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

164 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

One, but it was the most important position, and it entailed physical domination which was not evident last night. I don't recall multiple instances of receivers, nobody within 10 yards, trying to get their quarterback's attention.

169 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Which leaves the question: if what the Patriots did to Goff was easy, then why didn't more teams do it? The Rams played a number of teams with a better defensive DVOA than the Pats this year and the Rams still put up points. Lots of points.
I would agree that teams did start to catch onto Goff in the second half to a certain extent. Yet if the weaknesses were as glaring as you seem to be implying, one would expect that the adjustments would have come more quickly and been more decisive. Most QBs struggle when there are regular 0-line breakdowns and Goff was running for his life from the snap in many instances. This isn't to say that Goff is anything more than an average QB at this point but the Pats defensive dominance went well beyond confusing Goff. I've only seen a few clips of the all-22 but for the most part, the coverage was pretty tight when Goff still had a clean pocket. And the scheme of overwhelming Goff could only work if the Pats dominated the LOS against the run, something few teams were able to do against the Rams this season.

172 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I didn't say it was easy, but I did say one could easily see it coming.The Andy Benoit SI piece mentioned upthread really does have some worthwhile insights. If the Lions can discombobulate you, then it is no great surprise that a well coached playoff team will, eventually. I haven't looked at the coach's tape either, but when I see on the network feed several times that Goff has time, and simply didn't identify a wide open receiver, that's just a crap performance, especially in the context of the opponent being held to 3 points until late. That's before we get to the inexcusable sacks he took. Goff may get a lot better in his career, but right now, against a well coached defense with some talent? He's substandard. Part of his statistical success is due to good timing, like when he caught the Vikings defense at their lowest ebb, due to some weird circumstances.

I'll emphasize again that I think the Rams o-line is overrated as well. They do some things well, but they aren't a physically dominating group like a really elite unit is. McVay schemed this offense to it's potential, but scheme can always be counterschemed.

177 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"The Pats manufactured a pass rush, hid their linebackers weaknesses and coverage and took advantage of their one personnel advantage on defense: the cornerbacks."

I think literally *all* of that stems just from the pass rush: once they beat the Rams offensive line, the game was basically over. There wasn't really anything that the Rams could do to compensate because they didn't have an experienced enough QB who could anticipate or look off defenses, they didn't have a running back who could make people miss, and they didn't have wide receivers with wide catch radii to deal with tight coverage.

"Anybody that wants an alternative assessment of the Pats defensive game from Pat's and Will Allen's should check out Andy Benoit's podcast and article at SI."

You're really misunderstanding what I'm saying here - in fact I'm *agreeing* with that analysis. The Patriots won because they did something *schematically* that no other team did. The downside to Benoit's analysis is that he only talks about what the Patriots *did*, not what the Rams *didn't* do. Quarters coverage gets beat with route combinations like a crossing route and a deep route designed in such a way to give one of the receivers leverage (PIN/Mills concepts, etc.) but that really requires a quick-reacting quarterback like the Rams don't have. Couple that with the fact that they don't have an open-space, tackle-breaking running back and there really aren't many plays to be made.

I'm not saying anything crazy new here: Romo (once he got off of his fanboy "they're just covering everyone super tight" bizarreness) started mentioning that players *were* open, it's just that Goff couldn't find them in time (poor recognition, as heavily exposed by the missed TD).

That's why there was a huge difference between the Patriots offense/Rams defense game and the opposite, and there's no way that wasn't crazy obvious to even a casual fan. Did you *ever* think the Rams were going to be able to mount a sustained drive that game? The Rams got out-schemed by the Patriots defense and couldn't adapt in the slightest. That's not a "defensive struggle," that's a team/coach getting exposed. The Patriots defense that game was perfect for the *Rams*.

That's entirely different than when the Patriots were on offense. That was *much* more of a back and forth battle.

To be honest, all I'm saying was almost exactly predicted by Belichick before the game. Wade's run that defense the same way for like, forever. It wasn't a competition between coaches, it was a competition between *players*. Belichick's defenses are pretty much the polar opposite of that, and McVay had no way to adapt.

179 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

There's a difference between understanding how the *game* is going to go and knowing how the *score* is going to end up. Betting on the point spread is nuts: most games end in the equivalent of 3.5-3, and the point spread typically asks you to predict the winner to within something like 0.3-0.4: it's wacko crazy. The over/under is crazy too, a 21-14 game can be the exact same as a 31-24 game just depending on how a team on offense wants to handle the pacing. There's a reason why professional bettors talk about so many factors that seem completely unrelated to the play on the field.

