Will New England Patriots pick Los Angeles Rams apart? | News Coverage from USA

Will New England Patriots pick Los Angeles Rams apart?

The matchup is finally here: The New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. All eyes will be on the likes of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowksi, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. But within the game, there are plenty of other matchups that won’t get the attention they deserve.

Here’s a look at X-factors that will likely sway the Super Bowl:

New England Patriots

Quick release

Against the Chiefs in the AFC title game, the Patriots employed their favorite tactic when going against productive pass rushes: Tom Brady fired quick throws that made it nearly impossible for defenders to get in his face. In the divisional round against the Chargers, Brady averaged just 2.33 seconds from snap to throw. In the conference championship round, that mark was 2.51. That rapid release is a bigger reason why New England’s offense line hasn’t allowed one sack in the postseason and has yielded just three quarterback hits.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has totaled three sacks and 10 QB hits in its two playoff games. While those numbers aren’t imposing, the Rams’ front seven is loaded with pass rushing talent, highlighted by tackles Aaron Donald (who led the NFL with 20 1/2 sacks in 2018) and Ndamukong Suh as well as linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. And when Los Angeles got after the quarterback – especially in the second half of the NFC title game – the pressure changed the game and forced Drew Brees into an interception that helped set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.

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Exploiting the middle of the field

If there’s any area where this Rams defense is weak, it’s in the middle of the second level, where linebackers Cory Littleton and Mark Barron roam. And with slot receiver Julian Edelman playing effectively, this could be a matchup Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels look to exploit. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Edelman has earned 171 receiving yards on targets to the middle of the field in New England’s two playoff games. Because Edelman is so skilled at slipping past defenders and is comfortable finding the soft spots against zone coverages, he often presents easy matchup advantages that Brady can exploit. New England can also create more problems for the middle of Los Angeles’ defense by moving around tight end Rob Gronkowski, including using him in the slot.

Los Angeles Rams

Press coverage

In the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Broncos toppled the Patriots 20-18. In that game, Denver’s defense combined for four sacks against Brady and an incredible 17 quarterback hits. The Broncos were able to generate that pressure in part by relying on cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris to be physical at the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of New England’s routes. Well, the defensive coordinator for Denver that season was none other than Wade Philips, who now leads the Rams’ defense. Joining him is Talib, whom the team traded for last March. The pressure will be on the corners to clamp down in the secondary and for the pass rush to get in Brady’s face, but look for Philips to try to recreate that strategy that three years ago sent Denver to the Super Bowl.

Third-down defense

New England has been  surgical on third-down conversions in the playoffs, moving the chains on 20 of 33 attempts (60.6 percent). In particular, Brady and the Pats dissected Kansas City for 14 of 19 conversions (73.7 percent). Many of those plays were came late in the game and proved to be crucial. In particular, receiver Julian Edelman and running back James White have been devastating, coming up with clutch receptions to extend drives. How well L.A. defends New England on third downs could be one of the biggest keys for both teams. The Rams, in  two postseason games, have allowed opposing offenses to convert just seven of 24 third-down tries (29.2 percent). Keeping the Patriots anywhere near that range would be huge and could help coach Sean McVay get his first title.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.



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