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FOOTBALL FREAK: Sizing up Super Bowl LIII

Columnist offers his prediction on who will win NFL championship

The big game is finally here.

The Freak has examined both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, and has an extensive breakdown of both teams in Super Bowl LIII.

John Turner.
John Turner.

We’ll start with the Patriots’ offence against the Rams’ defence.

Tom Brady hasn’t been touched in the playoffs as his offensive line has done a fantastic job in the pass game.
Brady also gets rid of the ball so quick once his back foot hits the ground on his three- or five-step drops. The O-line has also been great in the run game, making big holes for running backs Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead. The key for this to continue is to double-team the Rams’ Aaron Donald, especially on passing downs.

The Pats don’t have a deep threat unless Phillip Dorsett or Cordarrelle Patterson are in the game. You know anytime Patterson is on the field that offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels is giving the ball to him on a jet sweep, faking it to him or a pass is heading his way.

The Pats can target corner Marcus Peters, who will bite on the double move and is prone to give up the big play. Gronk may have lost a step, but he isn’t eliminated from the playbook, and he’s still a size mismatch on any man-to-man coverage.


Super Bowl LIII facts

  • Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Atlanta Mercedes-Benz Dome.
  • National anthem: Gladys Knight.
  • Halftime Show: Maroon 5 with Travis Scott and Big Boi.
  • Odds: Patriots 2.5-point favorites.
  • Over/under: 56.5.
  • Referee: John Parry.
  • Super Bowls in Atlanta: 3.
  • Rams’ uniforms: Blue and yellow.
  • Pats’ uniforms: White and blue.
  • Youngest coach in a Super Bowl: Sean McVay, 33.
  • Oldest coach in a Super Bowl: Marv Levy, 68.
  • Youngest quarterback in a Super Bowl: Dan Marino, 23.
  • Oldest quarterback in a Super Bowl: Tom Brady, 41.
  • Most Super Bowl appearances: Patriots, 10.
  • Most Super Bowl Losses: Patriots, 5.
  • Rams (St. Louis) vs. Patriots Super Bowl: 2002, Pats 20-17.

Click here for John Turner's Football Freak column on local experts offering their predictions on Super Bowl LIII:

We all know Julian Edelman is Brady’s go-to guy on third and long, and if the Rams are playing tight man-to-man coverage watch for them to execute their pick/rub routes very efficiently. Brady will check down to James White on any play if his first read isn’t there. He will take advantage of this, especially if linebacker Mark Barron or Cory Littleton are covering him.

This Pats’ team isn’t all about the pass anymore as its running game is so vitally important now. The Rams might be big and strong in the middle of the line, but their linebackers are undersized, so second-level runs might go for long yardage. The Pats’ balance on offence makes them dangerous, and very hard to defend.

The one key thing the Rams cannot do is play zone defence on passing downs against Brady. He tore apart the Colts and Chiefs’ secondaries in the playoffs as they tried to disguise their zones, and how did that work out for them?

Secondly, it’s vital that both Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald get pressure up the middle at Brady’s feet to get him off his spot and limit his accuracy. This game will be won or lost on how much pressure these two, along with Dante Fowler and Mike Brockers, can get on Brady. However, you can’t just pass rush on every down, so this group needs to play with disciplined gap integrity, or the Pats’ run game will explode.

L.A. corners Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Nickell Robey-Coleman are solid, and need to play press coverage on the Pats’ receivers so they don’t get a free release off the line of scrimmage. The Pats will put Edelman in motion to get separation, but the other corner on the side of the motion will need to communicate the switch, or the pick route will be there all day for New England.

Uncharacteristically, the Rams will need to move Talib around the field to cover either Edelman or Gronk, especially on third down.

Defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips has to find a way to generate a pass rush with his front four. If he can’t, advantage Brady and the offence. The Rams don’t have a prayer if Donald and Co. don’t get home with pressure.


A look at both teams’ offences and defences

Patriots’ Offence

  • Overall: 5th.
  • Run: 8th.
  • Pass: 5th.
  • Rams’ Defence
  • Overall: 19th.
  • Run: 14th.
  • Pass: 23rd.

