New England Patriots: What to watch for in Super Bowl 53
By Hal Bent
LA RUSHING OFFENSE vs NE RUSH DEFENSE
The Rams, like the Patriots, have built their offense off play-action passing. The presence of a strong running game behind Todd Gurley (and now C.J. Anderson as well) resulted in opposing linebackers jumping up near the line of scrimmage and giving quarterback Jared Goff more space to throw in the middle of the field.
The Rams play with three wide receivers and a tight end for the majority of their offensive snaps, and the wide receivers are understandably expected to carry the passing game. However, the running game looks very similar to the off-tackle running offense that the Patriots have faced many times in their matchups with the Denver Broncos over the years.
Todd Gurley was invisible in the NFC Championship, spending much of the game on the sidelines after struggling to start the game. Despite rushing for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 14 games, Gurley spent most of the second half watching C.J. Anderson carry the load.
A late-season injury to Gurley (who may not have been 100% healthy against the Saints, regardless of what the Rams reported) opened the door for Anderson. In two regular season games, Anderson rushed for 299 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the playoffs, the former Broncos running back added 123 yards against Dallas, and then led the Rams with 44 yards on the ground off of 16 carries.
New England has found success the past few weeks against the run game by bringing back defensive tackle Danny Shelton to rotate in with Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy. The Pats also need their linebackers to shed second-level blocks and get to the running back before he gets moving downfield. Look for more playing time for Elandon Roberts – particularly on early downs- as he comes in to support Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower with the run defense.
The Rams have a solid offensive line. Four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth is still a strong performer at age 37. Rob Havenstein is not a household name, but he’s a solid run-blocker and an adequate pass-blocker at right tackle. Left guard Rodger Saffold has been with the Rams since 2010 and works extremely well with Whitworth. Center John Sullivan was imported in 2017 and has performed admirably, and right guard Austin Blythe is the youngster of the group who found himself elevated to starter this season.
Setting the edge in the running game is vital for New England to keep Gurley and Anderson from moving their stretch runs outside. This puts additional pressure on Deatrich Wise, Trey Flowers, John Simon, and Adrian Clayborn at defensive end. Especially when Gurley is in the backfield, the Patriots’ defensive ends have to steer runs inside to the interior defensive linemen and linebackers.
When the Patriots stop the run, they are hard to beat. New England was 7-0 in the regular season when they held their opponent under 100 yards rushing, and they are now 2-0 in the playoffs in that same scenario. In their five losses (all of them on the road), they have allowed 104, 159, 150, 189, and 158 yards rushing. Taking the stat further, the Patriots are 1-4 allowing 150 or more yards on the ground.
Stopping the run should be the top defensive priority for the Patriots, as it allows the team to give their own offense as many opportunities as possible to score, and to ultimately keep up with the potent Los Angeles offense.