Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Super Bowl LIII Audibles

compiled by Vincent Verhei

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Aaron Schatz: Hello from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, or as nobody calls it, "The Merc." This place might be 10-to-1 Patriots fans tonight. When the Patriots came out of the tunnel in pregame there was a distinct, loud cheer. When the Rams came out, there was a very loud booing. In fact, any time they show Rams on the big scoreboards, there are boos. It's basically a Patriots home game here.

Rivers McCown: Does anybody have a strong Rams lean? My homework on this game essentially led to me thinking the Patriots would need to get outcoached, and my confirmation bias eyes haven't seen a lot of pieces that seem to outright favor the Rams.

Bryan Knowles: I think a Rams win would have to come on the backs of a dominant game by the interior pass rush -- Donald and Suh and company. Blow everything open, get Brady pressured and stop Sony Michel from running over everybody. Couple with some new wrinkles on offense -- and while I've begun to have my doubts about Sean McVay's in-game decisions, his play design ability may well be unmatched -- and I could definitely see a Rams victory here.

I'm picking the Pats, though, at least in part because I had Pats over Rams back in our preseason predictions. Never mind that by midseason I was convinced we'd get Saints-Chiefs.

In an unrelated note, thank goodness the Rams are allowed to wear their throwbacks for this one, rather than the mismatched "normal" monstrosity they've tried so hard to hide this year. It makes them, technically, the second team ever to play in the Super Bowl in throwbacks, after the 1994 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX.

This one, uh, hopefully will be a little more competitive than that one.

Tom Gower: Yeah, maybe if Suh and Brockers and Fowler and Ebukam and whoever join Donald in an overwhelming performance, and if McVay schemes up enough man- and zone-beaters that the Patriots aren't prepared for, this can be a good game. Or maybe Brady and company just throw up a stinker and play badly. I mean, Clemson ended up blowing out Alabama, so it's not impossible. Right?

Aaron Schatz: I think a big thing is Goff reversing the decline of the last seven games. And he's reversed it a bit in the two playoff wins. They need to keep him clean, and he needs to play well. But he had strong numbers this year against the Patriots' favored man coverage, especially in that first half before he declined.

Vincent Verhei: I think the Patriots will win, but it's close. With the crowd, will this really be a "home" game for New England? If not, that's a huge difference. Aqib Talib makes this a better Rams defense than what we saw for most of the year. And the biggest edge New England has is their rush offense vs. L.A.'s run defense, but even with that, they'll need to string a lot of good plays and third-down conversions together, then execute in the red zone to score. Of course, that's exactly what they have been doing in the playoffs for years.

I also may be reading too much into my own research here, but I think the first quarter is critical. The Rams' best bet is to play from ahead. This is going to be a big, big first quarter.

Rams win the toss, but elect to defer. Clearly, they're not as concerned with a first-quarter lead as I am.

Andrew Potter: Horrible decision by Brady on that interception. Poorly thrown too, which didn't help, but the decision was worse than the throw.

Bryan Knowles: Defense in 2018 hasn't really been about reducing yardage; it has been about making big splash plays to provide sudden flips. The Patriots were moving the ball well, but Brady makes an ill-advised throw, the ball's tipped, and the Rams come down with it. That's not what we're used to seeing from Brady, especially not in critical moments like this.

Vincent Verhei: On Brady's interception: the ball came out of his hand funny. As Tony Romo pointed out, Brady realized mid-throw he was making a mistake, which affected the delivery and only made it worse.

Aaron Schatz: Pats force three-and-out after the interception. Best play was on second down. Josh Reynolds was the intended receiver on a play-action pass and the Pats just SLAMMED him within a yard of the LOS. Goff had to run out of bounds, throwing the ball away as he did.

I'm surprised but early it looks like Stephon Gilmore is on Brandin Cooks, not Robert Woods as I expected.

Vincent Verhei: Video of Josh Reynolds getting wiped out:

Huge call goes against the Rams there. On second-and-long, Nickell Robey-Coleman tackles Rex Burkhead behind the line -- but he gets called for a helmet-to-helmet to hit, so it's first-and-10 instead of third-and-20ish. (Refs called the wrong number, but I'm pretty sure that's what they were calling.)

Bryan Knowles: OK, that personal foul on Dante Fowler for a hit on a defenseless player?

Wasn't on Fowler. Wasn't on a defenseless player. Terrible call.

Vincent Verhei: What a weird drive. After that penalty, the Patriots blow a couple of timeouts, then run a give-up draw on third-and-8 to play for the long field goal, and then Stephen Gostkowski pulls it left. Neither team playing well so far.

Aaron Schatz: Pats have now burned two of their timeouts and they burned the second one so they could ... call a draw on third down? For 3 yards? Then Gostkowski goes wide left on a 46-yard field goal try. Still scoreless.

Carl Yedor: New England has been hurting the Rams with short passes and runs, and they tried to work in a jet sweep on their first drive as well. That could be a function of trying to take Donald and Suh out of the game.

An uncharacteristic Gostkowski miss keeps this one scoreless.

Andrew Potter: What is it with the Patriots and terrible Super Bowl first quarters? Another bizarre sequence of bad decision-making and poor play means the Patriots have been in solid field-goal range twice and have nil points. They've totally dominated the game otherwise.

Bryan Knowles: Frankly, I would have just lined up and gone for it on that fourth-and-3, rather than doing a little dance to draw the Pats offsides. Conservative play calling, which McVay has fallen afoul of in recent weeks. I'm not sure you can afford to let situations like that go by the wayside.

Vincent Verhei: First quarter ends with no score, which I'm pretty sure the Rams would have taken going in. However, the Patriots have already run 22 plays; the Rams have only run nine. There have been a looooooot of big New England playoff wins that were keyed by that kind of ball control.

