Black Quarterback: Super Bowl LIII Preview and Pick
By Brandon Simmons
The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams are going to meet at Super Bowl LIII, due to a wild sequence of events, that had nothing to do with the referees. Both teams were at the center of incorrect calls at the hands of the officials but their paths that led to victory were just as intriguing. The Patriots led two drives in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship to tie the game and another to win it in overtime. On the game tying drive, there was a roughing the passer penalty called, which was pointed out as just a hit on Patriots QB Tom Brady’s throwing arm. The Rams were the beneficiaries of one of the worst missed calls in playoff history. As the New Orleans Saints were driving into the red zone, the referee missed a pass interference and illegal contact call on Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, committed by Rams cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman. The Saints settled for a field goal, but the Rams were able to tie the game up with 15 seconds left to force overtime. In OT, Rams safety Josh Johnson intercepted Saints QB Drew Brees and Los Angeles used the ensuing drive to kick the game winning field goal. However, these two teams are talented enough to not need the refs for any help. The Patriots are coming into this game on the back of Brady, playing in his 10th Super Bowl. His experience will help an offense that has lit up defenses in this postseason. That is going to be helpful when taking on the Rams, who have an equally explosive offense.
The Rams have been overflowing with offense this season and things have remained the same this postseason, to an extent. In their 2 playoff games, Los Angeles did not appear to have the same jolt as it did during the regular season. While their passing offense seemed to slow down against the Dallas Cowboys in the division round, the Rams still managed to put up 273 yards on the ground, a playoff franchise record. This effort was led by Rams running back Todd Gurley, but they also put newly signed RB C.J. Anderson into the mix, who had a significant number of carries in that game. The following week, Anderson essentially took over Gurley’s spot – getting 16 carries to Gurley’s 4 – but the Rams produced a significantly low rushing total. However, Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff was able to get going in the air for 297 yards and a touchdown, which helped the team stay in the game and push for an overtime win.
The Patriots have been their usual dominating, smart selves this postseason. New England crushed the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in their division round win but orchestrated a brilliant late quarter comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs in their 37-31 overtime victory. In each game, Patriots QB Tom Brady threw for over 300 yards but also had only 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions overall this postseason. Brady throwing for only 2 touchdowns in 2 games, might sound like a concern on paper, but it shows that the Patriots can body anyone, on any phase of the game, this time of year. During the regular season, they were hardly scary on quarterbacks, but in their playoff game against the Chargers, it seemed like their defense could not stop laying out LA QB Philip Rivers. In the game against the Chiefs, they were able to get quarterback Patrick Mahomes sacked 4 times. Despite what happens in the regular season, this is New England’s real time to shine.
The Rams offense is going to be a problem because of their ability to adapt. As mentioned earlier, they could not get things moving in the air, they took to the ground. On top of that, they used Anderson for a majority of those carries early on, despite the team having an MVP candidate in Gurley. It still resulted in the 273 yards being ran on one of the best run defenses in the league. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been known for his scheme approach, in which he takes away the best thing you’re good at; something that seems like a simple concept, but he has been praised for his flawless execution of it. However, that can be a problem to do when you have offensive weapons at every corner. Sure, Goff threw for 168 yards in the divisional round, but he bounced back the next week with 297 yards. This effort was helped by Rams receiver Brandin Cooks, who put up 7 catches for 107 yards, a week after only having 4 catches for 65 yards.
It seems effortless to say the Patriots could take this game with their experience alone, but they just make everything seem so effortless. People constantly avoid giving Patriots receiver Julian Edelman any real credit, but he has shown up for this team this big time, catching the ball in open spots and turning medium gains into something bigger. Even though it has not resulted in any touchdowns for him this postseason, those catches have helped set up rushing touchdowns and other scores in the red zone. Just like the Rams, the Patriots have a few options on offense that can keep them afloat. New England’s biggest addition to their production is rookie running back Sony Michel. In both postseason games, Michel has rushed for over 100 yards in each matchup and ran for 5 touchdowns in these playoffs.
Both offenses have their strengths, but the Rams will have the advantage of speed on their side. Edelman is the Patriots best receiver, despite him not really going deep too often. However, the Rams have Cooks, who has been a 1,000-yard receiver for 3 different teams, including the Patriots last season. Los Angeles also has Robert Woods, another 1,000-yard receiver but could add some spice in the Super Bowl to take the heat off Cooks. In these playoffs, New England has gotten away with Brady not being sacked in these playoffs, but that could all change when Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald gets after him with his league-leading 20.5 sacks. In addition to Donald, Ndamukong Suh lines up on the inside with him and linebacker Donte Fowler sits along the edge. This could be a dangerous combination for Brady, especially against a defense 3rd in the league in interceptions. The Rams are a young and exciting team; almost a reincarnation of the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams in the early 2000’s who, ironically, were by the Patriots for their first Super Bowl win at Super Bowl XXXVI. However, this new group just might avenge that loss on Sunday.
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