If the showdown between the old genius and young wunderkind was a boxing match, they would have called the fight.
For two weeks Bill Belichick gushed about Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams’ explosive offense in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII, and for two weeks he likely snickered into his coffee knowing exactly how he planned to stymie the NFL’s hottest offensive mind on the game’s biggest stage.
Offense was all the rage in the NFL this season, but football’s greatest defensive mind put McVay, Jared Goff and the Rams in a vice grip Sunday in Atlanta, holding LA to 260 yards in a 13-3 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After the game, McVay aptly summed up the shellacking he took from the NFL greatest defensive coach.
“I’m pretty numb right now, but there’s no other way to say it: I got outcoached,” McVay said, via CBS Sports. “I didn’t do nearly good enough for our football team.”
All season the Rams’ offense had been predicated on running the ball and then attacking downfield with the play-action pass, but Belichick and Brian Flores took a page out of the Chicago Bears’ playbook of how to shut down the Rams. New England played a lot more zone than it typically does, while also playing six on the line and pressuring Goff with stunts up front. When the Patriots played man, they double-covered Robert Woods and let Stephon Gilmore go one-on-one against Brandin Cooks, a strategy that effectively neutralized LA’s big-play ability in the passing game.
McVay admitted Belichick’s scheme confused LA’s high-flying offense all night.
“They did a good with job with that, with the stunts and different things. They mixed it up,” McVay said, via CBS Sports. “They played almost exclusively some man coverage principles and decided to take away — really in the early downs, all they ended up was playing some single high buzz structures with some quarter principles. They did a great job. it was a great game plan. There is no other way to say it, but I got out-coached tonight.”
New England did a good job of maintaining gap control to stop Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson from getting the ground game going and the zone coverage in the back end confused Goff, causing him to hesitate and give the Patriots’ rush more time to get to him.
“Everything,” Goff said about what the Patriots did to stop the Rams. “They were doing such a good job defensively mixing it up on us and we had a hard time moving the ball. They played so well, and we know what type of offense we are, and for them to do what they did to us tonight is impressive.”
The third-year quarterback has taken a huge leap in the two years under McVay’s tutelage, but both the teacher and the pupil were baffled by the master Sunday night.
Goff was pressured on 16 of his 38 dropbacks, per ESPN Stats & Info, and went 3-for-12 with and an interception and four sacks when feeling the heat. New England held Goff to 229 yards and a 57.9 passer rating, while holding the Rams to 3.4 yards per carry. The Rams ran zero plays in the red zone and 45 percent of their plays went for zero or negative yards. LA joined the 1971 Miami Dolphins as the only other team to not score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
“I was not pleased at all with my feel for the flow of the game and kind of making some adjustments as the game unfolded and giving ourselves a chance to have some success and put points on the board,” McVay said. “Credit to (the Patriots), they did a good job and I certainly didn’t do good enough for us.”
Seventeen years after holding Mike Martz, Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show On Turf” Rams to 17 points (14.4 fewer than their regular season average), Belichick held McVay and the Rams to three points (29.9 fewer than their regular season average) en route to his sixth Super Bowl title as a head coach and eighth overall.
Offense sells tickets, gets TV ratings and appears to be the future of football, but Belichick cemented the Patriots’ dynasty as the greatest in sports history the same way he started it, by suffocating the Rams with a brilliant defensive game plan.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images