Los Angeles Offence

  • Overall: 2nd.
  • Run: 3rd.
  • Pass: 5th.
  • New England Defence
  • Overall: 21st.
  • Run: 11th.
  • Pass: 22nd.

L.A. offence vs. New England defence

This is the first Los Angeles team in the Super Bowl since 1984, and they come into this game with a very balanced and versatile offensive attack. The Rams can run the ball well with the new two-headed monster in CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley.

Regardless what Gurley or the Rams say, he’s not healthy. He is a top-three back in the NFL, who only had four touches in the NFC Championship game. Gurley needs to have at least 15 touches in this game if the Rams have a chance. He is a dual threat more so than Anderson.

Both Anderson and Gurley need to get ahead of the chains to allow the Rams’ play-action game to be effective.

Quarterback Jared Goff likes to spread the ball around to his receivers with former Pat Brandin Cooks being the deep threat. Robert Woods is more the possession type receiver. Slot receiver Josh Reynolds will need a big game as Cooks and Woods will see most of the special coverages, and Reynolds will be the player with single coverage and no help.

The Pats can’t fall asleep with the Rams’ tight ends. Both Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee combined for over 60 catches this season, and Goff likes targeting them off of play-action.

The Pats will bring pressure on obvious passing downs and probably utilize cover zero, which should give the Rams a chance to make a big play down the field if the veteran offensive line can block it up. Coach McVay loves using 11 personnel (one running back, three wide receivers, one tight end) 91 per cent of the time, along with jet motion 34 per cent of the time. However, he will need to use more 21 and 22 personnel to give the Patriots some different looks.

If you give the Patriots the same offensive looks all game long they will limit your opportunities. In last year’s Super Bowl, the Eagles used a bunch of different formations that weren’t found on film, and they executed these plays.

With McVay an offensive guru, you can be sure he has a bunch of these plays hidden away in his play vault. Finally, McVay will have the ability to call in plays this week as in the NFC Championship game it was just too loud. He will have up until 15 seconds left on the play clock to get the right play to Goff.

Watch for the Rams to rush to the line of scrimmage to allow McVay to observe the Patriots’ defensive formation to make the appropriate play call.

Defensively, the Pats have no real star other than corner Stephon Gilmore as they play so well together in their system and scheme. If you play outside of the system, you will be on the bench, right Malcom Butler?

Coach Belichick knows you need to pressure these young quarterbacks, and give them difficult pre-snap looks where Goff won’t know exactly where the pressure is coming from. Belichick will probably match Gilmore on Cooks, and roll coverage on Woods to take away his two favorite targets.

However, for this plan to work it will need to start up front stopping the run to put the Rams behind the chains. This is when Belichick and defensive co-ordinator Brian Flores will dial up the exotic defences and force Goff into mistakes. New England’s defence has always let teams move the ball between the 20s, but once in the red zone they really lock down and give up field goals instead of touchdowns.

This matchup between the offensive genius versus defensive genius will probably decide the game.

New England special teams

Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson are dangerous returners on punt and kickoff returns.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is a clutch veteran. Ryan Allen is a great directional punter, who will look to pin the Rams deep when he gets an opportunity.

Los Angeles special teams

Kicker Greg Zuerlein proved he can make the kicks in big moments with his game-tying and game-winning field goals in the NFC Championship game.

Punter Johnny Hekker has not only made a name for himself with his big right leg, but also his right arm. This former high school quarterback is very dangerous on fake punts passing the ball.

Remember this name, Jo Jo Natson, who is a very dangerous returner and may break one off in this game.

The Pick

This game will be decided on who can make the in-game adjustments the fastest, execution of the game plan and most of all who wins in the trenches.

For the Rams to have any chance it’s vital to get middle pressure on Brady, and their own O-line needs to give Goff time to throw. In the end, the experience, execution, and coaching of the Patriots will be too much for the Rams to handle and the difference.

New England wins Super Bowl LIII 31-24.

Enjoy the game!

John Turner is a Summerside school teacher and coaches youth football. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to ssidespartansfootball@yahoo.ca.

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