Aaron Donald, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Corey Littleton, Dante Fowler, James Develin, James White, johnny Hecker, Josh McDaniels, Julian Edelman, LA Rams, Marcus Peters, Mark Barron, Ndamukong Suh, New England Patriots, NFL, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Rob Gronkowski, Super Bowl, Tom Brady, Wade Phillips
So as usual for my final post of the 2018 season I have gone through the coaching tape of the Super Bowl, and this year I was looking at the New England Patriots’ offence going up against the LA Rams’ defence.
I will probably watch the reverse match-up, but given the media focus on the Super Bowl has featured lots of tape focus and the news cycle moving on to the off-season already it shall be for my own amusement and stay in my notebook rather than generating another post. I mention it because I already know the Patriots’ defence lined up with six on the line and jammed the outside zone rush as this alignment stopped the Rams offence line being able to double team. I know this through the discussions I listened to and whilst I always learn things from such discussions, I do try to limit these posts to what I was able to see myself, so on to how the Rams managed to limit the Patriots to just thirteen points.
The first thing I should mention is that a numbers fact has my notes wrong about the defence personnel used in my notebook as whilst Mark Barron wore number twenty-six, which to my eyes has him as a member of the secondary, he is listed as an inside linebacker so the Rams played a lot of 3-4 defence. Now, the hybrid line still did come into play when they played nickel and dime as they would stick to three defensive linemen and outside linebacker Dante Fowler rushing from a standing position on either side of the line. It has become increasingly common for linebackers to become lighter so they can match up against the speed NFL defences currently are using, but it does make life interesting when you face a team like the Patriots who still use 21 personnel a lot and you have an inside linebacker like Barron who is only (only!) 230 Ibs.
One of the interesting things to me watching this game back on tape compared to me live tweeting with Dan during the game, is I remember a period of the game where I was worried about the Patriots getting away from the run, which seemed odd as whilst they were having problems sustaining long drives, they were successful running the ball. Watching back however, it was only at the end of the first half when they were running two-minute offence that they dropped back and passed a lot. However, they did go quite pass heavy at times because one of the features of this game was the way that Julian Edelman was able to get open in the passing game.
The Patriots moved Edelman in motion a lot, allowing him to get free releases and in space without hands on him Edelman is lethal because of how shifty he is. I saw multiple Rams defensive backs fail to stay with him, and even when they moved Marcus Peters to follow him, who did a better job of covering him there were still plays where Edelman got wide open.
However, the Patriots didn’t have it all their own way so what did the Rams do to have the success on defence they did? Well partly, their defensive coordinator Wade Philips mixed in more zone than I am used to seeing with his defence, and he managed to confuse and disrupt Tom Brady enough to stop the Patriots from being able to sustain long drive. This was despite the Patriots running for over one-hundred and fifty yards from thirty-plus carries. Now these figures benefit from some long runs in the fourth quarter, and certainly a combination of Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, and Dante Folwer all stuffed runs for short gains or losses, but the real problem was that apart from Edelman the Patriots receivers were not able to get open consistently. There were some lovely plays by Rob Gronkowski in the passing game, but Chris Hogan couldn’t bring in any of his six targets and apart from two quick passes to Cordarrelle Patterson no other Patriots receiver caught the ball and even the reliable James White out of the backfield connection was off with him only able to catch one of his four targets. This lack in the passing game meant that the Rams were able to make enough splash plays to limit the Patriots and thanks to an outstanding day of punting by Johnny Hecker the Rams defence were never put in bad field position.
There has been talk that Brady has been off this year, and certainly his receivers played a part in not being open, but there were also throws he flat missed with his first being intercepted as he simply didn’t account for the zone exchange between Rams defenders and so Nickell Robey-Coleman was able to get under Chris Hogan and bat the ball into the air so Corey Littleton could get the interception. If the Rams front seven were largely handled by the Patriots offence, Littleton did really impress me as the linebacker who never came off the field, led the team in tackles and got two pass deflections as well as this interception.
If anything won this game for the Patriots, it was a late game adjustment on offence that I have seen the Patriots use before, but which we since heard had not been practised. The Patriots lined up on the drive where they got the touchdown in 21 personnel, but lined up in shotgun flexing out full-back James Develin and this gave them the match-ups they needed to move the ball in chunks and get to the goal-line so they could run the ball in. The Patriots found one play they ran three times out of different looks and threw the ball to different receivers and that was basically the game. So even when he wasn’t at his best, Brady was able to execute Josh McDaniels’ tactical switch, which is a very Patriots way to win a game as once more it demonstrates why their focus is on smart players and tactical flexibility.
If you had offered the Rams before the game that they would limit the Patriots to thirteen points, I’m sure they would have taken it expecting that to be enough to win the game. The Rams defence did enough to win this game and Wade Philips demonstrated all his experience, but the Rams offence couldn’t finish the game off and that will hurt for a long time.