Super Bowl LIII Film Review: How Patriots Shut Down Rams’ Best Player

If Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is an irresistible force to be reckoned with, then the New England Patriots’ offensive line apparently is just the immovable object needed to neutralize the All-Pro.

Donald finished the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl LIII loss to the Patriots with just two pressures, no sacks, two run stops and five total tackles. The undersized defensive tackle had a signature play when he dragged down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on a QB hit late in the first quarter on an incomplete pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman. And he still showed off all the power, quickness and smarts that has made him one of the NFL’s premier players since he came into the league as a first-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2014.

But if there was one guarantee in Super Bowl LIII, it was that the Patriots weren’t going to let Donald take over the game. By our count, Donald was at least double-teamed on over half of the Patriots’ offensive snaps. Left guard Joe Thuney drew Donald solo 13 times, while right guard Shaq Mason blocked him solo seven times, left tackle Trent Brown had him four times, and right tackle Marcus Cannon and center David Andrews each were solely responsible for him three.

Thuney, the man most responsible for Donald, did a fantastic job while also getting help on an additional 14 snaps.

One thing the Patriots did a good job of was using Donald’s pursuit against him. When the Patriots were running away from Donald, Thuney would shove him away from a play once he got upfield to prevent the defensive tackle from making a backside tackle.

One of the Patriots’ biggest runs actually came while going at Donald with 3:38 left in the fourth quarter.

At the snap, Mason and Cannon double teamed Donald.

After a beat, Cannon gave Donald a shove.

Cannon then moved on to block linebacker Mark Barron, leaving Mason 1-on-1 with Donald.

Michel scampered 26 yards downfield through the gap Donald occupied.

The key to stopping Donald in the passing game was mostly double teams. The Patriots at least doubled Donald on 21 of Brady’s 34 passing attempts.

Here are some other notes from our Super Bowl LIII film review:

— The Patriots covered the Rams’ offense much like they’ve done all season. They allowed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to shadow Brandin Cooks while doubling Robert Woods. There’s no clear cut answer on who the Rams’ best wide receiver is, so they showed them equal respect. A Gilmore shadow essentially equates to a double team when it comes to the Patriots’ defense.

Cooks certainly wasn’t the worst wide receiver in Super Bowl LIII, but he did show some of the same issues he flashed with the Patriots last season in putting up empty yards and not competing for catches. Of Cooks’ 120 yards, 59 came at the end of the first half and the end of the game when Patriots defenders were giving him a large cushion in an attempt to eat up clock. It worked. The Rams didn’t score on either possession.

Cooks also had four of his targets either broken up or intercepted.

This one from Gilmore:

This unbelievable pursuit play by Jason McCourty:

This combined breakup by Gilmore and safety Duron Harmon:

And this interception from Gilmore to essentially seal the game:

It was a poor throw off the back foot of quarterback Jared Goff, but why is Cooks running past Gilmore on the interception?

— Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh wasn’t any more impactful than Donald. He also had just two hurries. He overpursued on the first two plays of the game when Michael picked up 19 yards on two carries.

— Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy were like the bash brothers on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field. They accounted for three sacks, three more QB hits and nine total pressures. The Patriots blitzed Goff 20 times.

— Defensive tackle Danny Shelton had perhaps his best game as a Patriot. He brought disruption in the passing game and in run defense.

— Chris Hogan had a tough game. He didn’t catch a single pass on six attempts and was targeted on an interception. Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett wasn’t even targeted. Running back Sony Michel didn’t catch a pass on two targets. Running back James White caught just one pass on four targets for 5 yards. So, 87 percent of Brady’s 262 yards went to wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Edelman really was unbelievable.

Remember when people said this guy had lost a step?

Thumbnail photo via Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Images

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