A lot has changed since the last time the LA Rams and New England Patriots. In Super Bowl 53, the Patriots defense dominated the 3rd highest scoring offense of 2018 in a 13-3 defensive slugfest to capture the team’s record tying 6th Super Bowl. Unfortunately, for Pats fans a lot has changed due to free agency, COVID-19 and Tom Brady signing in Tampa. At 5-7 through week 13, this season has not met the high expectations set by Pats Nation, the coaching staff and players. That being said, New England needs another great game from their defense and ZERO turnovers on offense to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. A loss in this game would end all hope of a miracle Super Bowl run and playing a 8-4 juggernaut will be this team’s biggest test of 2020.
Let’s jump back in the time machine for a minute to Super Bowl 53 before we talk about the reality of New England’s playoff chances. The Patriots defense held the Rams to 3 points the entire night, along with 62 yards rushing, forcing 9 punts and picking off Jared Goff on the Rams second to last drive. Goff faced constant pressure all night from every level of the defense and four times. I mean the Rams had just 57 total yards and zero points at the half and the score was 3-3 through three quarters. It was the lowest scoring Super Bowl ever. This was arguably Bill Belichick’s finest hour crafting the most dominant defensive performance in my time as a Pats fan. Shoutout to current Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores for calling a great game as well (more on that later).
Every bit of this was needed as the offense only managed 13 points. Brady struggled to move the ball with anyone other than Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman (11 catches for 141 yards) and Gronk (6 catches for 87 yards) and was even picked off on his first pass of the night. Without their defense playing out of their minds, the Patriots would have lost back to back Super Bowls. Shoutout to Sony Michel who rushed 18 times for 94 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown in the 4th quarter on the first red zone snap of the night for either team. And of course we all remember how Stephon Gilmore sealed the victory with his leaping interception with 4:17 left in the game. Regardless of all the statistics or the score, at the end of the day Brady earned his 6th ring and Bill Belichick got his 8th to further solidify their status as GOATs.
Back in the present day, the Patriots are now led by Cam Newton on offense and they will have the nightmare task of having to neutralize Aaron Donald, who is two time defensive player of the year and can defeat any block or pass protection thrown at him. To have any chance at moving the ball down the field, blocking him is priority #1 for New England’s O-Line. His 11 sacks on the season lead the Rams and let’s not forget his teammate OLB Leonard Floyd is right behind him with seven of his own. They headline a defense that is ranked 5th in sacks per pass play and have a jaw dropping success rate of 8.3 percent. You combine that with a secondary with Jalen Ramsey, Troy Hill, John Johnson and Jordan Fuller, that have allowed 198 yards per game and picked off 12 passes, that’s not a fun combination to face. That kind of pressure leads directly to turnovers and that is a huge problem for Cam and company all season. All I keep thinking is how Cam threw two interceptions against the Cardinals or three against the 49ers. News flash, the Rams defense is much tougher and dominant.
I’m not sure who will step up in the receiving corps this week because the passing game has been hot and cold all season. Last week this group wasn’t asked to do much because of the play of the defense and special teams mishaps from the Chargers. I mean 2 catches each from Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers for 31 yards? Yikes! Both players are clearly turning into Cam’s favorite targets in the passing game but it’s gonna be tough sledding against the Rams. Oh and for those who suggest that New England might find success running the ball, let me just say this: the Rams surrender just 93 yards a game and 3.9 yards per carry (both best in the NFL) and are #3 ranked run defense in the league. Aaron Donald will be waiting for any ball carrier the Patriots throw at this defense (among many others).
On defense, replicating that 4 sack and 3 point performance from the Super Bowl will be tough but I expect our defense to keep the game close, assuming our secondary is fully healthy. During last week’s 45-0 blowout of the Chargers, cornerbacks JC Jackson (hip) and Jonathan Jones (neck) did not return and were listed on the Patriots injury report this week. Both were present at practice on Tuesday but I will be watching closely to see if they’re fully recovered from those injuries. The good news for the Patriots is they still have reigning defensive player of the year CB Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty in their back end. Gilmore, McCourty and Jones were a huge part of the defense that completely neutralized the high powered Rams in Super Bowl 53. That group will need to replicate that performance in this game to have any chance at an upset.
The Rams receiving corps is more diverse and dangerous with wide receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds and Van Jefferson all having great seasons. The two receivers you need to pay special attention to are Woods and Kupp, who both have over 70 receptions and 700 yards. Woods leads all pass catchers in touchdowns as well. Kupp’s 2018 season ended early due to a Torn ACL and was badly missed in the super bowl. Woods was also mostly held in check in that game with 5 catches for 70 yards. Keeping those two in check is a must but as the Buccaneers found out a few weeks ago a tall task. One way to counteract that is applying pressure using a suddenly resurgent front seven.
The amount of pressure that both Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert faced that last two weeks has jumped off the screen for me. How about 5 sacks and 4 interceptions by this defense during that time frame? Oh yeah and 34 other incompletions as well. Those are types of statistics that will get teams attention and force tons of turnover opportunities. Let’s not forget that goal line stand at the end of the first half to keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard. Those kinds of impact plays will need to continue moving forward.
They also held both the Cardinals and Chargers to 208 total rushing yards and with the running back trio of Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and rookie Cam Akers waiting for them, making the Rams one dimensional will be tough. All three players come in with a minimum of 80 carries and 357 yards, averaging at least 4 yards per carry. This the 4th best running attack in the NFL and they use that part of their offense to set up play action and attack secondaries with big plays downfield. A one dimensional offense is much easier to defend but with all the weapons the Rams have, I don’t know how this defense will hold up without help from other sources.
Special teams may also be called upon to provide a boost for a struggling Patriots offense. Last week’s hero was of course Gunner Olszewski, with three huge punt returns, including a 70 yard punt return TD. Remember Jakeem Grant of the Dolphins returned a punt 88 yards for a score during his team’s week 8 upset win over these Rams. Special teams can win or lose games if teams aren’t careful and play sound assignment football, so that could be one way the Patriots steal this game. Keep an eye on the kicking game for the Rams too, as three LA kickers have missed six of 21 field goals and four of 36 PATs.
Okay now it’s time for me to be real and take off my Patriots fan hat for a second. There’s no real chance of the Patriots winning this game. Facing a defense that specializes in stopping the run game and has arguably the game’s best pass rusher, is too much for a inconsistent New England offense to overcome. The Rams are going to force Newton to beat them with his arm and while normally that wouldn’t be a problem, his receiving corps just isn’t consistent enough to scare anyone. New England’s defense will keep this game close and maybe special teams will contribute a few splash plays, but at the end of the day if you don’t score touchdowns against this team, you won’t win. There’s no Edelman or Gronk as security blankets or for game changing splash plays on this team anymore. Someone else needs to step up and win their matchup because this team will only go as far as their offense can take them.
The game kicks off at 8:20 pm ET tomorrow night on FOX from SoFi stadium. Leave your predictions below or on the CruelFan Facebook page.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com