Bryan Knowles: A scoreless first quarter, just like Pats-Falcons. And Pats-Seahawks. And Pats-Eagles. And Pats-Panthers. In fact, we haven't had a Super Bowl with a scoreless first quarter that DIDN'T involve New England since Super Bowl XXVI. The Pats really ARE bad at first quarters.

Andrew Potter: Brady's first sack of the postseason is all on him. He had forever to do something with the ball. He held, and held, and shuffled, and then tried to tuck and still managed to fumble. This is as poorly as I've seen him play in any quarter this season.

The problem for the Rams at this point is that they haven't done anything at all to take advantage of New England's poor start.

Carl Yedor: This shouldn't come as much of a surprise but Aaron Donald has been a major nuisance in the backfield thus far. He has been penetrating like crazy and forced the throwaway on that third down.

That said, relying on explosive plays from your defense is tough when your offense isn't really doing anything, and New England quickly forces a three-and-out to get the ball back.

Vincent Verhei: Three drives, three punts for the Rams. Only one first down. They've spent so little time on the field it's hard to tell if Goff looks jumpier than usual or if New England is making plays. But it's not good either way.

Derrik Klassen: A little surprised New England hasn't really tried to attack deep yet. I get Tom Brady doesn't have the juice he used to, but this Los Angeles defense is generally susceptible to play-action and big plays. Want to see the Pats open it up and get the scoring going.

Bryan Knowles: I've been really disappointed in the Rams' offense so far. With two weeks to prepare, I would have thought Sean McVay would have installed SOMETHING new, to counter just how good the Patriots have been at recognizing things off tape. So far ... nothing. Maybe they haven't been in the greatest situations, but there have been a lot of give-up runs and things on third downs. Not impressed with him at all so far.

Still early.

Derrik Klassen: New England's offense also has to up the ante on third down. They seem all too comfortable punting/kicking field goals vs. a team that, in theory, could rip off a couple of touchdowns in an instant.

Tom Gower: 3-0 Patriots with 10:29 to go in the second quarter. New England has been inside the Rams 30 three times and just got on the scoreboard. They have been conservative on third-and-long, between that earlier draw play out of a timeout and Brady throwing to Gronk at the line of scrimmage on that one. What happened downfield? How'd they take away Edelman? Maybe Tony Romo will tell us after the commercial.

Los Angeles tried to get the outside zone run game and complementary boot action going the first two drives, but the Patriots by alignment are taking away the double-teams and setting a hard edge, making it difficult for Goff to set up easily in the boot pass game. They brought in C.J. Anderson to run inside on the third possession, and didn't find any running room. I thought for the Rams to win they/Sean McVay would have to win a lot on normal downs, and that hasn't come close to happening so far.

Aaron Schatz: Is Todd Gurley still alive?

Bryan Knowles: I think Malcolm Butler is shadowing Gurley.

Vincent Verhei: Another third-and-long, another failed completion for Brady. He's doing a great Derek Carr impression today.

Jared, Jared, Jared. Two Gurley runs set up a third-and-short, and the Rams go for play-action and the kill-shot. Goff has all kinds of time ... but freezes, panics, and takes a horrible sack despite plenty of time to throw it away. That takes away the fourth-and-2, which I think the Rams would have gone for, and leads to yet another punt.

Bryan Knowles: Terrible sack taken by Goff there -- fourth-and-2 on the New England 47 could have been four-down territory. You can't take a 14-yard sack there!

Carl Yedor: Bad sack Goff took there. I get that he's trying to make a play, but your distance to go is so short that you can go for it on fourth-and-2. You haven't gotten much of anything going all day, and you need your high-powered offense to step up eventually.

Aaron Schatz: Pats go for it on fourth-and-1, and fail. They go empty spread shotgun. I just don't understand not having a run threat; fourth-and-1 seems like the perfect time to go 21 personnel, even if you want to pass it. Trick them into thinking run, and then pass. Or run!

Carl Yedor: Not to mention Brady is absolute money on QB sneaks. Didn't see how the Rams had their defensive linemen positioned but he's basically automatic.

Vincent Verhei: What a bizarre game. I'm now confident that the Patriots defense is doing nothing special, Goff is just crapping the bed. And yet, thanks to the missed kick and the failed fourth-and-1 play, they're only down 3-0, and getting the ball to start the second half.

Total plays: New England 40, Los Angeles 22. One way or another, the Rams need a long drive coming out of halftime. I'd almost take a 10-play field goal drive over a touchdown on a kickoff return here. New England has won too many playoff games by beating worn-down defenses in the fourth quarter.

Bryan Knowles: The Rams' previous low for first downs in a first half was six, in their loss to the Bears. This lack of production is just amazing.

Full credit to the Patriots defense. It looks like they've been running less man-to-man, more zone and more quarters coverage to shut down the Rams' offense, and it's really, really working. I'd say that's not like the Pats -- they're a man-to-man defense first and foremost -- but really, the Pats' philosophy is "we'll do whatever you're least comfortable with," so this makes total sense. Jonathan Jones playing safety -- I think that's a first for this season -- helps them have extra coverage back there, too. It's just a complete and total shutdown of the Rams offense.

And yet, they're only down 3-0, and get the ball to start the second half. The play of the game so far is probably the Patriots failing on that fourth-and-1 at the end of the half; yes, the Rams were unable to respond, but a 3-0 lead is nothing. If the Rams can figure something, anything out, this is still for the taking. They've got to figure SOMETHING out.

This has not, uh, been an exciting first half.

Rivers McCown: Feels like the Rams have utterly shut down every non-Edelman player and they're still going to lose because they can't score.

I figured if the Rams couldn't run it would be a major issue for their offense. But I also thought that they'd get blown out if that happened. And so far...

Tom Gower: Commercial ranking:

Vincent Verhei: Agree 100 percent.

Andrew Potter: Halftime show ranking:

  • Every other halftime show.
  • (Huge gap.)
  • Maroon 5.

Bryan Knowles: Sit through Elvis Presto and THEN tell me that, Andrew.