186 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Not in week 5. In week 5 Chicago had the third-highest ranked offense by DVOA at nearly +20%. Then the "they are who we thought they were" game happened, and it was all downhill from there. 10-3 TD/INT became 16-21 TD/INT, and a 4000-yard pace became a 2800 yard pace. Best example of a shallow inflexible offense being exposed and the subsequent deflation.

57 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I'm tired of the Patriots, but I respect them.

The only way to explain the past two decades is that the organization is consistently smarter than everybody else across multiple facets - personnel, coaching, and game day planning and execution. They get the big things right and the little things right more consistently than any sports team I've ever seen.

They were lucky to get Brady, yes, but other QBs would have done about or just as well. (Rodgers or Brees would have looked really good in a Patriots uniform.)

It amazes me that some defenses are so reluctant to hit receivers within the five-yard zone. Or to stick specific defenders on specific receivers. That's been part of Belichick's game plan against top-level offenses for, oh, more than 30 years.

130 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

The patriots maintain advantages through their scheme/ coaching that no other team can. In fact, the only other team that has been able to consistently maintain excellence despite constant turnover is the Ravens on defense. Outside of that, its the Patriots.

THe Patriots maintain a usually credible defense, consistently excellent offensive line, strong running game, and consistently above average(often excellent) special teams. Brady gets all the headlines, but so much of what I mentioned above is barely ever acknowledged.

I think front offices need to stop hiring Belichick disciples. I have no confidence Brian Flores will be any different from Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, or Matt Patricia

58 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned much is the seemingly abysmal playcalling by the Rams in their final drive. Am I the only one that was watching, mystified?

While I get they were down by 10 and this had almost no chance to win (needing a field goal and a touchdown, with an intervening onside kick), with no timeouts, and the Patriots are going to guard the sidelines, the sidelines were still the only practical option. Three consecutive passes to the middle of the field bled the entire clock and made it impossible for the Rams to do anything. Hell, they barely got the field goal off. At least incomplete passes to the sidelines would stop the clock. As it was, the Patriots were probably totally fine with giving Goff the middle of the field.

If the sidelines aren’t open, just throw it away, but giving up 10-15 yards in exchange for 20-25 seconds is a trade the Pats would make every time when up by two scores and so little time left.

60 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It was certainly a big surprise to see defenses dominate to such a degree, but we might see a few more such games if coverage defenders were consistently allowed to grab and tussle like they were yesterday. It was obvious very early on that the refs were going to let anything close to the line go.

I’m not necessarily complaining, because the quality of the DB play on both teams was still very high, and I’m happy to see that rewarded. But it has become abundantly clear, this year more than ever, that playoff games are basically reffed under different rules, where players can get away with much, much more. Which is fine, until we get absurd non-calls like the Saints Rams games, or the refs suddenly decide they need to involve themselves, like with the nonsense holding penalty on Sullivan which scuppered another Rams drive late on yesterday.

Another thing to note yesterday was the extreme quality of the punting and coverage units on both sides. Something to enjoy there for the purists, and definitely a contributor to the lack of scoring.

Also slightly surprised the Rams, with their regular offence completely stuck in the mire, didn’t attempt any sort of trickery at any stage. They’ve done it plenty this season and 20 or 30 stolen yards could have made a big difference in that game.

74 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"Another thing to note yesterday was the extreme quality of the punting and coverage units on both sides. Something to enjoy there for the purists, and definitely a contributor to the lack of scoring."

Agreed Hekkler's leg got the Rams out of trouble a number times. There was some luck involved with some of the bounces, but the ST still needed to execute to avoid a punt block in the end zone, and get downfield for the coverage.

Allen pretty much matched him almost punt-for-punt, which is why the Rams were starting so far back in the first place. Allen and Slater and crew also bailed Belichick out on a number of iffy punt decisions where the percentage odds probably favoured going for it.

81 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

And thus ends my year of not watching football, with me sitting down and watching the worst Super Bowl in NFL history. If I have one word to describe the Rams, it would be "disinterested".

This reminded me of the first Pats-Rams Super Bowl 17 years ago in that the Patriots were facing an Official Offensive Genius, and Belichick's game plan was basically counting on Martz/McVay to continue to ride their Genius Game Plan regardless of results. Goff was awful, but, clearly, part of that was he had people in his face constantly, and the Rams never moved the pocket. Like, ever. Goff just sat there with a giant target on his chest. The WR screen to the left in I think the fourth quarter got a good pickup, and I thought maybe that meant McVay was going to start trying screens and doing something other than having Goff drop back to wait to be sacked or almost throw picks, but, no, they went back to that.

