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

1 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I believe this is the last Pats sb win of this dynasty. I saw a sense of finality in this run in a way I didn't see a year ago.

Hard to believe. Every decade has had a dynasty. 70s Steelers, 80s 49ers, 2000s Patriots, and 2010 Patriots.

A double dynasty. Brady deserves a lot of credit, but bb deserves a lot too. The greatest coach of all time. Not a half bad QB either.

Living through this moment it's hard not to have a sense of envy / disdain for the team that has outsmarted its peers for so long.

But what the Patriots have done is special. Enjoy it pats fans. Who would have imagined after the 2009 season when the Ravens destroyed them that the Patriots would be the team of the next decade. Not I certainly.

18 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This is kind of interesting; On one level what your saying makes intuitive sense - Gronk & Edelman are really their best receiving threats by a fair margin and are both at or very near the end, on defense the McCourty twins, Hightower, & Chung are all done or very close. That's a ton of holes, and particularly the safety & slot receiver positions are really difficult to fill in the Pats system.

From an alternate perspective - the Pats have a really excellent group of young CB's, a ton of depth on DL, and a great offensive line that isn't going anywhere. Brady's arm might not be what it was, but he maintains really excellent decision-making which is probably the most important attribute for a QB (as long as his arm doesn't do a Payton Manning). The Pats should be able to recover lots of cap space by getting out from under the Hightower deal, and despite getting a good playoffs out Devin McCourty, moving on might be a blessing in disguise. The Pats strength along the lines should allow them to win 10+ games next year - whether the dynasty continues will really come down to whether they can wring some success out of the 2018 & 2019 drafts next year (after a couple years of pretty bad draft results, partly connected to trades and penalties depleting draft capital). I'd be surprised if the Pats don't end up back in the AFCCG next year, but like all NFL teams their long term prospects are wrapped up in the draft.

20 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Plus the Pats have a ton of draft picks this year, a 2018 1st rounder who never played due to injury, 2017 and 2018 2nd rounders who didn't play/barely played because others were playing too well to get into the lineup.

32 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Farve still had the arm in his 40's, but was beat to crap at the end due to ineffective line play/scheme. Brady was not hit much this year and he wasn't exactly throwing to All-Pros, except Gronk and Edelman. If he could get some major talent at receiver that team could be scary.

35 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Agreed with the comment about Farve. Just because Payton Manning's arm seemed to fall off overnight doesn't provide meaningful evidence that that's the likely path for Brady's decline. Payton Manning had a severe injury that was an intervening act in the decline of his arm talent - most athletes in both football and baseball have maintained great arm talent as long as they have played (in baseball that's been into the mid-late 40's on several occasions with only pretty minor declines in velocity). There is no reason beyond blind hope that so many people assume it will happen to Brady. For my part I continue to assume that Brady's career will end with an injury - on the timescale of 3-4 years it would be hard to believe that it won't happen (despite Brady pretending to be able to make himself injury-proof) - until that time I think you'll seem performance similar to this year as long as Brady remains motivated. Honestly, Farve could have played till he was 50 in a system like that.

36 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

If the Patriots keep getting superior o-line play, and their dbs continue on their current trend, I think Brady has at leastt two years left. If he doesn't get hit much, and doesn't need 5 tds a game, he'll be well above average.

I dearly wish Darth and Dante would write a book about how they have approached managing the Psts oline for the past two decades. Fat chance.

40 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Scar is an old dude - a genius with the O-line - but old. He already retired once - and look what happened. Brady was battered.

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

103 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"the Pats have a really excellent group of young CB's, a ton of depth on DL, and a great offensive line that isn't going anywhere."

The Patriots have 20 free agents next year, and about 18 million dollars to sign them with. If they cut Dwayne Allen, that goes up to 26 million, but then they need to sign Gronk's back-up. If Gronk retires, they get 9 million more, but then they don't have Gronk. Cutting Hightower would leave them with almost as much dead cap, 5 million, as cap space freed, 5.9 million. There are guys the Patriots can cut to free up cap space (Kyle Van Noy, Devin McCourty, Adrian Clayborn), but at that point, you are merely opening holes on the roster to fill holes elsewhere. They don't have the young guys to replace them yet, because the last 3-4 drafts have been weak.