Maroon 5 is the Jason Garrett of rock, though.

Dave Bernreuther: I have no signal and no battery but just wanted to chime in to point out that not only has Jared Goff taken terrible sacks and thrown passes into the ground on makeable third downs, but he also missed on that one deep shot -- to Reynolds, I believe -- where a throw deep and outside would have led him to space. And now his opening pass of the third quarter should have been picked. His stat line is abysmal -- 5-of-13 now I believe -- but it is still better than he has played.

Bryan Knowles: Alright, so Gurley starts the second half with a couple of strong runs. What on Earth have the Rams been doing with him this postseason?

Aaron Schatz: Looks like Patrick Chung broke his arm on the tackle of the second Gurley run.

Bryan Knowles: In a year of offensive records, we've set another one -- the Rams are the first team in Super Bowl history to punt on their first seven possessions.

Vincent Verhei: And now it's eight -- but the eighth one goes for a Super Bowl-record 65 yards. Hekker is having a monster day -- eight punts, 47.3-yard average, five inside the 20, no touchbacks, only allowed 2 yards on returns.

Dave Bernreuther: So Patrick Chung goes out and Harmon comes in ... and on third down, Goff goes after ... Stephon Gilmore, naturally.

Right now Hekker is their best weapon. Which isn't even meant as a sideswipe after that near-70 yard punt. Damn.

Bryan Knowles: I am now rooting for a 7-3 Rams victory, with the only score being a Johnny Hekker touchdown pass. Hekker for MVP.

Andrew Potter: It's incredible that the Rams have played this poorly and are only trailing 3-0. It would be a relief if they were only trailing 9-0. 3-0 is absurd.

Dave Bernreuther: Cheers to that, Bryan.

The only player in this game besides Hekker to do much of anything is Edelman, who you'd think that at some point the Rams might decide to cover or hit within 5 yards. But no, Donald makes his way into the backfield again, and an under-duress Brady still sees Edelman in the middle of the field, sitting between defenders a solid 5 yards away.

Vincent Verhei: Well there's the best Rams drive of the night: Goff stands in the pocket and makes a laser-beam throw for a big third-down conversion, but the Rams are caught so off guard by this success that they have to call timeout. Then Brandin Cooks is wide open in the end zone but Goff's throw is an hour late and Jason McCourty is able to break it up. Then Goff takes another giant sack on third down, but Greg Zuerlein bails him out by hitting the 53-yard field goal, and we're tied at 3-3.

Bryan Knowles: Oh my, what a defensive play by McCourty. Brandin Cooks was standing all alone, wide open in the end zone -- whoever replaced Patrick Chung just got lost there. McCourty runs halfway across the field to break up the play at the last moment. And then a huge sack makes things a tricky, 50-plus-yard field goal (stop taking sacks, Jared!).

We have a tie game!

Aaron Schatz: We finally had a big-time throw by Goff, too, the 18-yarder to Woods on third-and-6 on the play before the play where Cooks was wide open.

Dave Bernreuther: The throw to Cooks was late, which let McCourty get there. But that sack was not on Goff, for once.

I thought it'd be a longer attempt than it was, not that it mattered for Greg the Leg. The Rams are on the board!

I fully expect this to start to open up, but wouldn't it be something if the indoor Super Bowl between two efficient and clever offenses in the year of offense ended up being among the lowest scoring Super Bowls in history.

(For the record, I'm not rooting for that. But it would be something.)

Aaron Schatz: How Cooks got so wide open -- looks like quarters coverage and Devin McCourty jumped ahead to get Robert Woods and nobody went with Cooks until Jason McCourty noticed he was wide open.

Rivers McCown: Austin Blythe has been a turnstile.

Aaron Schatz: Neither team has run a play in the red zone through three quarters.

Vincent Verhei: Still 3-3 at the end of the third, though the Patriots are starting to string some runs together.

Some stats through 45 minutes:

Julian Edelman: nine catches, 128 yards.
L.A. Rams: nine catches, 95 yards.

New England: 53 plays
Los Angeles: 39 plays

Aaron Schatz: Sean McVay just called a run on third-and-22. Egads.

Tom Gower: Eh, third-and-22 is a "we're not converting" situation and, though Goff has been better lately, I don't blame him for giving up.

Aaron Schatz: Third-and-22 is the perfect time to call "throw it deep and hope we get a DPI flag."

Bryan Knowles: It's the Super Bowl! Maybe you get a DPI, or maybe someone falls down. You've got to at least give it a shot.

Aaron Schatz: ACTUAL TOUCHDOWN!

Patriots get Gronk against a linebacker and he physically muscles a 29-yard grab away from Littleton. Then Michel in from 2 yards away and this game is 10-3.

Dave Bernreuther: Yeah, even at this offensive pace, it's the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. You have to try.

Speaking of which, the Pats just put the pedal to the metal and scored as easily as I expected them to all game. What changed? Where the hell was the for the last two hours?

Tom Gower: Both completions to Gronk that drive featured excellent placement by Brady. I'm probably forgetting a throw or two, but I don't remember thinking that tonight.

Bryan Knowles: Naturally, Gronk comes up with huge plays on the first touchdown drive ... a 69-yard scoring drive.

It was written in the stars.

Carl Yedor: Some raucous cheers went off at the party I'm at for the game. Not because there are a bunch of Patriots fans, but at least two people had Sony Michel scoring the first touchdown on a prop bet. Quick summary of how this game has gone right there.

Vincent Verhei: Goff makes his best pass all night for what should be a game-tying touchdown, but the Patriots knock the ball out of Cooks' hands at the goal line and it's incomplete. Next play, Goff reverts to rookie form, lofts up a rainbow for an easy Stephon Gilmore interception. Still four-plus minutes to go so the Pats can't just run three times and punt, but a couple of first downs here could wrap things up.

