There are a million things to focus on in the Rams-Patriots matchup, and if you want to read all about them, there are plenty of places to do it. But for me, this game will come down to the Patriots offense against the Wade Philips defense.
Here are a few things you can look for early on, to see if the Patriots will get off to a good start.
Play Make Believe
There is reason to be concerned about the Rams’ rush, both from up the middle with Donald and Suh, and from all over, with Wade Phillips’ tendency to bring pressure.
NE’s best weapon to battle this is the play action pass. First of all, they do it well (3rd in Play Action attempts, and in PA QB Rating), and secondly, the Rams struggle with it- allowing a league-worst 131 QB rating vs fake handoff passes.
I’m a firm believer that the Patriots typically use the pass to set up the run, so it seems like today they’ll need to use the run to set up the pass to set up the run.
I’ll Show you Mine
This is nothing new, but the Patriots can use their versatility to create matchup problems- or at least give matchup indicators- pre-snap. A big key to this could be the guy I wrote about the other day, James Develin.
McDaniels and Belichick will use Develin in 21 or even 22 (two backs) packages to get an early tell from the Rams. First off, will they run a base defense? Secondly, by splitting out Gronkowski, or one of the backs, you can almost instantly tell what type of coverage the Rams are in. For example, if Talib stays out wide even if it’s Develin or White, you know right off the bat you’re dealing with a zone.
If the Rams do stay in base personnel, look for James White to have (another) big Super Bowl.
Again, this isn’t brain surgery, any team can do this, but where the Patriots have an advantage is, they are basically comfortable running anything out of the 2 back packages.
A key within that key though is, I think they need to show a willingness to throw with Sony Michel in the game. He needs to be on the field, as he clearly an effective runner. But the tendency to run when Michel is in the game is like 90%*. I know there are concerns about timing- Michel missed camp to injury and the QB skipped OTA’s, when these types of things develop- but I have to think these guys can manage throwing the ball effectively with Michel on the field. In a game where one play can turn the tables, I’d be looking to give the Rams something unexpected.
*without research, I’m comfortable saying this is at least 85% accurate
Expose the Cover 3
The Rams have been running a lot of Zone lately, and when they zone, they typically go cover 3.
Any zone has weaknesses, and any football coach knows what they are, but in my mind, the Patriots are particularly well-equipped to attack the 1-high zone.
They have any number of ways to attack the flat area, putting pressure on the wide defenders- likely LB-S Hybrid type guys. I’m especially thinking of James White on some arrow or quick flare routes. Eventually, this will soften up coverage for a big play down the seams- a cornerstone of any Cover 3 attack- which the Patriots like to do with Edelman or Gronkowski.
There you have it, some key things to look out for tonight. Also, check out @HiTopAthletics for some live-tweeting… we’ll have the account fully staffed this evening.