Super Bowl LIII Preview
by Aaron Schatz and Scott Kacsmar
New England last played the Rams in 2016, a forgettable 26-10 victory when Jeff Fisher was still the head coach and we were just learning how horrific the rookie season would be for No. 1 pick Jared Goff. What a difference a couple of years can make. Enter the young, innovative mind of Sean McVay, and just like that the Rams were in the playoffs and Goff looked like a functional quarterback. McVay engineered one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history, and the Rams (15-3) have only gotten better in his second season.
While the rest of the NFL searches for the next McVay, the Patriots (13-5) are content with the one and only Bill Belichick. This will be his 12th Super Bowl and the ninth as head coach of the Patriots. New England is the first team to get back to the Super Bowl after losing it since Buffalo lost four in a row in 1990-93. There's an undeniable advantage in experience for the Patriots here, but that did not matter last year when the upstart Eagles beat them 41-33 in Super Bowl LII, a game with the most combined yardage (1,151) in NFL history. We should be in store for more offensive fireworks this time as that game seems to have paved the way for big-time football in 2018. There have already been 10 games between playoff teams where both teams scored at least 30 points, matching the league's total from 2015 to 2017. Seven of those games involved the Rams or Patriots.
McVay's Rams scored 527 points, good for 11th in NFL history. A win here would make them the highest-scoring NFL team to ever win a championship, barely edging out the 1999 Rams (526 points). Aside from that miserable showing in Chicago in Week 14, the Rams produced at least 23 points and 339 yards of offense in their other 17 games this season. In case that doesn't sound overly impressive, consider that the 2013 Broncos (17) and 2016 Falcons (17) are the only other teams to have more than 15 such games in a season (playoffs included). The offensive line was brilliant in a playoff win against Dallas. A week later, the team erased a 13-0 deficit in New Orleans for a 26-23 overtime win after some major officiating controversy. Meanwhile, the Patriots still finished the season as the NFL's fourth-highest scoring team and are hot in the playoffs, scoring 78 points against the Chargers and Chiefs. Both teams come in quite healthy too, so there is no "will he or won't he play?" drama to follow this year.
Despite the fact that both teams needed road overtime wins to knock off the No.1 seeds, it's not a surprise to see them in this matchup. In Football Outsiders Almanac 2018, we had the Patriots (10.5) and Rams (9.5) projected with the most mean wins in each conference. They also had the second-highest odds in each conference of winning the Super Bowl. While the Patriots have had a stranglehold over the AFC under Belichick and Tom Brady, the Rams were the aggressive dealmakers in the offseason with their quarterback still on his rookie deal. They signed Ndamukong Suh in free agency and traded for Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Brandin Cooks. That's a lot of high-end talent to go along with Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald, a trio of players who were in the MVP conversation this year until Patrick Mahomes blew everyone away.
The popular belief is the 33-year-old McVay is the Most Valuable Person in Los Angeles, and there is no better stage for him to prove it than a Super Bowl against Belichick and the Patriots. Rarely has a second-year coach ever reached mass appeal as McVay has. His looks are photogenic and his memory is photographic. McVay's ability to recall the details of every play from his career is quickly becoming the stuff of legends. However, even something as simple as naming the defensive starters for Chicago or having a "get back coach" gets him attention these days. That can happen when the bar was set so low by his predecessor, Fisher, who no doubt would be preparing for both Dannys (Woodhead and Amendola) if he were facing the Patriots this week. Analytics Twitter approves of McVay for his league-high use of play-action passing, and Film Study Twitter appreciates his creative ways of using 11 personnel almost every snap. Simply knowing McVay seemed to be the No.1 prerequisite for teams looking to fill the many coaching vacancies around the league this past month, and that was even before the wunderkind won a playoff game.
The pressure will certainly be on McVay to deliver something special with the extra week to prepare, and that should mean something beyond just another fake punt pass by Johnny Hekker. Doug Pederson received a lot of credit for the way he aggressively attacked the Patriots in last year's Super Bowl, including the Philly Special call on fourth down before halftime. Despite that Philadelphia loss, Belichick's Patriots are still 16-1 in playoff games against new opponents as opposed to 13-9 in rematches. McVay has been inconsistently aggressive this postseason, and the timeout management has been an issue throughout the season. McVay's decision to kick a game-tying field goal from the 1-yard line last week almost cost the Rams dearly, as did a bubble screen on third down in overtime that put the game on Greg Zuerlein to make a 57-yard field goal. Those are the kind of moves that would have sunk a Marty Schottenheimer in the playoffs, but Zuerlein delivered for his coach. McVay will have to be better than that in Super Bowl LIII, because a lot of the matchups do favor the Patriots.
One thing is for sure: the winner of this game will be a worthy champion for the 2018 season. Despite losing five road games to non-playoff teams, the Patriots are 6-0 against playoff teams and can finish 5-0 against the top five teams in DVOA with a Super Bowl win. The Rams also tied New England with a league-high six wins against playoff teams, and have already knocked off the Chargers, Chiefs, and Saints this season.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. Game charting data appears courtesy Sports Info Solutions, unless noted. All stats represent regular season only, except for weighted DVOA and anything else specifically noted.
Los Angeles Rams vs. New England Patriots
|DVOA||23.7% (2)||14.2% (7)|
|WEI DVOA||23.8% (4)||24.0% (3)|
|Rams on Offense|
|LAR OFF||NE DEF|
|DVOA||24.6% (2)||0.4% (16)|
|WEI DVOA||17.8% (3)||-2.5% (12)|
|PASS||32.1% (5)||5.1% (14)|
|RUSH||22.1% (1)||-7.0% (19)|
|Patriots on Offense|
|LAR DEF||NE OFF|
|DVOA||0.8% (19)||14.5% (5)|
|WEI DVOA||-3.6% (10)||17.7% (4)|
|PASS||0.2% (9)||32.9% (4)|
|RUSH||1.5% (28)||2.5% (9)|
|DVOA||-0.2% (17)||0.1% (16)|
|WEI DVOA||2.4% (14)||3.9% (9)|
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Much like the Eagles with Nick Foles a year ago, the Rams have to trust Jared Goff to have a big game against the Patriots. Naturally, there is skepticism over him doing so, because there has always been skepticism of Goff during his NFL career. We couldn't write a 2016 stat study that didn't show how frighteningly bad his rookie season was. While he improved so much statistically in 2017, a lot of the credit went to McVay for an offense that was built heavily on YAC and easier throws to the slot. Goff took things to another level in 2018, but there was still that ugly three-game stretch after the bye where he averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and threw one touchdown to six interceptions.
Overall, Goff's numbers have dropped substantially since the Rams' bye week. Anecdotally, the decline is tied to the loss of slot receiver Cooper Kupp, although Goff was fine in the first game without Kupp (Week 11, the big Monday Night game against Kansas City). It's since the bye week that he has struggled:
|Jared Goff Stats by Week, 2018|
Despite Goff's decline over the past two months, there are reasons to believe that the Rams won't turtle into a run-run-pass plan similar to the one that doomed the Seahawks against Dallas this postseason. In big games against the likes of the Chiefs, Eagles and Saints, McVay was not afraid to put the ball in Goff's hands early and often. The Rams were able to outscore the Chiefs and Saints without more than 70 yards of rushing support. Goff is more than a game manager. He's led five game-winning drives this season and the Rams are No. 1 in DVOA in late and close situations (second half, score within eight points). Goff had arguably the best passing performance of 2018 in Week 4 against the Vikings when he completed 26-of-33 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns. That's just one stellar game, but during Goff's career, the Rams are 14-2 and average 35.4 points per game in the 16 games (equivalent to a full season) where Goff threw for his most yardage. So when Goff piles up numbers, the Rams also light up the scoreboard and win a lot of games. That's what you want to see from a No. 1 overall pick, and his draft pedigree is why he wouldn't even be the most unexpected quarterback to have a great game against the Patriots in a Super Bowl. Foles (2017 Eagles) and Jake Delhomme (2003 Panthers) have already done that.
