Columns, Opinions, Sports

Klein ’20: Super Bowl preview

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, February 1, 2019

The Los Angeles Rams will take on the mighty New England Patriots in the Super Bowl this Sunday. This marks the third consecutive Super Bowl appearance for the Pats, who continue to dominate the AFC, maintaining their powerhouse status. The Rams, however, will play in the season’s final game for the first time since the 2001-2002 season, when they were the St. Louis Rams. Considering that Los Angeles barely snuck past the New Orleans Saints thanks to favorable refereeing, it would be easy to project a blowout Patriots victory. But as Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles proved last season, anything can happen in a championship game. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the Super Bowl matchup and see how these two teams stack up against one another.

New England’s offense received criticism during the second half of the regular season, but has dominated throughout the playoffs. The Patriots love to set the tone early with their opening drives, chewing up time with the run game and converting on third downs with quick passes (often to James White). If New England marches down the field for half of the first quarter, the Rams will most likely be doomed. But in the fourth quarter of a close game, Brady will feed Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski in important moments. While Gronk does not have much of his former explosiveness left, he is still as strong as anyone in the league and can muscle his way into receptions. Sony Michel, meanwhile, rushed for five touchdowns and 242 yards in his first two playoff games. The one weakness for New England? The long, vertical passing game. New England does not have a Brandin Cooks or a Randy Moss for deep, momentum-changing receptions. On the off chance that the Pats fall behind early, that could prove troublesome.

The Rams’ defense, on the other hand, hasn’t met expectations. Offseason acquisitions disappointed: Marcus Peters struggled in coverage and Ndamukong Suh disappeared in a lot of games. Someone also should have told Nickell Robey-Coleman not to trash-talk New England’s quarterback — Robey-Coleman said that “age has definitely taken a toll” on Brady. This won’t end well. Of course, Los Angeles does boast the best defensive player in the NFL with Aaron Donald. If Donald and Suh can pressure Brady and hinder the running game, neutralizing New England’s strong offensive line, then New England will have trouble putting enough points on the board. But the Pats dominated against Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa in the Divisional Round. It’s hard to say that anything different will happen on Sunday. The advantage between the New England offense and Los Angeles defense goes to the Pats.

The Rams’ offense, meanwhile, performed admirably this year, though some questions do remain. Is Todd Gurley healthy? The superstar barely touched the ball against the Saints and his left knee might be limiting his performance. Hopefully, his no-show was just a case of playoff jitters, as he dropped a couple of easy catches two weeks ago. The Rams need a dangerous Gurley to compete with New England. C.J. Anderson is a useful third down back in short yardage situations, but shouldn’t be relied on for every snap. We know that the receiving game will show up though. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods have been consistently terrific, and Cooks should be hungry in a revenge game against his former team. But which version of Jared Goff will we see on Sunday? The first-half MVP candidate, or the Goff who looked terrible against the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in December? He must be more careful with the football.

You have to expect that Bill Belichick will create a strong gameplan against that offense. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore could be at the center of it — Gilmore has successfully guarded a variety of different offensive threats over the year and will be a tough obstacle for Jared Goff to overcome. Watch out for linebacker Kyle Van Noy as well. Van Noy was all over Kansas City’s offense and pressured Patrick Mahomes time and time again. Goff can sometimes lose his composure when in trouble, so the Patriots can rack up turnovers if the Rams’ offensive line can’t hold them back. This is a big moment for defensive end Trey Flowers, who could dominate if he plays his best football. Overall, the Rams’ offense has a slight advantage against the Pats’ defense, but if Goff fumbles and throws interceptions, that could quickly change.

Both New England and Los Angeles feature dangerous special teams. For the Patriots, Cordarrelle Patterson is a threat to break off a long return at any moment. The Rams, meanwhile, can change games with their trick plays as punter Johnny Hekker has a strong arm and can throw for first downs. The two teams are even here.

In the end, the Patriots look like the stronger team on paper. But that was also true last year — I expect the game to be reasonably close.

Prediction: Pats win 31-24.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.