Aaron Schatz: Goff gets a really good drive going with a third-and-9 conversion to Reynolds and then a 17-yarder to Robert Woods. Then he goes to Brandin Cooks twice. First, Cooks has the ball in the end zone but gets it knocked out by Duron Harmon. And then the Patriots pressure Goff with a Cover-0 and he throws a rainbow to Cooks. Too short, Gilmore camps under it for the pick. Pats get the ball back with 4:17 left.

Bryan Knowles: Wow, the Rams have their most impressive drive of the game, pick up yards in chunks, and move the ball down the field quickly. Then, the Patriots bring a ton of pressure, and Goff just throws it up for grabs. INT, Gilmore.

Game's not over yet, but you can see "over" from here.

Bryan Knowles: Rex Burkhead just ran the ball into scoring range, and that should be just about that. The Rams are now out of timeouts, and any score ends this one here. What a disappointing performance from Los Angeles.

Aaron Schatz: The Rams' run defense reverted to form at the worst possible time.

Rivers McCown: This is gonna be a game where a lot of people dump on Jared Goff. While he definitely missed some throws, I think we are losing just how conservatively McVay coached today. He didn't really give much of a new look to Belichick until halftime. They have barely threatened downfield at all outside of Goff's late throw to the wide-open Cooks.

Doug Pederson crushed those fourth-down decisions last year and attacked and adjusted on the Pats tendencies. McVay wilted.

Bryan Knowles: Well. Fourth-and-inches. First down wins the game. Field goal PROBABLY wins the game. Getting stuffed might not win the game.

What do you do?

Vincent Verhei: That seemed like a very obvious decision to kick for me, and I hate settling for long field goals. But 41 yards isn't THAT long.

Aaron Schatz: We'll see what the EdjSports numbers say but I'm going to guess that kicking the field goal was the right decision.

And here's the crazy thing. Unless the Rams score on this drive, this will be the biggest Patriots Super Bowl win. They've never won by seven points, let alone ten.

Tom Gower: 41-yard field goal is, what, 85 percent? Even if you miss it, Goff has to go 68 yards in 76 seconds with no timeouts. 10-point lead is basically unbeatable. I'd kick it.

Vincent Verhei: Rams missing a makeable field goal is the perfect way to end this game. Just an utter collapse on their part. Only four offenses failed to score in double digits against New England this year: Sam Darnold's Jets, Derek Anderson's Bills, a Dolphins team led by Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler, and Jared Goff's Rams. Goff officially finishes 19-of-38. He's just the third quarterback this year who didn't complete more than half his passes against New England -- the others were Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen. They picked the worst possible time to play their worst possible game.

Bryan Knowles: The Patriots win. Six titles. Congratulations, yet again, to the title-starved Boston fanbase.

I don't even know what to say at this point. Pretty much any storyline involving the Patriots has been used at this point. It has just been an incredible period of dominance for them; even when they haven't been the best team in the league, they've found ways to win time after time after time.

It's not thrilling, and this is going to go down in the bottom quartile of Super Bowls from an excitement standpoint, but it's just utter and complete dominance year after year. The monsters at the end of the book.

I presume Edelman is about to be named MVP, right?

Tom Gower: Lame game. Least interesting since, oh, maybe Ravens-Giants, though granted it was much more competitive than Seahawks-Broncos or a number of others. As Vince noted, it took the Rams way too long to adjust to Belichick's defensive look. They finally went to more 12 personnel to out-leverage the 5-up defensive look in the second half and started to move the ball a little bit because of it. But ultimately, they didn't do nearly enough, and just how much they relied on their base look and lacked changeups when teams took that away was revealed in this game. Kudos to Bill Belichick and Brian Flores for their work.

I didn't have nearly as good a feel for what and how the Patriots offense was doing against the Rams defense, but Wade Phillips and company did enough to win a game had their offense done its job. Yeah, they had problems covering Edelman. But you'll win a lot of games giving up 13 points in 11 non-kneeldown possessions.

Dave Bernreuther: I'll agree with the above comment about McVay really coming up lame. Goff was certainly terrible. Bad enough, in fact, that I'll still say that a good quarterback game would've been enough to win, all else being equal ... but damn. At least we know Goff isn't that good. He didn't really let us down. McVay, though? Even accounting for the plays that may have been great design but players just got whupped ... he just didn't have any answers.

Congrats to the Patriots, though. I kind of hate saying that, and I'm as sick as anyone of the Tom Brady narrative and the extra luck they often seem to get, but there's a reason they succeed even when they're not dominating or catching every break. They're the best organization, top to bottom, always prepared for everything, always have someone step up even if their stars have an off day, and say what you will about their fans or the media, they're really impressive and worthy of admiration, not jealousy. Do they benefit from a weak joke of a division? And lately, even the conference? Yes. Do they get lucky sometimes? Yes. But they're smarter than everyone else, cover their bases better, and can never, ever be counted out. Even after being blown out by the Lions. (Speaking of which ... damn what a difference in run defense tonight vs that game!) That's six titles in a career. In a salary-capped league full of teams with arguably more talent. That's amazing.

Anyway ... 13-3. Lowest scoring Super Bowl in history. Fitting end to the year of the offense. And just what we all saw coming, right?

Aaron Schatz: It turns out that the fourth-down decision for the Pats at the end of the game barely mattered. EdjSports had the difference in Game-Winning Chance as 0.2 percent, although they have going for it as the better option than the field goal. But it's basically a rounding error. The Pats were far enough ahead at that point, and the chance of the Rams coming back to score a touchdown so small, that the difference between a 7-point lead and a 10-point lead was negligible.

That's from the analyst in me. The Patriots fan in me needs to process things a little bit before I sum up my feelings about another championship.

Some more thoughts.