Here is a list of notable Patriots free agents:

Their left tackle (no, the offensive line won't stay intact),
Every wide receiver on the roster except Julian Edelman,
Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown, their top 2 Left Defensive Tackles,
Their best Edge rusher, Trey Flowers,
Cornerbacks Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones (RFA). Basically all the corners on the team but Gillmore (who is in his prime), K.C. Jackson, Deon Crossen and Duke Dawson. who were all rookies. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Jackson is the only one who saw the field much this year.
I'd also like to point out that the Jets and the Bill have tons of cap space and would love to sign either Trenton Brown, the left tackle, or Trey Flowers, or several of the Patriots receivers reaching free agency. The Patriots roster is going to be raided this year, so I would expect a lot of changeover. Brady will be back with Edelman and Gillmore, and probably Gronk, Devin McCourty among others.

2 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I have been a Patriots fan since 1996 or so, when I first began watching football. Tonight's game was a thoroughly satisfying win, and it felt somehow appropriate that the team should win a defensive struggle with a mixture of thoughtful game plan and wonderful execution--as a way of coming full circle.

Brady was assuredly mortal in this game, but the obstinacy and inflexibility of the opposition was on full display, just at it was back in 2001. It remains mystifying to me that after all these years of Belichick's dominance, that there are still teams that leave CBs on their sides and play the same offensive personnel each week, as if football is a religion instead of a game. The coaches and teams that play intelligently, I salute, and when New England deserves to lose, as I felt the team did last year in the Super Bowl, and back in 2007, when the Giants' defensive line was truly transcendent, I applaud.

Alas, for two decades New England has been schooling the NFL in the art of football, and far too few teams have taken the message to heart. This is a thinking sport that depends upon flexibility and adaptability in scheme and personnel, and those who won't change based on situation and opponent must assuredly lose.

9 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

McVay is a good young coach, but he got seriously outcoached by the master yesterday. Belichick does what few other coaches can do: devise a completely new game plan every single week. For example, the choice to go with nearly exclusively with zone coverage, which the Pats do not use very much. That shouldn't have been a surprise for anybody who knows Belichick. Given Goff's measurable superiority vs. man coverage, of course the Pats use zone!

My other main question is: what is wrong with Todd Gurley? I don't believe he's 100% healthy, no matter what the Rams are saying publicly. If he is healthy, then McVay was badly outcoached for using CJ Anderson so much.

19 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I am almost 100% certain Gurley is hurt. As to Belichik outcoaching McVay, unless McVay has said he was surprised that Belichik played so much zone, I think it is just as likely that McVay wasn't surprised, but was simply saddled with a qb who doesn't execute well.

I think it is distinctly possible that McVay's coaching performance to date has been underrated, as strange as it may sound, in that he has squeezed every last ounce of utility from a qb who simply isn't very good.

24 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I agree with the read on McVay; The Saints and the Pats strategy was focused on moving decision making out of McVay's hands and into Goff's hands, with disastrous results for the Rams. I don't think that's something you can stop as a coach when the book is out on your QB; equally, you can't fix stupid. I really wonder how much what the Saints & Pats did to Goff influences how teams play the Rams in the future - obviously it's better if Goff can check into a run with Gurley, but it still doesn't seem like that demanding a plan to execute.

27 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

During the resurrection of Goff's career via McVay, I kept watching, and asked myself what Goff does consistently well, besides throw well to an open first read from a clean pocket? The answer is "not much".

33 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

My feeling is that Gurley is hurt, more than they’ve let on, but that they haven’t been willing to say much because it hasn’t been on the injury report, and the Rams don’t want to get in trouble with the NFL for not reporting the injury on the injury sheet. Maybe they thought it was better after his late season injury and it turned out it wasn’t fully healed and wanted to just go with it; not sure, but he clearly hasn’t been himself and the Rams certainly seem to all be on the same page with their story of “He’s fine, we just decided to call the game that way for no real reason, ignoring a perfectly healthy highly-paid player who was quite the force for the first three quarters of the season.”