While the pressure of the Super Bowl can affect players mentally, we're going to focus on the physical pressure that could plague Goff in this game. For as well as the Patriots have protected Brady in the playoffs, the defense has been just as impressive at creating havoc. Philip Rivers (45.3 percent) and Patrick Mahomes (44.4 percent) had two of the three highest pressure rates the Patriots have produced all season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Patriots were ninth in blitz rate (28.8 percent) in the regular season, according to Sports Info Solutions. The Rams should provide better pass protection than the Chargers and Chiefs were capable of giving their quarterbacks. Goff led the league with 1,111 passing yards (9.4 yards per attempt) against five-man rushes, so the Patriots will have to choose their spots in this matchup.
Goff does have a tendency to hold the ball long. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Goff's average time before pass is 2.96 seconds, the fourth-longest mark in 2018. He's held the ball for an average of at least 2.8 seconds in 15 of the 18 games, and his lowest game was 2.69 seconds (the 30-23 loss vs. Philadelphia). This season, quarterbacks holding the ball for an average of at least 2.8 seconds are 0-10 against the Patriots compared to 5-3 when holding the ball a shorter amount of time. Did we just crack the secret sauce there? Probably not. The Patriots have won a lot of games over the years regardless of this statistic, and Goff is 17-4 under McVay when he holds the ball at least 2.8 seconds.
One of the main reasons Goff holds the ball longer is because the Rams have the highest usage rate of play-action passing (34 percent according to Sports Info Solutions), and play-action passes take longer to develop. It's an important element of McVay's offense as the Rams averaged 9.0 yards per play with play-action, the third-best mark in the NFL. The Patriots' defense only ranked 17th in yards per play allowed (7.8) to play-action, but also faced the third-lowest rate of usage for it (18 percent). The Rams can't afford to live on play-action in this matchup, but Goff did use it 20 times in Super Bowl 52.5 against the Chiefs, the highest total in a game in the last four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Without play-action, the Rams still average 7.1 yards per play, good for seventh in the league.
If Goff gets protection, then the coverage matchups should be very interesting. The Patriots played the highest rate (57 percent) of man coverage in 2018, according to Sports Info Solutions. Goff actually averaged the highest yards per attempt (9.26) against man coverage of any quarterback with at least 50 attempts this season. He's also thrown 16 touchdowns to two interceptions against man coverage compared to nine touchdowns and nine interceptions against zone coverage. (Most quarterbacks will throw more touchdowns against man coverage because there's more man coverage in the red zone, but Goff's rank among quarterbacks in touchdown percentage also improves significantly.) The Chiefs hit some big plays on the Patriots using pick plays in the AFC Championship Game, so McVay will want to dial up his best plays to beat man coverage for this matchup.
The excellent numbers this season against man coverage should bode well for Goff, but we'll see what happens if the Patriots are successful in jamming the receivers. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Belichick employ some old game plans in how he handled the 2001 Rams and 2003 Colts by getting physical with the receivers to throw off the timing of plays. Goff is mobile enough to buy himself some time, but he's not going to be as excellent in improvising big plays as Mahomes was. However, this is where NFL's Next Gen Stats can help. In 2016, Goff threw into tight windows (defender within 1 yard of target) a league-high 25.9 percent of the time. Under McVay, Goff's rates have dipped to 14.3 percent in 2017 (fifth lowest) and 13.2 percent in 2018 (eighth lowest). McVay's offensive design will usually get receivers open with separation.
As far as his arsenal, Goff has wide receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, who finished with very similar stats this season both in production and advanced metrics. Cooks is a better deep threat and the former Patriot could very well see double teams while New England's stud cornerback Stephon Gilmore handles Woods. The Patriots finished second in DVOA against deep passes, but 21st against short passes. This is definitely a matchup where the Rams will miss slot receiver Cooper Kupp, who tore his ACL in November. Obviously the Rams have continued to win high-scoring games without Kupp, but his DVOA (23.8%) was a lot higher than replacement Josh Reynolds' DVOA (1.9%). The Rams don't look for a lot of receiving production from their tight ends (Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee), and the Patriots were eighth in DVOA against the position. However, Everett could be valuable for one big play, as he's done a few times this year. New England is 22nd in DVOA against receiving backs, and that is an area where Todd Gurley can be helpful if his hands are no longer in the stone state they were in New Orleans last time out.
We haven't written much about Gurley here, but his stock has fallen with injury and the way the offense has performed with C.J. Anderson, who was signed off the street in mid-December. Of course, if you know advanced stats, then you know that Gurley's success is heavily related to the Rams' scheme and offensive line rather than anything Gurley does himself. The Rams set the all-time record in adjusted line yards this season, and also led the league in second-level yards per carry (gains 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage). In part because the Rams used almost exclusively 11 personnel, Gurley faced eight or more in the box just 8.2 percent of the time, the third-lowest figure in the league. Out of the top 40 backs in touches, Gurley's broken tackle rate of 13.3 percent ranked 27th.
The Patriots ranked 19th in run defense DVOA in the regular season. Things have improved in the playoffs, sort of; they have allowed just 2.73 yards per carry last two games, but still a 45 percent success rate (compared to a 43 percent success rate in the regular season). The main difference is that they haven't allowed any runs over 10 yards in the postseason. The Rams should be able to run right up the gut on the Patriots, as they led the league in ALY up the middle while the Patriots defense was 27th in ALY up the middle (26th overall).
According to Sports Info Solutions charting, the Rams' favorite running play is Outside Zone, and that's a play the Patriots defense had a mixed record against this season. They allowed just 4.0 yards per carry, below the NFL average of 4.4 yards, but they also allowed a 45 percent success rate on outside zone runs, when the NFL average was just 40 percent.
Of course, Gurley and Anderson aren't the only players who can carry the ball on running plays. We know that the Rams like to use a lot of motion in general and a lot of jet sweep motion in particular, and sometimes you're going to hand the ball off on those jet sweeps. The Rams led the NFL with 35 carries by wide receivers (with an asterisk; I'm removing the games Cordarrelle Patterson played halfback for the Patriots) plus another two by tight end Gerald Everett. They averaged 7.4 yards with 44.6% DVOA. They've added another six wide receiver runs in the playoffs for 36 yards. (Yes, technically a couple of these plays might be screen passes determined to be backwards laterals, but they're mostly end arounds and jet sweeps.) Whether it was random variation or something about the Patriots' defensive scheme, Patriots opponents did not hand the ball to wide receivers this year. The Patriots faced just seven runs by wideouts all season for a total loss of nine yards, with no run going more than three yards.
You may have seen Warren Sharp tweet about the fact that the Patriots, since Week 11, are the worst defense in the league against runs from 11 personnel. Obviously, that's a terrible weakness to have against the Rams. But is this a real weakness, or just sample size? What's strange about this statistic is that the Patriots defense was the exact opposite before Week 11. (These stats remove scrambles; success rate is from the offense's point of view.)
|Patriots Run D vs. 11 Personnel|
Is there some personnel change that might have occurred in Week 12 that changed the way the Patriots defended runs from 11 personnel? Nose tackle Danny Shelton barely played in Week 12 and didn't play at all in Weeks 13-15, but that's about it. And if there was some personnel change that created this trend against 11 personnel... why is the trend of run defense against 12 personnel the reverse? This is actually an important split to check for the Patriots defense because the Rams have used a lot more 12 personnel ever since bringing Anderson aboard in Week 16.
|Patriots Run D vs. 12 Personnel|
Combine all the weeks, and the Patriots run defense against both 11 and 12 personnel is about where its overall run defense numbers are: a little below average. Their numbers against passes from these personnel groups are a bit better.
Against pass plays from 11 personnel, the Patriots allowed 5.8 net yards per pass (eighth) and a 41 percent success rate (seventh). Against pass plays from 12 personnel, the Patriots allowed 7.7 net yards per pass (17th) but only allowed a 44 percent success rate (fourth).