It's hard to know how much of the defensive game plan belonged to Bill Belichick and how much to Brian Flores, but Dolphins fans have to be feeling pretty good about their new head coach after this one. The Patriots' game plan was phenomenal. They essentially used a five-man front all game, with Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower blitzing the quarterback often along with three defensive linemen. They used a lot of stunts and games to get free pass-rushers. On the back end, they switched to playing a lot of quarters coverage instead of the man coverage that Goff did so well against during the regular season. So they're giving Goff a ton of pressure, and then when he tries to throw the ball, he doesn't see what he was expecting. But even still, he had a couple of throws that were awful. He should have seen Cooks open in the end zone much sooner, which wouldn't have given Jason McCourty time to break that pass up. And the throw to Cooks that ended up an interception just didn't have enough arm strength.

I'm also not going to claim responsibility for this insight, but I've seen a couple of people mention on Twitter that the way to counter the Patriots' pass rush should have been to go to more 12 personnel. That's what the Rams did near the end of the game when they were finally moving the ball. That being said, there were a couple of big connections to Josh Reynolds, and if they're in 12 personnel, there's no Reynolds on the field, so you gain protection but lose an important weapon. Anyway, I think what we had was a combination of a great defensive game plan and performance with offensive conservatism and some bad quarterback play.

On the other side, you've got to give it to Wade Phillips too -- keeping the Patriots to 13 points is impressive. The Patriots ran against a lot of stacked boxes, but they were still succeeding with those runs, so I was a bit surprised how much the Patriots went to the spread in the second quarter. They also didn't do what I recommended in the preview, which was passes out of the 21 personnel set.

I'll fully admit that I didn't think the Patriots were going to do this again. By DVOA, this was the weakest Brady/Belichick team since 2005. And yet here we are again. They pulled it off. Once they beat Kansas City, well, they really weren't that far below the other teams, especially in weighted DVOA. And as I talked about on a lot of radio interviews over the last couple of weeks, the Patriots just seem to treat September differently than other teams.

I've written something about how great it feels to be a Patriots fan after every Patriots Super Bowl win, going back to 2003 in the first year of Football Outsiders. I don't know, this one feels a little different. Back in 2003 and 2004, it was so exciting just to have the team I rooted for enjoying so much success. In 2014, they hadn't won in a decade, and you had the frustration over Deflategate, and then the insane ending. In 2016, you had yet more frustration over Deflategate and the greatest comeback ever. Those wins felt so good. Tonight, they won a surprising defensive battle that just wasn't that exciting a game. And the feeling is more just quiet satisfaction. Hey, we won another title. Maybe it's because I honestly wasn't anywhere near as scared about them losing tonight, even when it was 3-3. It didn't feel like Seattle or Philadelphia or Atlanta or the Giants, because it just felt like Goff didn't have it tonight. The Rams weren't going to win.

Robert Weintraub: Let's just say I'd feel better about Flores coming in than I do about Zac Taylor for my Bengals right about now...

Comments

233 comments, Last at 13 Feb 2019, 12:08pm

211 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Fwiw I suspect Mr. Gordon struggles with something a wee bit stronger than a weed addiction, which is likely the symptom of bipolar disorder or similar. That crazy 14 game stretch of pure dominance could have been the hypomanic phase before the wheels came off... it's just not that hard to get away with smoking weed and it would explain a lot of what came later

89 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

What changed in the secondary from last year? From a personnel standpoint, they brought in Jason McCourty and JC Jackson, and Jonathan Jones returned from injury. Butler was allowed to leave without any complatin, Eric Rowe went down to injury, and Bademosi left, too. Both McCourty brothers are showing signs of age, but JMac plays with intelligence and was a hero on the play when he realized just how open Brandin Cooks was in the end zone and that he really needed to stop whatever else he was doing and get over there.

The O-line might well be the best in the Brady era. Trent Brown is probably going to get a big payday somewhere, and Cannon is getting older, but I think they'll hold together as long as Scar is around.

The RB corps is strong, but the WR corps remains weak.

17 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Had to handle some family business so was travelling during the game, and several family members were telling me they felt bad about me having to miss the game. Following via Twitter and catching moments in airports did not seem like I missed anything scintillating.

Kind of amazing that the Packers defensive game plan was what was replicated to some degree. GB showed how Goff struggles with pressure. And I keep reading/hearing about the impact of Cupp being out. That happened in that GB game. That is forever ago.

Taking a timeout to run a draw play was classic McCarthy at the end. So this game would have caused too many horrible flashbacks if I had watched live. Kind of glad I missed it.

Congrats to NE. Just amazing organization.

21 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I think it was among the least interesting Super Bowls in a long time. Even the Seahawks crushing the Broncos may have been more attention grabbing, because the sheer physical superiority of the Sehawks defense was something to behold.

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For the first time in ten years I decided not to stay up all night to watch the Superbowl because I was unexcited by the matchup. Sounds like I made the right decision.

Ty Montgomery's brainfart aside, the Rams game was the highlight of the Packers' season for me. The difference between the organizations can best be summed up by the argument that the Packers had a better defensive game plan than the Pats did against the 2018 Rams and the 2014 Seahawks, yet 'offense-driven' Green Bay lost both their games while New England won theirs.

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On the plus side, a friend of mine that had the "3-0 halftime" square in his office pool won $500!

Pity the rest of us had to suffer for it. There was a fair amount of good defense, but a lot of crap offense on the part of the Rams. The plays were there for the taking, but Goff was hesitant - exactly what you would expect for a young QB against a BB game plan.

The Rams D played very well, but the "Brady is on the downside" narrative isn't going away because he made some terrible throws. At least there was only one bad call, which was a nice switch.

28 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

He's 40 years old. Of course he's on the downside. Unless he has the most miraculous steroids and performance-enhancing drugs known to man that could beat a drug test, human beings physically decline from their 20s to their 30s to their 40s. It's a part of nature.