Belichick figured out how to stop what McVay wants to do, and McVay refused to change it up. It was on the level of Mike Martz and Bill Callahan and Ron Rivera, just doing the same thing over and over without bothering to adjust at all. Utter garbage fire of a coaching performance.

94 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Really disagree. Martz had a HOF qb who was extremely good at decisiomaking, an outstanding offensive line, running and passing, a HOF running back, running and receiving, and other terrific receivers. McVay's qb has yet to establish that he can play well, except in the most favorable circumstances, his oline is very overrated, his previously good running back has some undisclosed circumstance keeping him off the field, and there is no Issac Bruce on the roster, maybe not a Torry Holt.

119 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Oh, God, I didn't mean in any way to equate those two Rams teams, and I openly hold a lifelong fandom of Kurt Warner because Northern Iowa and all. It's just that 17 years back, Belichick looked at Martz's tendencies and beat the crap of receivers, daring the Rams to rely on Marshall Faulk, and Martz refused to adjust. Last night, Belichick looked at McVay's tendencies, switched to a lot of zone, and managed to generate consistent pressure on Goff, and McVay refused to adjust. The Rivera comparison (Von Miller can totally be blocked by Remmers one-on-one, we did it all year) is really far more accurate, but I'm going with "Rams offensive genius whose last name begins with 'M'" just because symmetry and all.

I just find the bookended lack of adjustment to game plans from Rams coaches funny, really. Radically different teams and games, but McVay's refusal to do anything other than keep his standard game plan in the wake of consistent failure was just nuts.

121 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I don't think there are adjustments for a qb who processes information too slowy, and is not an atlhletic freak by NFL qb standards, other than to run very effectively, and the Rams oline isn't good enough to do that against a Belichik team.

122 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Eh, while my brain is already trying to forget that game, I recall two screens (one to RB, one to WR) that were quite successful, and those were the only screens I recall. If you have a QB who has issues with reads, rolling them out and halving the field helps. Sure, maybe you aren't successful, but you can at least TRY to do something. I clearly haven't watched it in that much detail, but I never saw anything that showed McVay was trying anything different, and the lack of adjustment is what's depressing.

134 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

And I'm really not trying to run ro be president of my local chapter of the McVay Fan Club. It's just that when I see a qb who doesn't move well, and fails to recognize wide open receivers in the middle of the field multiple times, while taking avoidable sacks on critical downs, I don't think lack of adjustments are a primary factor in tbe outcome.

86 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Belichick and Pats D shutout Chiefs and Rams in 1st half. Reid/Mahomes managed 31 2nd points, McVay/Goff just 3. I think Mahomes>Goff and Reid at least = McVay as an offensive mind were big reasons for the difference, but I do think the Chiefs with Kelce/Hill/Watkins have better receiving talent than Rams especially after Kupp got hurt.

Twice in 1st half Rams had third-and-short between the Pats 40 and 50, too long for a FG and a waste to punt from. At least once I would have thought they'd run on 3rd, planning to go for it (run again) on 4th down. In neither case did they do that. I thought that was bad play-calling.

After two excellent conference championship games (even speaking as a Chiefs fan), it was a disappointing Super Bowl.

125 Re: Final Word of Muth?

I really hope so.

In a similar vein, FO alum Bill Barnwell has a review up at ESPN and it's worth a read. Convinced me I wasn't giving Wade Phillips enough credit for his defensive coaching and that a bit more was going on there than "Brady had a bad game."

136 Re: Final Word of Muth?

This was a greater masterwork than Wade's performance against the Patriots and Panthers in successive games. Now to be consigned to the locker room laundry hamper of NFL history.

90 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

People should rightly blame Goff for the panicked throw with about 4:00 left in the game that resulted in Gilmore's INT.

But Cooks should get a decent ration of blame for making no effort to try for the catch or to play DB and try to break it up.

127 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

That pass was badly underthrown. Cooks has to run to where the pass is supposed to be. It just so happened that Gilmore was the first of the two to notice just how bad that throw was. Cooks didn't really have much of a hope to do anything other than tackle Gilmore.

To my eye, Cooks was the best thing about the Rams' offense yesterday.

145 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This game is also an example of why measuring offensive line play is so difficult. Its not just about blocking - but how good the offense is in terms of its playcalling and skill talent influences how a defense will attack an offense.

Take that third and 1 sack that Goff took. I can't imagine Belichick doing that against Peyton Manning or some qb that felt comfortable audibling into a run the moment they see a light box in a short yardage situation.

The rams themselves did a great job with motion and formations that help mitigate pass rush. That's why, even the pff grades(which I do look at) are probably not truly indicative of line play. I'm not sure its even measurable