Published 11:58 PM EST Jan 20, 2019
A preview of Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots …
When: Sunday, Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Line: Patriots by 2
Injuries: This is about as healthy as two teams could be headed into a Super Bowl. The Rams entered the NFC title game without a single player with a designation on the injury report and didn’t sustain any significant issues in their victory against the Saints. Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise (ankle) missed the divisional round against the Chargers but was removed from the final injury report before the AFC Championship Game, so his designation as an inactive player goes down as a healthy scratch. In fact, all 14 players declared as inactive for both the Rams and the Patriots in their respective conference title games were healthy scratches.
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THREE THINGS TO KNOW
1. Experience versus inexperience: Bill Belichick is widely considered the best NFL coach of this century, and some regard him as the greatest of all time. He’s 66 years old. Tom Brady is 41. Together, this will be their ninth trip to a Super Bowl. Rams coach Sean McVay is just 32 – making him the youngest head coach ever to play in the title game. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, 24, is 17 years younger than Brady. Only a handful of Los Angeles players – including wide receiver Brandin Cooks, cornerback Aqib Talib and running back C.J. Anderson – have played in a Super Bowl. It helps that Los Angeles has an uber-experienced defensive coordinator in Wade Philips, who helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50. Still, this is about as big a gap as you can have between two teams in experience at this level.
2. Hold the line: The play of the Patriots offensive line has been superb down the stretch. Against the Chiefs, the squad that tied for the league lead in sacks (52) in the regular season, New England allowed just one hit on Brady and no sacks. Against the Chargers, they also didn’t allow a sack and permitted just two quarterback hits. Center David Andrews and guards Shaq Mason and guards Joe Thuney have been especially solid. Against a Rams pass rush – including defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh – that made life miserable for Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the second half of the NFC Championship Game, the Pats will need to continue their impressive stretch. To help with that, don’t be surprised if Brady looks to throw the ball quickly to neutralize the pass rush, just as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had had him do frequently throughout the postseason.
3. Stopping play action: An interesting matchup will feature New England’s secondary that relies on man coverage and has shined, with cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Devin McCourty being the leaders. But the Rams passing attack relies on the effectiveness of the rushing game due to the frequency of play-action passes. According to Pro Football Reference, more than a third of Goff’s passes this season came out of play action, the highest rate in the NFL. If Los Angeles can get running backs Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson going and if that play action can help freeze New England’s corners, those factors might give Goff enough time to find some targets down the field.
Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.