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"the 'Brady is on the downside' narrative isn't going away because he made some terrible throws

The "Brady is on the downside" narrative isn't going away because he's 41 and clearly on the downside. The question isn't whether or not he's past his peak, or declining - the question is, at what point does he decline sufficiently to no longer be an above-average NFL quarterback? That day is coming; we do not know when. It wasn't 2018. Will it be 2019? 2020? It's definitely coming, but it's conceivable - not likely, I think, but conceivable - that it's still 3-4 years away.

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I don't know about "clearly on the downside". His stats from 2018 weren't very different from his 2017 stats, and he was pretty close to his historical norms. He had much worse seasons in years past, including 2006 and 2013. He's a bit dependent on having receivers getting open, and the WR corps was very down this year. Gronk was not as productive as in years past, but OTOH his RB production is good. The Pats really need to find another real WR option in the off-season. And if Gronk retires, that's really going to test the offense.

30 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Based solely on comments seems like LA would have benefited from going to some 1974 style offense running on early downs to make playaction legit. Seems as the season wore not just with the Rams but in other matchups where offenses employed heavy playaction teams chose to flat out ignore the fakes and accept a team running the ball more.

But I am bleary eyed so probably am not understanding correctly

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As my handle suggests, I'm primarily a Hamilton fan. So for me, the only wins that truly count are the ones where your defence beats up the opposition and steals the QB's lunch money.

Understanding that I view games from that perspective, it won't be a surprise that I found this one of the best championship games I've ever watched.

I feel bad for Wade Phillips and the Rams' D, who played a stellar game. Vincent nailed it in the audibles above ("First quarter ends with no score, which I'm pretty sure the Rams would have taken going in. However, the Patriots have already run 22 plays; the Rams have only run nine. There have been a looooooot of big New England playoff wins that were keyed by that kind of ball control.") The game was tied going into the fourth quarter, but the Pats had won the first three quarters, regardless of what the scoreboard said. They still needed to close it out, but their success when running it on their final possession after the INT, when the Rams knew the run was coming, was as much a result of how the first half went as it was Scarnecchia's blocking schemes.

On the Pats side, wow. That was a heck of a performance by what DVOA and any other decent metric graded as a so-so defence at best. I think we can park the Sean McVay, Boy Genius narrative for a while. I disagree with the takes that suggest this just shows what he's been able to do with a poor QB. I'd suggest it showed an inability to make timely in game adjustments. With two weeks to prepare, McVay's side had nothing to counter a Pats front seven that had their ears pinned back and just got after it.

Hightower and crew now have Goff's lunch money and another Super Bowl. For me, it was the most deserving of the Pat's SB wins, as this one was all on the defence.

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What adjustment is there for "QB is two seconds late in identifying the right receiver to throw to, when the right receiver is identified at all, and when the oline isn't getting whipped"?

If anything I am more impressed with McVay's schemes. , and while Belichik is due huge accolades, I don't think he consistently gets the right accolades. This is a complex game, but it isn't like trying to master String Theory. There really is nothing new. What Belichik is great at, pethaps the best ever, is roster building with players who do multiple things well, giving him much more flexibility than his opponents, with players that don't make stupid mistakes.

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It's not really provable either way, but I disagree that Belichick's genius is in roster building. (Although he is good at identifying mistakes in that department quickly and fixing them.) I think it's in teaching -- giving every guy a job he can do well and making sure each guy almost always does it right. Unfortunately for everybody else, that ability is the hardest thing to identify in prospective coaches. I'm trying to think of guys that played more effectively for other teams then they did for Belichick's Pats. Adalius Thomas is one for sure. But there aren't many.

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Case in point:

Special Teams subpar. Sign proven ST aces Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber off the street in November. The very first game they played in the each made a huge play on Special Teams, and the units greatly improved between then and now.

Nobody patches holes like Belichick. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of virtually every player in the league and those on the street, and whether or not they'd be an improvement on the status quo.

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Belichick is great at finding UDFAs and veteran journeymen who can come in and fill roles. For example, he got Trent Brown cheap from the 49ers, and the guy played great at LT all season long.

He gets a lot of criticism for his drafts, but I think a lot of that comes without any real comparison to how well other franchises are drafting. It's very easy to look bad at the draft when a prospect busts and some guy taken later turns into Russell Wilson.

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The criticism for BB's drafts is pretty stupid. Because of winning, and the stupid NFL penalties, they've had substantially less base-line draft capital to work with than any other franchise over the last decade. There results are middle of the pack - since 2010 they've drafted 20 high quality starters by my count (including Gronk, Hernadez, Soldier, McCourty, Hightower, Jones, White, & Collins, who have all been genuine stars in the league for a meaningful period of time). Does he whiff some times, of course, but that's the draft; Sure you can fairly argue that some others have been better (e.g. Ozzie Newsome), but that's like criticizing a QB for not having Aaron Rogers arm talent.

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Here's a good NYT article about whether Belichick finds or creates good players. The answer: it's really both. His main skill appears to be communication. He finds a player with a skill, then clearly defines a role for that player, and the player understands their role. Seems simple, but how many NFL coaches can communicate clearly? Not many.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/sports/new-england-patriots-belichick.html

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BB is the last of his breed - he has a system, but he tailors it to what he has. Most coaches whine about not having the personnel, yet NE keeps winning games with Edelman and a bunch of inanimate carbon rods at WR.

I remember the shock of Don Shula going from defense-first to lighting it with Marino. He knew where his talent was.

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This is a great comment. I also think his and his staff's teaching ability has to be a big part of why the Patriots seem to be the only team that can vary their gameplan so much and run totally different schemes week-to-week. There's a lot of coaching that goes in to making specific blocking schemes, coverages, routes, etc. effective, even beyond what players are naturally good or skilled at. It's not just impressive that the Patriots are willing to do something completely different game-to-game, but that they have the ability to pull it off with the same players.