Now that we've recited all these personnel splits, we have to tell you that we're not sure how much they matter. The teams that the Patriots faced this year use 11 personnel much differently from how the Rams use that personnel. Most of the time, 11 personnel means a spread-out set with the quarterback in shotgun. Not for the Rams. Based on SIS charting data, the Rams ran 561 plays this year with 11 personnel and the quarterback under center. No other team ran more than 200 such plays! The Patriots themselves were No. 2 at 199 plays. And the New England defense faced only 81 of these plays during the season, a fairly small sample size; only three defenses faced 11 personnel with the quarterback under center less. (Ironically, the defense that faced this setup the least was... the Los Angeles Rams.) Combining runs and passes, the Patriots allowed 4.9 yards per play to 11 personnel with the quarterback under center (seventh) but also allowed a 49 percent success rate (19th). They had a better success rate against passes than runs -- but again, that's only 33 passes and 48 runs.
In looking at the down and play type splits, the Rams are a top five offense in DVOA in every area except for one: 17th in passes on third/fourth downs. One issue there was that only seven quarterbacks had a higher interception rate on third down than Goff (3.5 percent). You might assume third-and-long is the main culprit there, but the Rams were actually fourth in DVOA in long situations. However, the Patriots defense also excelled in these situations.
|Rams Offense and Patriots Defense on Third/Fourth Downs, 2018|
|Team||3rd-Short (1-2)||Rank||3rd-Mid (3-6)||Rank||3rd-Long (7+)||Rank|
Goff's conversion rate and sack rate were better than average, but the Rams need to be more aggressive than running bubble screens in those situations. On the season, Goff has thrown a pass behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-long 17 times, and the Rams have two first downs to show for it. Overall on third down with at least 7 yards to go, Goff's conversion rate on negative-ALEX passes is 14.7 percent compared to 54.2 percent (excluding a Hail Mary interception) when he attacks beyond the sticks. In terms of general screen passes (all downs), the Patriots were above average on defense, never allowing a gain longer than 25 yards. The Rams averaged a league-high 8.4 yards per screen pass, but were only 21st in success rate on those plays.
One other thing to watch for when the Rams have the ball: there shouldn't be many penalties. The Rams were the least-penalized offense in the NFL this year, and only two teams had fewer penalties than the Patriots on defense.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Rams (50.1 percent) had the percentage of plays with positive EPA of any offense in the last seven seasons. This has been a superb offense even if recent play from Goff and Gurley leaves you feeling skeptical of how great they'll be on Sunday night. For what it's worth, in 34 games together McVay and Goff have only had two games where they weren't at least within one score with possession in the fourth quarter.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
As you may have heard, the Patriots have become a much more run-heavy offense over their last four games. If we look only at the first half of games, including the playoffs, the Patriots ran on 40.9 percent of plays, which ranks 16th in the NFL. (The Rams ran on 39.4 percent, 18th.) But since Week 16, that number is 48.1 percent, which would have ranked second behind Seattle during the regular season. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is the loss of Josh Gordon taking away one of Brady's downfield weapons. Another is that the change is a function of the teams they were playing. There were only six teams during the regular season which gave up more efficiency (defined by a higher DVOA) to runs than to passes. Two of them were among the Patriots last four opponents, Buffalo and Kansas City. But another one of the six teams was the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams allowed just 2.44 yards per carry (-39.1% DVOA) in their first two playoff games. But there's no reason to believe this is a trend rather than just two good games. In the two previous games, the Rams had allowed 6.10 yards per carry (3.1% DVOA). Our old friend Doug Farrar noted in a tweet that the Rams are getting a lot of their big run stops with stacked boxes, but they don't seem to be using those stacked boxes more than usual. Based on ESPN Stats & Info charting, the Rams averaged 6.26 men in the box during the regular season and then 6.25 men in the box in their first two playoff games.
On the surface, there are some similarities between these two running games even though they depend on very different types of plays. Both teams still run a lot from more conventional quarterback under-center formations, ranking 1-2 in total running plays with the quarterback under center. The Rams set a record for adjusted line yards on offense, but the Patriots finished third this season. And like Todd Gurley, the Patriots running backs are surprisingly low in broken tackles. Even lower, in fact. Both Sony Michel (10.6 percent) and James White (7.7 percent) had broken tackle rates in the bottom five of the top 40 backs in touches. And when we flip things around, both defenses were below-average against the run, though the Rams were worse than the Patriots.
The Patriots were strongest running up the middle but also finished sixth in ALY on runs around left end. The Rams' defense was strongest (i.e. league average) against runs up the middle but worst against runs around left end. The Patriots' most common play call for runs was "Lead," which they ran more than any team in the league. It makes sense given how much they use a fullback (only San Francisco used 21 personnel more often). The Patriots averaged 4.3 yards per carry on these plays with a 45 percent success rate. The Rams were below-average against this play (4.6 yards, 47 percent offensive success), but the league averages aren't that high to begin with (3.8, 37 percent) and it's a small sample size of just 34 plays. Still, five of those 34 runs did go for double-digit yardage. The Patriots also ran "Power" more often than any other offense; the Rams only faced this 20 times all year but just four of those runs were successful.
The Patriots' best time to run is second down, not first down. The Patriots ranked fourth in run DVOA on second down, compared to 16th on first down and 14th on third and fourth down. The Rams defense was 29th against the run on second down. On the other hand, a problem for the Patriots is running when they absolutely need a yard or two. The Pats were a surprisingly low 58 percent (29th) converting short-yardage runs in 2018, though the Rams defense ranked 21st allowing 68 percent conversion on these runs.
Even if you remove the two games where Cordarrelle Patterson played halfback, the Patriots were second in the league in runs by wide receivers, with 7.5 yards per carry and 55.9% DVOA. The Rams defense faced wide receiver runs even less often than the Patriots defense: only four of them, which was the lowest figure in the league. They allowed 47 yards on these runs, but again, it's a super small sample size here. The jet sweep possibility doesn't just come from Patterson; Julian Edelman had five carries this year with four first downs and 66 yards.
Speaking of Edelman: as Vincent Verhei pointed out in a Quick Reads special, the Rams gave up some huge games to opposing No. 1 receivers this year. But they didn't necessarily give up huge games to opposing No. 1 receivers who resembled Julian Edelman: opponent's top targets who play largely from the slot. In four games, Larry Fitzgerald and Doug Baldwin averaged only 3.8 catches for 30.3 yards. Keenan Allen, another No. 1 who is more of a possession reciver, caught just 3 of 7 targets for 44 yards back in Week 3. This is an issue of scheme, not of any one cornerback; according to SIS charting, 10 different Rams defenders were in coverage for at least one pass against these three receivers.
The Rams are very unlikely to change their usual setup: Marcus Peters on the offensive left, Aqib Talib on the offensive right, and Nickell Robey-Coleman in the slot. Almost no defense balanced man and zone coverage like the Rams, according to SIS charting, so it's worth looking at the pass coverage stats both for individual players and by side.
First, by individual players. Peters had a slightly below average success rate this year (49 percent, 56th among qualifying corners) but what was really bad was his tendency for getting burned deep (9.7 yards per pass, 80th). Peters allowed completions on seven plays with 20 or more air yards; only six cornerbacks allowed more such plays. Talib's raw charting stats aren't fabulous, but they are better than the stats for Peters: 8.4 yards per pass, 52 percent success rate. And Peters was targeted three times as often in twice as many games. The really impressive cornerback in the individual charting stats is Robey-Coleman, who allowed just 4.4 yards per pass with a 67 percent success rate. But Robey-Coleman didn't spend much time covering any of those previously noted "No. 1 inside receivers" -- he had two targets covering Fitzgerald and none covering Baldwin or Allen. And he gave up two touchdowns on drag routes against Kansas City, which seems like a good way to get Edelman the ball.