3 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I’ll say that while I enjoyed winning, the Rams (and especially McVay) coming up lame even after they were in a game they really had no right to be in causes it all to feel a bit off.

Wish the Saints had been there, even though I suspect the Pats’ chances of winning would have been reduced.

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I agree. I guess we Pats fans are really spoiled. I feel unfulfilled. We just won the Superbowl and I'm not excited about it.

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

4 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Last year I was like "Ok, offense is doing great and if the Patriots' D stops the Eagles once, they'll win it" and they never did.
Tonight I was "Ok, defense is doing great and if the Patriots'O gets a drive to the endzone, the'll win it", they finally did it in the 4th.

Thoughts on the Romo's (and McVay's) reasoning on the last Patriots scoring drive?

I disagreed with him and I have taken the penalty. You lost the seconds, but you are putting the Patriots out of FG range and in a possible passing situation, so chance of higher variance and hopefully a turnover.

By declining it, you are accepting a double score to comeback (40-45Y FG in a dome are almost a given, forget the previous error from 46), so you are betting on an onside... good luck on that.

5 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

My instinct was that taking the penalty and pushing the Pats out of FG range was the thing to do.

But of course it also gives them an extra down which takes another 45-secs off the clock. So I think the Pats would have been able to run the clock down to 30-secs in a 10-3 game.

Being backed out of FG range they punt and then Goff starts with the ball on say his 10-yd line with about 30 seconds to try and tie the game. I'd say the odds are slightly higher than getting the TD, onside kick + FG in 1min15 but neither is desirable.

I'd say the big benefit of declining the penalty is that by leaving the Pats in FG range, if they miss their FG attempt you get it at the spot of the kick which would have been about 30, game still 10-3 and you have 1min15 to tie it up. And that was probably the most likely way for the Rams to win.

7 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Easy decision that got screwed up: you absolutely take the penalty; you cannot leave the Pats in FG range and go down 2 scores.

Does highlight how easy it is to screw up end of game decisions when the factors of score, clock, and down-and-distance all have to be accounted for in a hurried decision.

12 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It wasn't an easy decision. Romo was in favor of declining the penalty, for one.

All paths to victory are extremely unlikely at that point. Driving 90 yards in 30 odd seconds with no timeouts might feel more likely than relying on a missed/blocked field goal, but it probably isn't, especially the way the Rams offense was playing.

71 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Romo was only considering the clock and not considering (a) how 10 yards would change the likelihood of a FG miss, and (b) how 10 yards would change the likelihood of converting a 1st down. Given that a 1st down would have ended the game (no more Rams timeouts), Romo didn't even consider how much easier it is to convert 2nd and 6 vs 1st and 20. He only cared about the 30 seconds on the clock.

142 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

We don't necessarily know what else Romo might have been considering, but that 40 seconds (not 30) plus the time taken to run the play was huge and the overriding factor, so it made sense for Romo to focus on it. The extra play would have taken the clock down to about 30 seconds, and at that point I don't think you're even much concerned about making the field goal. I think the Rams made the right decision. A whole lot of things had to go right for them with not much time left to allow that to happen, and a stop and a missed FG might as well be two of those things, at the price of 45 seconds. As it happened, the Rams made the stop and Gostkowski did almost miss the kick, actually.

53 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Accepting the penalty would have been a terrible move. As has been mentioned, the realistic best-case scenario for the Rams in taking the penalty is driving the length of the field in under 30 seconds with no timeouts. Also, it still would have been first down and the ball would have only been moved eight yards from where it was, the Patriots still could have gotten in field goal range.

Hoping Gostkowski misses a 41-yarder and having a minute or so to score a TD was pretty much the best the Rams could do in that desperate situation.

