen between these two in the trenches.

Throughout the season, Brady has been sacked just 21 times, which is the third fewest in the NFL. In the post season, he's been left to operate relatively unscathed with zero sacks in the post season through two games. Not-a-one. This means that the Pats’ offensive line is gelling and if you can get Donald to take a seat, then you’ve got Brady making plays. It’s incredibly optimistic - bordering on naive - if you think Donald is not going to get to him. Donald has amassed 41 QB hits and 20.5 sacks during the regular season, and the Ram’s have a 16.6 pressure rate from the interior. So, if you’re hoping that the Pats can hold Suh and Donald enough to create ample running lines, I applaud your positivity but you still have to account for the Rams secondary (more on that later).

Super Bowl LIII - February 3rd, 2019 New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams Odds: NE -2.5 (56.0)

The interior pressure from the Rams’ is always going to be an issue, regardless, so it’s going to be up to both the edges to exploit Brady’s impressive TD-to-INT ratio (7:0) when pressured from the edge and not so impressive ratio from the interior (2:2). Dante Fowler Jr. has a seriously weird affinity for taking down Brady specifically: He has 7.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits in 16 games since last year’s AFC Championship, and 3 of those sacks and QB hits have been against the Patriots. Think about that: over 25% of all his QB hits have been on Brady and 40% of his sacks have been against the Pat’s. If Fowler Jr. can pressure Brady at the edge, while Suh and Donald do the same from the interior, then you’ve got Brady scrambling in the pocket, potentially leaving the Rams enough time to get to him. I’m not discounting Brady’s knack for making insane decisions followed by clean throws under pressure. I’m just saying the Rams have a lethal secondary to contend with.

We can't talk about Super Bowl LIII by segmenting all the different parts. The Rams secondary will play a massive role in this game as well, for obvious reasons. Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib have been on a yard-stopping rampage with just shy of 300 yards since Week 11. Talib, who knows how to cover Gronkowski and has played under Belichick, should be able to pinpoint some of the routes. Peters and Talib are going to be the shadows of every Patriots receiver coming through the corner. The Rams allowed 24.0 points against overall (20th) during the entirety of the season, but in games where Talib was healthy, that number was reduced to just 15.5. That secondary is going to have to throw blankets all over the field to limit what Brady can do right off the snap. Achieving that gives Donald and company more time to pressure Brady in to making bad decisions. 

Belichick is going to going to test the boundaries of any weakness in the Rams secondary (I’m looking at you Nickell Robey-Coleman). But if you and I know that already, McVay does as well. How Wade Phillips and the Rams adjust defensively to the quick strikes that Brady is known for will define how this game unfolds. And we've already seen the Patriots come out hard and fast, which is their penchant in the playoffs. Why do you think they're 9-3 ATS in their last 12 post season matchups? They know how to rise to the occasion right off the bat. 

Phillips and McVay have so many tools to work with, and while the Patriots are known to exploit weaknesses at will, you have to hope that the reigning coach of the year has a plan to counterpunch New England in Super Bowl LIII. The smothering secondary has a lot of work to do, and the linebacking corps has to do a better job of containing the underneath routes that Brady checks down. McVay has had two weeks to prepare for this game. That's huge.

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I’m not going to run down the stats on the Patriots offensive line because it really doesn’t matter -  they're wicked awesome and they’ll have some Belchikian tricks up their sleeves that will probably impair the Rams, but it won’t be enough. Eventually, Donald and Fowler will get a piece of Tom Brady late in the game. The Rams can put up points - nobody's concerned about that, especially against a vulnerable Patriots team that isn't outfitted with a ton of play makers. 

What this game comes down to is attrition. The Rams defence will chip away at the Patriots withering dynasty and the new vanguard will be ushered in. The Rams will take this one, 30-27, and I can’t wait to see McVay try and suppress his excitement as he slowly realizes what’s happening.

Super Bowl LIII Free Pick - Los Angeles +2.5 

This is a guest post by Lindsay Van Gyn, who has a masters degree in sports communications focusing on the NFL. She is a passionate writer who focuses on the cultural intersection of sports, statistics and fans.