The difference between Peters and Talib becomes clearer when we look at passing by sides. For the season, the Rams ranked 24th on passes to the offensive left but second on passes to the offensive right. There's a massive split in that DVOA on passes to the right depending on whether Talib was in the lineup. But it's interesting to see that there's also a similar split in DVOA on passes to the left, an argument for the idea that having Talib healthy helps the entire defense by letting the Rams focus attention to the other side of the field:
|L.A. Rams Defense, Offensive Left vs. Offensive Right, 2018|
|Weeks 1-3 (with Talib)||-19.7%||6.7||70%||-79.3%||4.1||62%|
|Weeks 4-13 (without Talib)||18.3%||9.4||70%||-11.3%||7.6||66%|
|Weeks 14-17 (with Talib)||-12.9%||6.5||68%||-59.0%||6.5||66%|
(Talib played less than half the snaps in his first game back Week 13, so we've included that in with the games he did not play.)
The Rams ranked 22nd in DVOA against deep passes (16+ air yards) and sixth against short passes (up to 15 air yards). Though it may seem like Brady's deep-throw strength has fallen with age, he still attempted plenty of deep passes this year and did well on them. In the regular season, 17.8 percent of Patriots passes were deep, only slightly below the NFL average of 18.9 percent, and Brady had 71.3% pass DVOA on these throws, higher than the NFL quarterback average of 51.7%. However, the Patriots' rate of passing deep has dropped since the departure of their best deep threat, Gordon. In the last four games, only 14.8 percent of the Patriots' passes have gone over 15 yards in the air, with 55.9% DVOA.
More interesting may be the split in the Rams' short coverage DVOA by direction. As strong as the split was between left and right, the defense against passes in the middle of the field was even worse. The Rams were No. 2 against passes to the short right, 21st against the short left, and 27th against the short middle. Brady should be able to take full advantage of this, right? Actually, Brady's 35.1% DVOA on short middle passes was almost exactly the NFL average, and surprisingly, his frequency of throwing to the short middle of the field is also close to the league average. Brady is most likely to use the short left of the field, where only Indianapolis threw more passes during the regular season.
A lot of those short left passes are to James White, and we'll see if the Patriots are as active as usual throwing to White and other running backs in this game. The Rams ranked fourth in DVOA on passes to running backs and allowed just 28.3 yards per game compared to a league average of 43.5. With 96 yards two weeks ago, Alvin Kamara was the first running back with 50 receiving yards against the Rams since Oakland's Jalen Richard way back in Week 1.
There's also the question of covering Rob Gronkowski. The Rams were efficient against tight ends but also gave up huge totals. The Rams were fifth in DVOA against tight ends. They were fifth in catch rate allowed (only 62 percent) and tied for the league lead with eight interceptions on passes intended for tight ends. But after adjusting for opponent, they also ranked No. 3 in tight end passes faced per game and No. 4 in total yardage given up to tight ends. Again, this was against a real mix of defenders, and a lot of zone coverage. (19 of 27 completions the Rams allowed to Zach Ertz, George Kittle, or Travis Kelce came against zone coverage.)
Speaking of tight ends, one thing we saw a lot less from the Patriots in 2018 was plays with 12 personnel. In some recent seasons, the Patriots led the league in two-tight end sets. This year, as noted earlier, there's been a lot more of the standard 21 personnel with James Develin at fullback. Here's a look at the Patriots offense by personnel grouping:
|Patriots Offense by Personnel, 2018|
|Personnel||Pct Plays||Yd/Play||Suc Rate|
What does the Rams defense look like against the Patriots' top two personnel packages? Well, it turns out that the Patriots weren't the worst run defense this year against 11 personnel. The Rams were. But against 21 personnel, the Rams' weakness was against the pass, which is interesting considering that they allowed so few passes to running backs during the season.
|Patriots Offense and Rams Defense by Personnel, 2018|
Like the Rams, the Patriots use a lot of play-action and are very successful with it. The Patriots ranked fourth with play-action on 29 percent of pass plays and led the NFL with 9.9 net yards per pass on these plays, compared to just 6.3 net yards per pass (21st) on other passes. And the Rams gave up 8.8 net yards per pass on play-action this year, the second-worst figure in the league ahead of only Green Bay.
The play-action pass is meant in part to slow down the pass rush and that brings us to the battle in the trenches, which should be the most decisive part of this game. Do you believe in season-long trends where the Rams have been fantastic, or are the Patriots just peaking at the right time to win a record-tying sixth Super Bowl? According to ESPN's Brian Burke, the Patriots had the highest Pass Block Win Rate of the season in their win over the Chiefs. That's one of the interesting metrics ESPN has for pass blocking, based on the NFL's Next Gen Stats tracking chips. For the season, the Rams (54.6 percent) easily ranked No. 1 in Pass Protection Rate, which is the percentage of dropbacks where the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. The Patriots were solid at No. 11 (50.2 percent). On defense, the Rams (55.2 percent) were also No. 1 in Pass Rush Rate, or the percentage of dropbacks where the defense controlled the line of scrimmage. The Patriots were average at 17th (51.0 percent).
However, the Patriots have done phenomenal work in the postseason both protecting Brady and causing havoc on opposing quarterbacks. If you look at the difference between New England's defensive pass pressure rate and the pressure rate on Brady, then the Patriots had their two best games of the season in the playoffs: Chargers (+33.9 percent) and Chiefs (+33.5 percent). Their average pressure differential in the regular season was only +7.9 percent. While Brady gets rid of the ball quickly -- a big reason why the Patriots were No. 1 in adjusted sack rate as well -- it's not as simple as just that. In Week 16 against Buffalo, Brady's average time to pass was his second-fastest of 2018, but his pressure rate was the highest (40.0 percent) of any game this year as well. He held the ball long against the Jets in Week 17, but his pressure rate was cut in half to 20.6 percent. His time to pass was almost identical in both Kansas City meetings, but his pressure rate was cut in half in the playoff meeting despite being on the road. The Patriots have done an outstanding job of protection, and it doesn't hurt to keep Gronkowski in to chip or hold his block since he hasn't been as involved in the receiving game this season.
The Rams should present a different challenge thanks to their ability to get interior pressure with Aaron Donald (likely Defensive Player of the Year) and Ndamukong Suh. According to Next Gen Stats, the Rams led the NFL in interior pressure rate (16.6 percent), and Brady's passer rating against interior pressure (63.1) was much worse than his rating against edge pressure (118.7). Brady was below average against blitzes this season, but the Rams were only 23rd in blitz rate (19.5 percent), according to Sports Info Solutions. Whether the pressure comes from Donald or the edge, the Rams are going to have to get to Brady to win this game. Sometimes, it only takes one great pressure to turn one of these games. The Eagles got one on Brady in last year's Super Bowl to force a late fumble. The Rams have gotten it this year in the form of hitting Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees in motion to cause crucial interceptions.
Since 2014, the Patriots have gone an impressive 5-2 in comeback opportunities in the playoffs. To close this team out, pressure has to be applied to Tom Brady with the game on the line. As you can see in this table with data from ESPN Stats & Info, only the 2015 Broncos and 2017 Eagles were able to put significant pressure on Brady late in the game to eliminate the Patriots.
|Pressure Rate on Tom Brady in Playoff Comeback Attempts Since 2014|
|Year||Game||Opp||Score Thru Q3||Q1-3 Press%||Q4/OT Press%||Diff||Final|
|2014||DIV||BAL||Tied 28-28||25.0%||22.2%||-2.8%||W 35-31|
|2014||SB||SEA||Trailed 24-14||20.0%||12.5%||-7.5%||W 28-24|
|2015||CCG||at DEN||Trailed 17-12||25.0%||40.0%||15.0%||L 20-18|
|2016||SB||ATL||Trailed 28-9||44.7%||20.0%||-24.7%||W 34-28 (OT)|
|2017||CCG||JAX||Trailed 17-10||22.2%||13.3%||-8.9%||W 24-20|
|2017||SB||PHI||Trailed 29-26||34.8%||43.8%||9.0%||L 41-33|
|2018||CCG||at KC||Led 17-7||8.7%||13.0%||4.3%||W 37-31 (OT)|
Finally, one last weird little split that we discovered from this season. The bigger the lead that the Rams have, the worse their defense gets.
|Rams Defense by Current Score, 2018|
|Current Score||Yd/Play||DVOA||DVOA Rk|
|Rams down 9+||3.93||-41.0%||3|
|Rams down 1-8||5.08||-21.1%||4|
|Rams tied or up 1-8||6.23||-0.4%||16|
|Rams up 9+||6.45||14.0%||27|
This is a little odd because you would expect a defense with top pass-rushers such as Donald and Suh to be better, not worse, when playing with a lead. In his Quick Reads special looking at the Patriots' biggest losses, Vincent Verhei noted that the best way to beat the Patriots this year was to put them way behind early and force them to give up on their ground game. But this split suggests it will be tough to do that. And while Tom Brady may have struggled to come back from big deficits against the Jaguars, Lions, and Titans this season, we know that historically he has no problem coming back from large deficits. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons.