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I agree that it's the Patriots' versatility, which I attribute to Belichick, that has been the key ingredient to their success. And that comes down to preparation. How he does it is such a mystery to me because (a) other teams surely aspire to do it and none are that good at it, and (b) Belichick's assistants have not come close to replicating this quality when they've gone elsewhere. How he keeps 60 players coached and prepared and ready to know their assignment when it can change is really impressive. It often seens to me like the Patriots have had 3-4 weeks of prep for every game.

One quality that I don't hear discussed as much is that the preparation and execution we've all observed and commented on would not be possible without motivation. How the hell does Belichick keep all these guys focused and willing to put in the work week after week, year after year? In the salary cap era, that is really something. Particularly after all the success they've had, you wouldn't be surprised to see some loafing or even just some overconfidence from time to time, but with them it's very rare.

Overall, on the Belichick v. Brady debate about which one is more important, I'm firmly in the Belichick camp and I don't think it's even close. (Happy to be convinced otherwise.) I do think Brady is a great player, of course, but to me, I think Belichick wins a number of titles if Brady had never appeared in New England.

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One thing to note is the benefit Belichick derives from Brady’s work ethic and willingness to be coached hard. When the best, most famous player on the team is so focussed and driven, there is no place to hide for less good, less senior players.

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I would argue Brady's best non passing game contribution is his willingness to take less money. That's asking a lot for a guy who should be the highest paid player in the NFL. It allows the Patriots cap flexibility and serves as a great contract negotiating tool. Even with all of that, the Patriots are notoriously tight fisted with cash even with savings they accrue from Brady.

Note how Dion Lewis scolded them for being cheap. Hard to blame the Patriots, they keep winning and they have never been guilty of overpaying a veteran. But still, if BB wasn't such a voodoo coach, such tight fisted behavior would lead to a sieve in the secondary or offensive line.

It's the latter two that I simply shake my head at. How many teams feel like their offensive line and secondary are perennially a weakness and it takes a damn near stroke of amazing fortune to get one not to be a proverbial neck-weight. And yet, the Patriots competency is somehow maintained. I just don't get it at all.

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Patriots are 21st in total cash spent in 2019 according to Over The Cap. That's ahead of the Chiefs, Packers, Ravens, Broncos, Cowboys, Cardinals, Colts, Raiders, Seahawks, Jets, Bills, in that order.

So the "Patriots are cheap" thing is not really a thing. Kraft is not just trying to skate by as close to the cash floor as he can, like I think Mark Davis is trying to do with the Raiders. I bet the Patriots are spending at least mid-pack for the coaching staff, for instance (because of Belichick and McDaniels, and probably Scarnecchia, although the lower level coaches don't make anything).

What Belichick seems to have is salary slots for different positions and different performance levels at those positions. At corner, they paid a premium for Revis' contract when they traded for him in 2014 and paid Gilmore a premium when they signed him. I think they would have paid Jamie Collins if he didn't freelance and get caught out of position so much. They won't pay pure pass rushers (Chandler Jones) or running backs (Dion Lewis). I like Lewis, and I've no issue with him or any other player getting paid as much as they can, but his comment is because the Patriots wouldn't pay him. It doesn't provide any insight into the Patriots team building approach.

Now, there's no question that their team building benefits from Brady's below market contract.

But they spend on the middle class rather than on "difference makers" to use the Polian term. Can't remember the exact range, but the Patriots had more players in something like the $3-$7 million range than any other team. This drives some Pats fans crazy, because they're paying guys that have obvious limitations: Hightower (too slow, injured). Gostkowski (misses kicks in the playoffs). Devin McCourty (too slow). And don't get them started on Dwayne Allen.

The other thing is, since cap space can roll over now, there will always be a window-oriented or out-and-out boom-and-bust team that is willing to pay a player more than the Pats are for a given level of performance at significant positions. For instance, Trey Flowers is gonna be the latest one to get paid, but likely not by the Patriots. I think that's what happened with Nate Solder, Logan Ryan, Lewis, and of course Chandler Jones.

Belichick's patient, long-term approach can drive fans crazy, compared to the "chase the window" approach. And it could easily break down once Brady retires. But it's the best approach for how Belichick coaches and of course in a season like this, he gets the last laugh.

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Possibly true. Polian on SiriusXM criticized the move because pass rusher is one of his premium positions (along with QB and RB) and the Pats were letting go a "difference maker". He just won't spend as much as other teams on that position. But he will spend it, he will just spread it around.

181 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Probably a nitpick, but they didn't "let him walk." They got a high draft pick plus an OL who was drafted high. The latter didn't work out, so the Pats ended up giving more than they got, but I think Chandler J had some of the same issues that sent Jamie to the Browns. (Albeit he was/is a much better player than Collins.)

187 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

If I remember correctly -- and you'll never go bankrupt on betting that I don't -- Both Jones and Wilfork were coming up on free agency, and the Pats decided to show Wilfork the money.

I'm also betting that the Pats had talks with Jones's agent regarding what it would take to re-sign him, and the money came in welll north of what Belichick thought he was worth to the team, in the context of cap dollars allocated.

192 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Nope.

Wilfork left after 2014, Jones after 2015.

They signed Chris Long, Chris Hogan and McLellin (all useful players in the 2016 SB run).
They also got 2 draft pick out of Jones (plus OG Cooper, that was a bust before, during and after the Pats), which turned to be starting LG Thuney and SB LI hero Malcolm Mitchell (AWESOME WR in Pats' world, but injury plagued).

193 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Jones is also well outside the mold of what the Pats seem to want for an edge player. To illustrate the point compare him to Trey Flowers - Jones was (and is) a great pure penetrator, but would often get behind the QB, break lane integrity, and wasn't able to play off a stood-up tackle. One of the things that is most impressive about how the Pats played yesterday is they never once gave Goff free yards on a scramble (and only once allowed him to complete a meaningful pass as a result of a threat to run when rolling out). between that and showing up at a police station in the middle of the night like a crazy person, I think Jones might as well have not bothered to talk contract with BB. At the time I thought the choice to keep Hightower out of that group of FA was a mistake - I still think Collins had/has a much higher ceiling than either Hightower or Jones if he could play with discipline - but a couple years later were talking about a dominant performance out of the Pats front 7 through really the whole playoffs, so I think it's foolish to be overly critical.

