ATLANTA — The simplest way to break down Super Bowl LIII is this: The Los Angeles Rams are not as good as the Kansas City Chiefs. The New England Patriots beat the Chiefs on the road at Arrowhead Stadium, and now they’ll face off against the Rams on neutral grounds at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
By the transitive property, the Patriots should beat the Rams. Of course, it’s not that simple in the NFL.
So, here are the Patriots’ three keys to Super Bowl glory:
RUN AT THE RAMS
Los Angeles has two disruptive defenders up front in defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but overall their run defense hasn’t been great this season. They ranked 28th in rush defense DVOA, and they allowed 5.1 yards per carry, the most in the NFL this season. They’ve been much better in the postseason, letting up 2.3 yards per carry, but the Patriots’ rushing attack is a different beast.
The Patriots’ offensive line is jelling about as well as any unit Bill Belichick and Dante Scarnecchia have coached. The Patriots have averaged 165.5 rushing yards per playoff game, which is second only to the Rams. They’ve scored eight rushing touchdowns in two postseason games.
The second level of the Rams’ defense lacks size. Starting linebackers Mark Barron and Cory Littleton look more like safeties than linebackers. Edge defender Dante Fowler Jr. is 255 pounds. The Rams run a three-man front with Donald, Suh and Michael Brockers, all of whom are right around or below 300 pounds. Expect the Patriots to double-team Donald, avoid Suh and run at Brockers. That’s their best bet to pick up yards on the ground. If the Patriots can run the ball early, then they might be able to wear down that Rams defense.
TRUST YOUR SECONDARY
The Patriots’ key to defensive success is to try to force the Rams to pass the ball. That means loading up against the run whether Todd Gurley really is 100 percent or not. Even if he’s not, then C.J. Anderson has proven he can carry the load for the Rams.
That means the Patriots will have to rely on cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones to cover receivers with little help.
The Patriots’ defense has proven to be adept against the run in their base and nickel defense but struggled in dime late in the season. If the Patriots get down early and are forced into their dime defense, they could struggle against the run like they did in Week 14 against the Dolphins and again in Week 15 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Gurley’s health is key, however, because he’s a much bigger receiving threat than Anderson. If Gurley is 100 percent, then he could go off for a big catch when linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy or Elandon Roberts are in coverage. Safety Patrick Chung is a much better matchup for Gurley.
FORCE MISTAKES OUT OF GOFF
Jared Goff hasn’t been the same quarterback since Cooper Kupp went down with a torn ACL in Week 10. Goff had a 111.9 passer rating in games Kupp played and an 88.6 passer rating without him. Goff’s touchdown-to-interception ratio with Kupp is 17:6; without Kupp, that ratio is 16:7. Goff’s yards per attempt also has drastically diminished without Kupp. He averaged 9.7 yards per attempt with Kupp and just 7.1 yards per attempt without him.
The Patriots posted a photo Friday showing cornerback Stephon Gilmore covering practice squad wide receiver Damoun Patterson wearing a No. 17 pinny. That’s Robert Woods’ number. So, our best guess it Gilmore will cover Woods. The two were teammates for four years with the Buffalo Bills.
That would leave JC Jackson, Jason McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Brandin Cooks. Jackson is the most likely candidate to cover Cooks. Jones covered Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship Game, while Cooks isn’t as fast as Hill, he is a big-play threat with speed to burn. Whichever cornerback is left over will cover Josh Reynolds.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images