As mentioned in the NFC Championship preview,, the Rams' special teams rating looks a lot different without the injury to Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein in Weeks 2-6. If we remove Zuerlein's replacements, the Rams would move up from 17th to ninth in special teams DVOA. Zuerlein has been on the injury report with an injury in his plant foot but is supposed to be fine for the Super Bowl. Johnny Hekker, who was our No. 1 punter of 2016 and No. 3 punter of 2017, had a bit of an off-year, ranking just 11th in gross punt value and 13th in net punt value. JoJo Natson now handles both kickoff and punt returns for the Rams; he was negative on kick return value and positive on punt return value, although all the positive value came in a single game, Week 2 against Arizona.
The Patriots' nearly broke their 23-year string of finishing with above-average special teams DVOA, and the primary culprit was kickoff coverage. The Patriots finished dead last in our net kickoff value metric even though Stephen Gostkowski was above-average in gross kickoff value. After kickoffs, New England opponents started their average drive at the 27.1-yard line, the worst figure in the league. The Patriots had positive value on punts, with Ryan Allen, and kick returns, where Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the best return men in history. Julian Edelman was an average punt returner in the regular season but has been excellent in the playoffs with five different returns of at least nine yards.
Blocked punts aren't included in DVOA because they tend not to be predictive, but it's worth noting that the Patriots had four of them this year and the Rams had three. No other team had more than two.
The Patriots and Rams (25 each) were both near the top of the league in penalties on special teams (including kickoffs, punts, field goals, and extra points).
Four years ago when we previewed Super Bowl XLIX, we mentioned that it was the closest Super Bowl we had ever tracked. Now Super Bowl LIII has surpassed it. Based on the playoff odds simulation equation, which itself is based on weighted DVOA, the Patriots have a 50.1 percent chance to win this game. It would be hard to get this game closer to 50-50.
But when we look at the specific matchups, we lean a little bit in favor of the Patriots. Jared Goff's struggles over the last two months are hard to hide. The Patriots have the best pass defense that the Rams have played in the postseason. And the clearer matchup advantage comes when the Patriots have the ball. The Rams defense has improved over the same recent two months where Goff has declined, but the Rams struggled both against 21 personnel and play-action. They struggled against runs from spread-out, 11-personnel sets. The best game plan for the Patriots may be to go against type: run from their spread sets and pass from their heavier sets.
We also have to address a problematic issue with these coaches: fourth downs. Belichick was once known as the most aggressive coach in the league on fourth downs, but he's gotten more conservative in his old age. However, McVay has seemingly been even more conservative. McVay actually scores better than Belichick in our Aggressiveness Index metric, but that's because of the fourth-and-over-2 situations where McVay calls for a fake from Johnny Hekker. If we look at just fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2, McVay is one of the most conservative coaches in the league.
McVay's conservativism on fourth-and-short is exacerbated by the fact that the Rams' strong running game should theoretically make them a better-than-average offense in these situations. Because of this, the EdjSports Game-Winning Chance model scored the Rams with 35 different "High Confidence Errors" during the 2018 regular season. No other offense had more than 26.
The biggest storyline in the AFC Championship Game was whether Patrick Mahomes had overtaken Tom Brady as the AFC's standard-bearer among quarterbacks. Brady wasn't ready to pass the torch to Mahomes on that day. For this week's game, the biggest storyline is whether McVay has overtaken Belichick as the leader among current NFL coaches. Belichick's not ready to pass the torch either; can he bookend this amazing 18-year Patriots run with matching Super Bowl wins over the Rams? Or will McVay have the game plan to beat the all-time master of Super Bowl game plans ... and if the game is close, will he be aggressive and go for the win when it counts?
DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.
Team DVOA numbers incorporate all plays; since passing is generally more efficient than rushing, the average for passing is actually above 0% while the average for rushing is below 0%.
SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.
Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). Unlike other DVOA ranks, WEIGHTED DVOA also incorporates each team's postseason performance.
Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA. (For the Super Bowl, we also have smaller charts for special teams DVOA.) In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a rolling average of the last five games. Note that the defensive chart is reversed so upwards is a more negative defensive DVOA (which is better).
74 comments, Last at 03 Feb 2019, 2:49pm
#23 by Cheesehead_Canuck // Jan 31, 2019 - 9:33pm
Good. It’s a cesspool. Anyway. Some pussy Pats fans who can’t handle his criticisms of Brady dug up some old tweets that weren’t in the best of taste, but didn’t seem fireable, and 24 hours later he’s done. I’m not even making that up. Brady bootlickers purposely got him fired.
I’m sure FO will have an explanation soon.
#24 by xSumInternetGyX // Jan 31, 2019 - 9:43pm
Ive personally felt he writes with more bias then the other writers on this site, but still read every article hes posted. At worst, his writing is mildly preferential to manning, but all in all hes made alot of great insights. Even if his actual writing style is workmanlike though uninspired.
That said, i dont think anyone can read his work and not conclude he has a anti brady bias. So if the trolls attack him with stuff he legitimately said, well its just how social media is now, he should of addressed his comments before they could use them against him.
#26 by xSumInternetGyX // Jan 31, 2019 - 11:16pm
His "sober brady approach" also stretched to Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, in hundrends of articles i dont think ive ever read anything about them that wasnt a sly criticism, back hand compliment, or denigrating interpretation of achievement. Hes a good writer, but its dishonest to suggest he doesnt write with bias. I dont think its a coincidence he writes multiple articles on his interpretation of Manning's legacy, yet can never spare a good word for any qb who isnt Manning. Its not just Brady, its any QB who may challenge Mannings reputation, Brady's just the most visible.
If he just had a sincere apology explaining how hes grown and matured and wasnt correct in those statements and he doesnt believe them now. Is that really so bad. I mean he did write an article explaining why colin kaepernick should still be playing, so some stupid comments may not reflect his stance, only his poor decision making then.
Still, the apology was rubbish. It was so sterotypically condescending, blame other people for being offended. Just admit you wrote them and have learned how mistaken he was then, and he wasnt right to think or feel thst way. People change, everyones believed or expressed stupid things, own up to your mistakes. Ive read alot of his work from the beginning at CHFF to here, and his writing always comes off as being somewhat narcissistic.
#27 by Mountain Time … // Feb 01, 2019 - 2:14am
Wait, I'm not following. He got fired for having sports takes some people disagreed with? How does that possibly work?
Mike Tanier has the absolute worst takes about Kirk Cousins and I might fight him in a dark alley over them one day, but I don't think he should be fired! At worst I would stop reading his columns but I'm not even going to do that because I like good writers who write about football! Disagreeing about sports takes (and never apologizing for them) is what sports twitter is literally about!
#34 by xSumInternetGyX // Feb 01, 2019 - 6:53am
I just read his explanation on his site, its even even worse then the twitter one. The "jokes" he uses to demonstrate his views that he only uses race as a comedic tool are both terribely unfunny and still offensive.
Its such a immature stance from a successful writer, he didnt apologize or admit his stance is incorrect, just that he couldnt be that wrong since the people who revealed these tweets are despiciable twitter trolls.
Thats his entire stance, "these despiciable patriots fans are trolls who are hypocrits and losers and searched my 140000+tweets to find offensive "jokes" i made, theyre terrible people and shouldnt be taken seriously".
Thats his entire explanation. A half-hearted "i didnt write these to offened people, but they are offended, so im sorry".