195 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Yeah, I forgot the off-the-field event of Jones, which surely does not fit well with Belichick MO.

Regarding Hightower, the only concern about him was the injury-proneness. If you removed that, he is the LB that BB would create with a real life Madden editor.

171 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

The rest of you post notwithstanding, Devin McCourty was clocked as the fastest player in the league -- on-field -- this season. I'm not aware of any Patriot fan frustrated with his lack of speed.

168 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

The Brady contract issue undoubtedly provides a competitive advantage for the team. However, as you note, it doesn’t not necessarily mean they are splashing out on the rest of the team. (Which makes the whole issue very, very strange indeed - a separate topic we could discuss at length elsewhere.)

Regarding the Belichick “voodoo” comment, I don’t really agree. He hasn’t always put out good secondaries - some of the units from the early part of this decade were flat out bad. The consistent offensive line play is impressive no question, and there is clearly some excellent coaching going on. But a good share of the credit there must also go to Brady.

Belichick is great without question, but I don’t think there’s much mystery there. He’s just better at most of the key stuff than almost everybody else, like roster building, game planning and in-game management. And he’s got arguably the GOAT QB playing for him, which masks many deficiencies across the rest of the team.

196 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

On the topic of secondaries - I agree, some have been flat out bad. But look at the perpetual roster turnover and think about just how many probowl players hes truly had back there. The 2nd corner spot and slot corner spot in addition to the roll of strong safety have been perpetual revolving doors. Even the number 1 slot has been a revolving door, albeit hes had good corners there before - like Law, Revis(one year), Gilmore , Samuel. But even still, he's had many many seasons with leigh bodden types manning those spots.

I would also add - they've been bereft of pass rush most of this decade and it hasn't hurt them. This fact is kind of taken for granted around here(oh, he doesn't value pass rush), but what other teams could be so cavalier about ignoring such a vital unit. There is a reason pass rushers get paid a premium and are drafted so high. I doubt everyone is just too stupid to realize the truth and its belichick who is having the last laugh. I think its his ability to mask stuff in the secondary that is compensating for the lack of pass rushers.

On the comment about Brady - he definitely helps, but I think its oversold. The run game for NE has been dominant seemingly forever and thats not a function of Brady. Run regressions on passing offense with rush offense and you find virtually 0 correlation. It just doesn't show up in the data. Is he helping the pass protection? No question, but then this is a thorny issue and I think most pats fans agree that the line quality is a hallmark of either BB or Scar.

As to your latter point, again, I'm unconvinced. Manning, Rodgers, and Brees have all been terrific players but that didn't stop fissures from opening up all over the rest of the team. No amount of passing brilliance could paper over weaknesses on the o line, receiver, special teams or defense. Brady might be the best of that group(its debatable), but he's not so much better that his presence brings additional benefits in ways those other players did not.

So yes, Brady has helped BB immensely. They don't sniff 9 superbowls without Tom Brady. Saying BB can do this with anyone is an overstep that's plainly wrong. I can see why Pats fans bristle. That said, I am a firm believer that if Brady had been put on the Lions or Redskins or some middle of the road franchise, he'd have a career arc very similar to Brees or Rodgers. Great players make teams great, but they alone do not make a dynasty. Let alone a double dynasty.

And given that no one who has left NE has come close to replicating any of this, I'm inclined to give the lion's share of the credit to Belichick.

199 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Agree with pretty much all of this, but especially the last 2 paragraphs (though Chandler Jones appears to be "close to replicating.") Most of the "Smurf" WRs of the early SB years chased money elsewhere and basically disappeared, though an older, slower Branch had a rebound once he returned to NE. More recently, compare Pats' LeGarrette Blount to what he did elsewhere.

63 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I'd highly recommend you go the Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton route. True Argos fans are great, but Toronto's a finicky sports market, and BMO Field might be packed or dead, depending on the flavour-du-jour in Toronto. In Hamilton, you know you're going to be surrounded by football fans who'll be tickled pink to welcome a visitor checking out "their game."

37 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's hard to imagine McVay having so few tricks up his sleeve, and being so caught unawares of NE's defensive strategy. Maybe that was a part of it, but OTOH, we did see Goff make some terrible decisions, and fail to see several open receivers.

Brady was overwhelmingly mediocre. Several poor throws, only a few really good ones.

Anyone know what was up with the phantom (?) holding call on the Rams offense in, I think it was the early 4th quarter? A big run got called back, and the replay showed 65 . . . was not holding, and he and his assignment weren't particularly near the play. Did they call the wrong number? Also, immediately after the play, a couple Pats pointed at a spot, and it seemed it was outside the running lane, rather than inside.

39 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I don't agree with the idea that the Superbowl was a boring game because it was a defensive struggle. It was tied at the end of the third and to me the boring superbowls are the one sided ones.

I was on the edge of my seat most of the game. The fewer the points the more every point matters.

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It was a boring game to me because I thought a week ago that one qb was way too mentally limited to excel in the environment he was going to be working in, and I was unfortunately right.

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Will-that is an excellent point you are making and I agree 100%. My buddies and I in Miami years ago thought about that very same thing after our guy (Marino) played yet another bad Champ. game (the Conf. Champ. game in '92) but naturally we would never had said it. You did and I applaud you for it. It certainly applied to more than Goff and Marino however.

55 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

My assessment of Goff is based on his complete sample of play, which is the opposite of your approach to Marino. Look, we aren't going to agree. You think there is utility to seperating out a tiny subset of a player's performance, from a much, much, much, larger sample, and then making confident pronouncements based on that relatively tiny sample. I think that approach is very poor.