Carney Column: Rams over Patriots in Super Bowl LIII
At this point in the New England Patriots’ historic run that’s lasted nearly 20 years, it would seem insane to pick against arguably the best dynasty in the history of professional football.
Alas, that’s what I’m doing in Super Bowl LIII. That’s right, I’m picking the Los Angeles Rams — the latest version of the Rebel Alliance — to finally destroy the Patriots, also known as the Galactic Empire.
Sorry to nerd out on you there, but I really believe that the Rams are a far superior team to the Patriots and have a great opportunity in front of them on Sunday to dethrone the Patriots.
It’s time for everything Boston sports (sans the Red Sox) to just go away, at least for a few months. That includes the joke that is Barstool Sports and David Portnoy, as well as Rob Gronkowski and his annoying charades, and Tom Brady and his “nobody believed in us” jedi mind trick to try and motivate not only himself, but the rest of the 53-man roster in a season in which they were favored in almost every single game.
A real underdog story they are. Spare me.
On the other side, the Rams are simply… fun. Sean McVay is the boy wonder of NFL head coaches, while guys like Aqib Talib, Wade Phillips, Todd Gurley, Marcus Peters, and even CJ Anderson have made Los Angeles an entertaining group to follow down the stretch.
As for me though, I’m pulling hard for the Pittsburgh kid, Aaron Donald. He’s the definition of Pittsburgh and what hard work gets you, and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s gone from an undersized defensive tackle coming out of Pitt, to arguably the best defensive player in the game, and easily one of the best defensive tackles the game has ever seen. Sure, Brady, Julian Edelman, Talib, and Peters — not to mention the cat-and-mouse game between Josh McDaniels and Phillips — will get a lot of the attention on Sunday, but keep your eyes on No. 99 in the trenches. He flat-out takes over football games, point blank and period.
Donald and his fellow defensive tackles in Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers will be the biggest key for the Rams on Sunday. According to Next Gen Stats, an analytics research group with NFL Media, Donald and his fellow defensive tackles generate the highest pressure rate from the interior of the offensive line this season at 16.6 percent. The book on Brady throughout his career is to put pressure on him up the middle, making him uncomfortable in a pocket with nowhere to step up into.
The numbers show that this year as Brady excels against pressure off the edge or the outside (118.7 passer rating), yet struggles against interior pressure (63.1 passer rating). The good thing for the Rams is that Donald has the fastest average time from snap to sack in football (3.60 seconds), and averages nearly 5 pressures per game. No guard or center in the NFL has figured out a way to block Donald one-on-one, so don’t expect that to start on Sunday in the Super Bowl with the Patriots. Yes, the Patriots have a good offensive line and a Hall of Fame offensive line coach in Dante Scarnecchia, but talent will beat scheme more often than not, and when the Patriots have the ball, Donald will be the best player on the field.
Los Angeles also has to take away the middle of the field against the Patriots in the passing game because Brady absolutely carves up defenses within 10-19 yards from the line of scrimmage. That’s where he makes his money at this point in his career, and that’s where Edelman thrives. Nickel Robey-Coleman, he of the infamous uncalled pass interference late in the NFC Championship Game, will have his hands full with Edelman out of the slot.
When the Rams have the football, expect a lot of ground-and-pound from an offense that was flashy throughout the season through the air, but has turned into a dominant ground-oriented offensive with Gurley and Anderson toting the rock behind a strong offensive line.
New England is no slouch on defense though and has a number of key pass rushers of their own to get after Jared Goff. Looking at Next Gen Stats once again, Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn leads the NFL in highest pressure rate at 17.3 percent, while outside linebacker Trey Flowers has similar success to Donald with pressures per game at 4.5.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore has had a terrific season as the No. 1 lockdown corner for the Patriots, and the ageless twin duo of Jason and Devin McCourty will be two of the fastest players on the field on Sunday.
This Super Bowl has a ton of story lines to watch within the game, but it’s time for something fresh and new. That’s the Rams through and through. It’s great what the Patriots have done since the turn of the century, but enough is enough.
Rams 26, Patriots 21.
Josh Carney is the sports editor of the Post Independent. He desperates wishes the Rams will come through on his prediction, simply to keep the Patriots from tying his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers with 6 Super Bowl wins in the Super Bowl era. Josh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JCarney_Sports.