Maybe he has a terrible sense of humor, and those tweets are expression of that and not malice, but dude how can you he a professional writer and not see how inappropriate those tweets are?
#64 by patriotsgirl // Feb 02, 2019 - 12:32am
Completely agreed. Some of the takes on this thread made me actually angry, because football allegiance apparently trumps basic human decency towards a group of people. And Kacsmar (with a lack of self-awareness) is exploiting that to cast himself as a victim.
These tweets were not borderline even twenty years ago, yet alone REPEATEDLY between 5-7 years ago. If someone condones them, that's their right, but it's a very good sign that person is not a human I want to interact with on basically any level.
#30 by Subrata Sircar // Feb 01, 2019 - 4:52am
They were not sports takes. At best they were punching-down race-based humor. At worst ...
There is also the "sorry you were offended" apology afterwards.
Regardless of whether you' in the right, putting the blame on the people who were offended is always a bad look. If you want to go that route, just own it - you're not really apologizing, so don't pretend to.
#33 by xSumInternetGyX // Feb 01, 2019 - 6:31am
No, he wasnt fired for anything to do with sports journalism. I was simply stating my opinion on his writing ethics/style, not related in any way to why he was dismissed.
There are articles available that have his offending tweets accessible, theyre not related to football outsiders in any way.
#35 by markf // Feb 01, 2019 - 7:18am
Let's be clear. What Scott tweeted was disgusting, and his initial apology was lame (his blog post on it was much better, in my opinion). But I don't think he should have been fired - that's on FO for caving more than anything.
Without excusing what Scott tweeted or how he apologized, the reason why those tweets were dug up was lame. It was some Patriots fans (of which I'm one) who were battling with Scott on Twitter, who decided to dig up his Twitter history. Like, really? Just stop following him if he gets to you that much. At the same time, Scott is guilty of engaging with the Twitter trolls when he probably shouldn't. He's easily upset by antagonists and turns obnoxious himself.
I do believe that his bias sometimes creeps into his analysis, and that hurts his credibility somewhat. He's a Steelers fan who's been a Peyton Manning fanboy for years, and occasionally he lets his personal bias dictate the result he wants, and then only uses statistics favorable to that result in his analysis.
#36 by xSumInternetGyX // Feb 01, 2019 - 8:02am
I hope the articles he writes will continue, mostly the playoff drive stats. Clutch encounters is good, though i believe he'll simply publish them on his site.
I could care less if Alex continues, ive never really valued it as a analysis. Still, more infomration is better than less.
#37 by sbond101 // Feb 01, 2019 - 8:20am
I don't agree that FO was in the wrong here; If Scott was just about anything but a media personality I would agree with you on this point, but Scott is a writer working in media, and his tweets are obviously part of his professional life (given that he has/had FO as part of his twitter tag). In that position you can't treat twitter casually and risk damaging your employers brand, and that's what he did. FO was right to fire him for it.
On a related note I'm continually shocked by how ready publishers are to allow their employees to play in the public sphere on social media. There is so little upside to it compared to the risk it puts your people at (e.g. If I ran a football stats website I would be tyrannical about making sure the only thing my people tweeted about was football stats); I mean really, what could Scott possibly have thought he was doing for his employer when he posted that stuff.
#39 by markf // Feb 01, 2019 - 8:25am
I see your point, but most of his comments were years ago, before he was even with FO. I could definitely understand a suspension, but outright firing just a couple days after the tweets dug up? Nah. Too rash in my opinion.
#40 by Raiderjoe // Feb 01, 2019 - 8:33am
sbond101 correect in Scott's tweets potentially damagign FO brand. Potential for FO to get labelled racist and also poitential for some readers to stop goiogn to this site. depemnding upon PA state laws, Scott coudl also possibly be denied unemployment beneifts (or having to suffer through a penalty period; different states ahve different laws) for hurting or potentially hurting employer. His actions coudl be classified under "inappropriate conduct".
Agree that some o f the tweets were rough. How rough cna be up to individual readers' interpretations.
#41 by ncuba // Feb 01, 2019 - 9:27am
Firing Scott for racist tweets was a reasonable decision on the part of FO simply because they undercut readers' trust in the writing here. A lot of Scott's racist tweets drew explicitly on the same kind of racial and cultural caricatures as you see often enough elsewhere in the sports-take world as "not the right kind of player" comments.
I think it's fun and insightful to read articles that cite analytics in support of the author's take, but if there's evidence that a FO writer is prejudiced against black people I start to wonder about the validity of the statistics he's citing and how representative they are. I guess if you're really read up in this stuff then you can argue and know the context yourself, but as a hobbyist reader that's not me.
#42 by RickD // Feb 01, 2019 - 9:39am
I gave up on Scott about two years back when he wrote an article claiming Manning's playoff history was better than Brady's. To support this argument, he used a data set that started after 2005.
In other words, it looked like it had been deliberately chosen to ignore Manning's worst playoff losses along with Brady's historic winning streak at the start of his playoff career. I mocked him for that and he created an untenable reason for doing what he did. ("It's not in the database yet" and "there is no data" don't mean the same thing, BTW.)
Scott's a reasonably smart guy but he suffers from blind spots when it comes to admitting his own biases.
I kind of noticed that he was "getting into it" this past week with Pats fans again and saw that he was again dismissing criticism with wide-spreading insults. I thought it would be best to just ignore this particular kerfuffle and am happier to have done so.
#58 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2019 - 9:49pm
I've long felt that he embraced small samples with entirely too much enthusiasm, so when you get to dicing and slicing those small samples to pursue your confirmation bias, well, my interest becomes quite finite.
Having said that, some of his stuff held my attention, so I'm sorry he posted idiocies in the past that caught up with him, even as I support Aaron's eminently reasonable decision to part ways with him.
#46 by Theo // Feb 01, 2019 - 12:35pm
I dont have a twitter so my question is what did he say, how long ago was it and more importantly has he redeemed himself afterwards.
Internet doesnt forget but if one wisens up... and demostrates he is passed something, then I would not hold his past against him.
#54 by RBroPF // Feb 01, 2019 - 5:52pm
Well he made a conscious decision to broadcast a ton of ignorant, disgusting stuff to the entire world. It seems to me that if, in the past few years, he'd suddenly become a wiser and better person, the first thing he would have done would be to go back and delete those tweets.
Unless someone demonstrates that he's changed, it's entirely reasonable to hold their past against them, because we should assume that's who they still are in the present.
#67 by Alternator // Feb 03, 2019 - 1:03am
1) What he said was standard race-baiting dog whistles; one was: "Food stamps don't buy fireworks, but it's always a raucous night in the ghetto on 4th of July. Just have to differentiate the gunshots." One or two like that could be a failed attempt at humor, but once you hit a dozen and keep going, you're just a racist.
2) Most of the ones I've seen had the dates cropped off, but the few that didn't were 2013-2014. These aren't decades old embarrassments.
3) He offered a non-apology, "Sorry you were offended but I was just joking." No indication that he's changed his views, or even just learned to keep them to himself.
#55 by RBroPF // Feb 01, 2019 - 5:56pm
It sounds like he was being rude and obnoxious and the people he was being rude and obnoxious to (or with) decided to show the world just how big a jerk he really is. I'm sure those fans are probably jerks also, but it's hard to feel like that's some huge injustice.
#2 by dryheat // Jan 31, 2019 - 8:43am
Seems cliched, but I think whichever offensive line plays better wins. That probably applies to many, if not most, football contests, but it seems that if the O-Line can give the QB 2.75 seconds with the ball will likely win.
#3 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 31, 2019 - 8:55am
It is cliched, but it's also appropriate for this game, especially when NE has the ball. They need their OL to handle the Rams' DL in order to make their run game work (none of their RB committee makes much happen on their own) and to give Brady time to throw (none of his current receivers are great at getting separation quick; Edelman would be the best of them, but I expect Robey-Coleman will slow him down in the slot, and whoever's covered by Talib outside is likely to be a non-factor that play).