6 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

I didn't care who won, but was annoyed at the predictability of the outcome, because I said a week ago that Goff would be easily confused and thus the game would be boring. I hate being right sometimes. What was especially irritating was that just a little better performance by Goff would have given us something a lot more interesting in the 4th quarter.

To be fair to him, the Rams oline was pretty thoroughly whipped by the Patriots' defensive front, which didn't surprise me either, since the Rams oline has been pretty overrated all season. I'd also say the ball was more dropped in the end zone than knocked away just prior to the very ugly int. Still, just a wholly predictable miserable performance by Goff, and I really am not trying to short change the quality of the Pats performance. I just actually think the Rams performance on defense was every bit as good, once it is factored that the Rams were facing a qb who knows what the hell he is doing. The Rams performance on defense will now be completely forgotten, of course.

In the end, all credit to The Dark Lord and his minions. They just continually are better organized on a yearly basis, and thus give themselves a better chance to win than their opponents. The only reason I don't want them to win is just out of a desire for more novel outcomes, but if I'm going to be annoyed, the annoyance is directed at the Pats' opponents, for not playing better. Oh well, at least the game didn't feature a verv late high leverage play where some idiot lined up offsides.

49 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Yeah, I agree - I was saying that to my kids two weeks ago in the conference championships, which is why I was rooting for the Saints (ugh) - once it was Patriots-Rams, I was immediately "well, this game is going to suck." Think about it - you basically had the entirety of the game story told in the first two drives. Patriots move the ball pretty well but struggle with consistency, preventing them from scoring. Rams can't run the ball and Goff is just wildly inconsistent.

Worst thing about it is that it was the kind of game you know the *story* of the game but not necessarily the *outcome* because one freaky play could change the entire thing. Think about it - that first interception could've easily turned into a pick-six with a more fortunate deflection, and then the Rams could've been just as inept the whole game on offense and they *still* could've won. But no "freaky play" actually happened, so you just end up watching a game you already know the likely outcome for.

"The Rams performance on defense will now be completely forgotten, of course."

Short version of Wade's career.

52 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It wouldn’t have even needed a ‘freaky’ play. Had Goff not been woefully late in recognising a wide open receiver in the end zone on the pass Jason McCourty broke up, or had Cooks reeled in the catchable ball the play before the Gilmore pick, we would have at least been looking at overtime.

It really was a tremendous defensive effort wasted by the Rams.

64 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Good grief I was irritated by Romo's commentary on Goff's slow recognition of a wide open receiver in the end zone. He's yapping about Chung being off the field, thus allowing McCourty's greater speed to make a difference, instead of focusing on the primary element, that freakin' Goff processes information at the speed of pouring molasses on a cold February morning. I usually watch the last three games of the year in a much larger crowd, and thus have the volume up, and am reminded why I usually keep it muted. Yeah, I know Romo may be the best at this task, but that's a pretty low bar.

95 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"instead of focusing on the primary element, that freakin' Goff processes information at the speed of pouring molasses on a cold February morning."

I was *really* disappointed in Romo for the entire game, actually, but you're right, that play was just ridiculously bad. I was expecting Romo to do *at least* the simple thing in pointing out how long it took Goff to reset his feet to target Cooks, and he didn't talk about that. I mean, a really good announcer would've pointed out that Devin McCourty screwing up there is a flat out sign that Goff hadn't been coming off his first read enough for the Patriots defensive backs to have to even second-guess following Goff's eyes. But that's expecting way too much.

That's the part that was really surprising, that there was so much fawning over the tight coverage of the Patriots, rather than pointing out that it's partly Goff's *fault* that the coverage was that tight - he was just making it too easy on them. They never had to worry about misreading him.