Probably not as a big a factor when the Rams have the ball. I think the Rams will move the ball pretty well on this Pats defence. The issue, I think, is going to be (a) can Goff deliver TDs in the red zone when space gets compressed and NE likely focuses on keeping Gurley/Anderson from running, and (b) can they sustain long drives without turnovers.
#59 by Will Allen // Feb 01, 2019 - 9:55pm
Pretty much agree, and put a gun to my head and make me choose, I'm going with The Minions of The Dark Lord. I also think Goff will handle any pressure less well, even though the other guy was in Super Bowl while Goff was still in footie pajamas.
#5 by Damon // Jan 31, 2019 - 11:04am
"In his Quick Reads special looking at the Patriots' biggest losses, Vincent Verhei noted that the best way to beat the Patriots this year was to put them way behind early and force them to give up on their ground game."
I definitely think this is the way to beat the Pats in 2018.
I just can't get past the fact they lost 3 games this year by 10+ points, most since 2005's 5 games and third worst in Belichick/Brady era (excludes 2008).
I also can't get past the fact that in the last 3 Pats Super Bowl appearances, they have trailed by at least 10 points in second half each game and on top of that, in Super Bowl XLIX and LI, both the Seahawks/Falcons both had the ball twice with 10+ point leads in the second half of those games and both offenses failed to deliver the knockout punch, ultimately giving Brady a chance late to beat them, which he did.
#8 by Raiderjoe // Jan 31, 2019 - 12:22pm
Do think if .a donald is great like usual and N. suh doesn't disappear, then Fowler si going to get some pressure on Soft Balls Brady. if Donald can somehow be neutralized, Pates shoudlw in game. Would think and hope Rams play a lot of man coverage and press the receivers. Soft stuff seen by XChargers and Chiefs just not going to work. Giving receivesr free releases and poor communicaiton between the DBs will spell massive trouble. Legion of Boom successful back in olsen times due to gerat communication between guys like Sherman, Chancellor, and Thjomas amd general aggressiveness. Communication goign to be key when dealing with receivers in stacked sets and legal rub action.
Do like Pates offensive lien. Still deciding on a few spots for my all-NFL team. Couple Pates linemen in mix. S. mason very impressive.
Brady great in pocket, extremely smart, not gerta throwing deep anymore, can do something on occasion deep but only on occasion. J. White very effective, liked him at Wisconsin. Figured woudl eb good in nfl. Edelman very small eyes, when playing always llooks like boxer in 12th round of rough fight. Very good player, if had some type of All-Iron tema or All_Raiderjoe team would have him on it. Edelman and Quincy Enunwa are two guys enjoy watching play. There are some others.
A. Talib very bizarre guy. Possible alien. Always wears a chain outside his shirt or jacket eveb when wearing suit. Seemns to look through people when talkign to them. M. Peters weird guy and very excitable. Threw flag in stands during a chiefs-Jets game in 2017. thought he was ejected, left field, came back with just socks on feet. Had very rough eyar in 2018. think Pates can exploit this fellow.
Do like T. Gurley, and c.j. anderson. If Gurley is okay (seems to be battling confidence issue afgter getting hurt in december(, then Rams should get some yardage out of him but don't be surprised if Gurley gets more yards as receiver than runner. Anderson big plow horse. Could be stymied by interior PAtes defensive lime which is good.
rams good punter. Woudl not be surprised if J. hekker runs for a first down in this ghame.
No reason to think game will be blowout. The Brady-Belichick Super Bowls never are. Only first pates super bowl was blowout when Bears mauled them 46 to 10.
Will save official prediction till Sunday. Not that my prediction means anything.
#51 by Raiderjoe // Feb 01, 2019 - 1:01pm
Are you asking for all-NFL tema (would have aaron donald, mahomes, etc.- the best of hte 2018 season) or all-Raiderjoe team with edelman and enunwa tyopes on it?
former is near completion, latter
is just idea that i could follow through with
#9 by ChrisS // Jan 31, 2019 - 12:52pm
Really great article, which is why this claim sticks out "and the Rams (15-3) have only gotten better in his second season." Seems to me the Rams are about as good this year as last year, regular season DVOA and Pyythag wins were both a little higher last year. True, they won more games this year but I thought this site was meant to have us look past the WINZZZ.
#11 by Mountain Time … // Jan 31, 2019 - 1:12pm
Man, as recently as 2007 I was rooting for the Pates to win the super bowl. That was a fun team that year and I'm still unhappy about the result! I'm not quite sure exactly when they became so unlikeable. Was there like a moment that was the turning point?
#12 by Cheesehead_Canuck // Jan 31, 2019 - 1:22pm
That was the year my indifference turned into animosity. Coincidentally I was living in a very Pats-centric area (not in the US). The fans have grown more unbearable as time goes on. (Most of the commenters here seem fine FWIW)
#14 by sbond101 // Jan 31, 2019 - 1:53pm
07 was the turning point, though it didn't colour that team as much as it did those that followed. Prior to 07 the dominate narrative was that the Pats were a team in a world of football individuals (see famously coming out of the tunnel all together in the 01 superbowl, or the continuous "can Payton Manning get past the Pats..." stories). After 07 the narrative shifted to thinking about the Pats as Brady & co.; The former narrative is broadly appealing and very difficult to outright hate, however if you want to find reasons to hate Brady at the focus of the narrative it's pretty easy to find them. Brady is a mass of contradictions, a family man who left a women while she was pregnant with his child, a pro athlete with incredible longevity that sells/promotes placebo for high performance training, an incredible competitor who ended up causing one of the most high-profile cry-baby rules in the nfl (the low QB-hit roughing the passer rule), and that's just scratching the surface. Personally, I've only ever been sucked into that narrative during the period following "deflate-gate"; apart from that I've always thought the Pats are at their best, and certainly their most interesting, when Brady isn't the center of everything, and I love the stories of all the role players (e.g. Matthew Slater, or James Devlin) that find a spot on that team because they are as innovative and flexible as they are. That's the story I've always been interested in.
#15 by RickD // Jan 31, 2019 - 4:27pm
" Brady is a mass of contradictions, a family man who left a women while she was pregnant with his child..."
They'd already broken up when they discovered she was pregnant. Another way to spin the story is to say she tried to hook him into marriage by getting pregnant.
Or we could just admit we don't know the details of their personal lives. From what I've heard, he takes an active interest in his son's life. (And his communications with Bridget Moynahan about their son were a good part of his desire to not hand over his phone to the NFL.)
" an incredible competitor who ended up causing one of the most high-profile cry-baby rules in the nfl (the low QB-hit roughing the passer rule),"
Brady didn't "cause" the rule, whatever that's supposed to mean. The rule arose after Brady's entire 2008 season was lost to a low hit by Bernard Pollard. It's not like Brady lobbied for a rule change personally.
Indeed, there already was a rule on the books against hitting a QB low. We still have no explanation from the NFL why the "Carson Palmer rule" didn't apply to Bernard Pollard.
#16 by sbond101 // Jan 31, 2019 - 4:45pm
As I indicated if you ***want*** to hate Brady you can find plenty of ammunition. Obviously there are alternate interpretations to all of those events. Personally I think personality stuff in sports is BS, I'm not interested in it, and I think the media spins it so hard its almost impossible to draw a fair conclusion (e.g. Brady's ex); but if your looking for why many/most neutral fans turned away from the Pats I think it's the best candidate explanation.
#18 by xSumInternetGyX // Jan 31, 2019 - 6:09pm
I believe its because hes a 6th round draft pick and that makes people insecure. When Peyton Manning goes 1st overall and is hugely successful, well thats because obviously he has a genetic advantage that we cant compete with. We didnt fail because he already started out with an advantage we couldnt have.
Tom Brady tho was an afterthought, he had to go in the 6th because he wasnt talented enough, there has to be some reason he succeeded outside his control. It makes people inscure, he worked hard every day, gave it his all, and succeeded. Most people want reasons why their life didnt turn out like peyton manning, well they couldnt, hes simply got an genetic advantage we couldnt have. Tom Brady doesnt have that same aura. It cant be because he worked hard, he has to be lucky, and benefitted from some force we dont get to experience. He doesnt deserve the praise, the adulation. Hes a 6th rounder, he cant be any good...i could of succeeded with those teams, those recievers, that coach...and so on. It makes people angry cause it demonstrates what most people know but wont admit, that hard work is whats neccessary for success.