78 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"Had Goff not been woefully late in recognising a wide open receiver "

So this bugs me a bit. You're right, but it's a bit more complicated than just "Goff didn't see him until late" (which I know isn't exactly what you said). The problem was that Goff didn't recognize that McCourty screwed up the coverage way before that. McCourty never turned to run with Cooks - McCourty's eyes are straight on Goff, who's probably looking over towards Woods because that's his primary read, and thinking about whether to go there. A more experienced and confident quarterback would've seen McCourty looking at him, looked towards Woods to freeze McCourty, and come off of Woods *knowing* that Cooks was open and *knowing* where Cooks would be, and *that's* the time difference between McCourty getting there and not.

You can see that in the replay in Goff's footwork. To me that still would've been a freaky play, because it would've been Goff playing with confidence and anticipation that he didn't show at all during the game. And to be fair, probably the reason why McCourty screwed up that coverage is *because* Goff had been playing that way all game.

Obviously you're right in that that play was just a half-second away from being a touchdown, but I'm not actually sure that play was more likely to turn into a touchdown than the interception. The only way that play becomes a TD is if Goff plays better than he had been playing, whereas the interception could've turned into a TD if Brady had realized he made a mistake a quarter-second earlier or later and the ball is rotating differently.

224 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Yeah, you're probably right, it might've been Gilmore who screwed up, he's at least turned in the right direction to run with Cooks. Doesn't really matter though, same basic mistake - in that case he would've had to recognize that Gilmore was playing way too far off from Cooks to make a play.

*Both* Gilmore and (D.) McCourty break on Woods when it's clear what's going on (and they're both staring at Goff), and obviously one of them shouldn't be.

Edit: Yeah, on looking at the play more, they both screwed up. Gilmore *definitely* did, but even if Gilmore follows him Cooks has inside leverage and is full-speed. McCourty bit too hard on Woods in the beginning - it was obvious that Cooks had the post open. Goff should've been reorienting to hit Cooks even before Cooks raised his hand - especially considering he should be reading McCourty to see what he's going to do on Woods anyway. Add in the fact that they ran this play previously, too, and it's even worse.

8 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

"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?"

According to the Boston media, what happened is the Pats went to 21 personnel but with an empty backfield. Which is a bit of a weird combination. Who brings in a RB _and_ a FB and then empties the backfield? The personnel forced the Rams to use larger defenders, and they didn't match up well to cover all the passing routes.

Credit to Wade Phillips for consistently stifling the Patriots' offense yesterday. But the Pats kept trying different things until they finally hit a matchup that worked.

10 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It was actually 12 personnel, with two tight ends. But it did do the same thing as the passing from 21 that I was suggesting. Force the Rams into base, because Robey Coleman as NB is much better than playing both Littleton and Barron at ILB.

Edit: my mistake. It was 22 personnel, but spread out.

11 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

Dave B:
Do they benefit from a weak joke of a division? And lately, even the conference? Yes.

Division? True this year, but false for the previous decade. The Patriots generally do no better against their division than against the rest of the league. Considering the scheduling system, that makes the AFCE better than average.

And lately, the conference? False. The AFC went 34-30 over the NFC this year.

It’s Audibles. You react in the moment. I get it. But try to react to the game you see, not tired false narratives.

14 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

It's funny how those straw men linger even with people who obviously know better. It's human nature: when you're in a hurry, you rely on stereotypes (from necessity - you can't process every new situation from the ground up or you'd never get anything done). The mind is indeed a terrible thing.

46 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

This has probably come up a few times and I just missed it - If NE was swapped with Cleveland, how would that affect the AFCE and N? NY, Buf and Mia would definitely benefit from a few more expected wins and NE would have a definite effect on the ACFN, having to fight with the Steeeeelers and Ravens twice each would take a toll on the Pats over the season. Not the right location for it, but a hypothetical question that has intrigued me for a few years.

- Anything is possible when you have no idea what you are talking about.

75 Re: Super Bowl LIII Audibles

If you wanted to go by geography, we'd see
Dolphins -> AFC South
Colts -> AFC North
Ravens -> AFC East

Based on recent history the AFC East would get tougher, the AFC North would stay roughly the same, and the AFC South would get weaker.

But the NFL really loves the AFC North rivalries along with the AFC East rivalries, so we won't see that change.