#19 by Led // Jan 31, 2019 - 7:06pm
If Brady's pre-draft photo is any indication, he didn't train very hard (at all?) in college. The reality is probably that Brady is a very physically talented guy who coasted/underachieved in college and then, to his credit, used his draft spot as motivation to dedicate himself to high performance. Guys with limited physical talent don't get scholarship attention from major programs in two sports the way Brady did coming out of college.
#21 by xSumInternetGyX // Jan 31, 2019 - 9:11pm
Not everything to do with effort is measured by muscle. Theres a reason no QBs are muscled freaks, its worst for their game. Working is game film, learning, and mastering the mental aspects/timing routes.
He didnt underachieve in college, he wasnt highly regarded and the fan base wanted drew henson to start even though brady outperformed him. He was very successful at michigan when he was the primary starter.
#17 by xSumInternetGyX // Jan 31, 2019 - 5:57pm
Their relationship had ended and he had already been dating gisele before bridget monyahan knew she was pregnant, so thats a pretty ill informed character assisination hot take to say he abandoned her.
They have 50/50 custody, and for some time i believe it was releaved Brady was the primary parent figure till Bridget's acting career stabilized. From the deflategate emails its pretty obvious they have a good parenting relationship.
Also, the rule actually came about from Carson Palmers injury in the 2005 postseason, https://www.google.com/search?q=carson+palmer+rule&oq=carson+palmer+rule&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.5410j0j7&client=ms-android-verizon&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8.
Its even listed in his wikipedia entry.
As for his health views, well alot of people believe weird things, many NFL players believe 911 was an inside job. Tom Brady isnt a nutritionist or sports medicine expert, what he sells works for him, if its a placebo or otherwise. I dont blame peoples wierd ideas if its their truths, if theyre doing it out of their own peraonal beliefs, and not malicious gain.
#65 by herewegobrowni… // Feb 02, 2019 - 9:13pm
In light of the recent post-Weinstein era, it's interesting to think that one of the highlights of Brady's off-the-field admired image in the early-to-mid-00s was his SNL skit.
It has been quietly nearly scrubbed from the 'net on the grounds that in today's world it could be seen as a bad look, particularly his interaction with Amy Poehler there.
#57 by Rich A // Feb 01, 2019 - 7:45pm
I don't post very often but since this is such a weird comment thread I'll throw this out there:
I'm a Pats fan, I even run the Pats fan club here in Winnipeg, but I find most Pats fans totally idolizing the team and it's somewhat disturbing. I wanted to have other people to talk to about innovative football (I cheer for good game plans, adjustments, and merit of roleplayers, etc) or have a good group of people to watch games with, but I see so much hero worship of Brady, trash talking because they win, and cries of victimhood that it's really odd to observe the other fans.
I also don't really understand why people would yell at the TV at the refs. Pats fans, or other fans, or in any sport. I gave a coaster from a bar here to my dad that said "keep yelling at the refs, they can totally hear you".
I can't really blame other people for cheering for them without much connection to the team since I don't really have connection myself. Is wanting to be associated with a winning team a bad thing? Maybe it's a bit sycophantic. I myself would feel strange cheering for a team with poor execution or planning. I had a friend who cheered for the Bengals for a while but he just stopped watching the NFL - not because he hates the Pats or anything, but his team just never won and so he stopped caring. Some people in my group have family in Boston or had exchange students or whatever. Is that a basis for fandom when you're not local?
I wonder if you could prestige out coaches and players to have them go away like they used to do in Call of Duty where you prestige out your of your rank (I never really understood the system as I didn't play COD)(This was an idea I had after reading the latest TheDrawPlay comic about the Pats). I think the idea is that you could get Brady or Belichick to go away to re-establish parity in the NFL by having them inducted into a new wing in the HoF that is only for players or coaches that deserved to play in another tier up but since there's only a handful of players that could prestige ever that they can't actually go anywhere since they're not in the league at the same time. It would be for the benefit of the league for them to move up and out of the league. (For the record, I'd pretige Belichick, I think Brady has done well but I see Belichick as the one who makes the team go).
I don't really have a comment about Scott.
I think I could see this game go any which way, where it's a blow out for either team or a close win for either team. Would personally like to see a big win for the Pats with Brady retiring because Giselle puts her foot down.
I also would like to see Belichick bring 6 rushers every play to see if that knocks out the Rams play action and running game. I mean the LB's are useless in coverage anyway, may as well use them for something.
#61 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Feb 01, 2019 - 10:55pm
"I also would like to see Belichick bring 6 rushers every play to see if that knocks out the Rams play action and running game. I mean the LB's are useless in coverage anyway, may as well use them for something."
We might see that. If Gurley's healthy, the Pats's LBs aren't covering him out of the backfield. Cooks is a deep threat, but Goff has to deliver the ball to him, and that seems not to be Goff's strong suit. So yeah, we may see pressure-pressure-pressure with the safeties up tight to cover the outlet man. Risks giving up some big plays, but keeps the Rams from playing possession football.
#62 by Raiderjoe // Feb 01, 2019 - 11:02pm
Goff can throe deep fine. Needs clean pocket (seeems obvious but we do know soem passers who could deliver it deep under pressure- bradshaw, Namath, Marino, Favre, Foles the last 2 years, and some others) but it is not any tyoe of poor accuracy thign. He can definitely connect deep.
#68 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2019 - 3:20am
I feel bad for Scott. His tweets look bad, but I can safely say, I have probably made insensitive, offensive comments in my past and I know in my heart that I'm not a racist, bigamist, or any other like kind. Sometime, innocuous comments are made do casually because they appear innocuous. I doubt most people who say them on Twitter can predict how they will come back on you.
I get why Fo went this way.
#69 by nat // Feb 03, 2019 - 7:40am
Don’t feel sad for him. He was extremely lucky.
What he posted, he posted in the most public forum he had access to. He did it in his freelance period, when he was doing his best to build following. That he repeatedly chose such noxious bigotry to get attention says volumes about his character, how he wanted to be seen, and who he wanted to appeal to.
If Aaron had known about these posts, Kacsmar would never have been hired, and rightly so. He wasn’t fired because someone showed Aaron some old posts. He was hired because Aaron didn’t see those posts soon enough.
Even unrepentant bigots need a job. But they don’t need or deserve public ones. There are plenty of other jobs he could do.
#73 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2019 - 12:49pm
But how do we know he's a bigot? Also how do we know what his motives were?
Look, the tweets are pretty bad, I don't deny that. But I've been around groups of people who have made Jew jokes, black jokes, homophobic jokes, and jokes on women for being too slutty(sorry, I can't find a softer word) or too prudish.
I have said them myself knowing in my heart they were completely in jest. One of my closest friends and person who taught me to code is gay. I have another close friend who is Liberian. My intellectual idol is Jewish. I also admire Aaron a lot and he's been kind enough to post my writing. And of course, I have a wife who I respect a lot too, but who I tease occasionally for dressing too much in either direction.
Im just reticent to label people.
#70 by herewegobrowni… // Feb 03, 2019 - 10:18am
I'm not even a fan of tweet-mining, and it's pretty scary how much of a thing it's become recently, but these were not "innocuous comments [that[ are made [too] casually."
Interesting to see Scott deflect on his website by pointing out all of the times his accusers made offensive comments.
#71 by BJR // Feb 03, 2019 - 12:23pm
At first I agreed with you, I don't like labelling people racists (or similar) without substantial evidence. But reading through the entire list of tweets that have been dredged up it becomes difficult to defend him. At best, for somebody who was/is trying to establish themselves as a mainstream football writer, these comments were exceedingly dumb. Football Outsiders should not want to employ somebody who has exhibited such poor judgment, and may be a serious liability to their brand.
#72 by theslothook // Feb 03, 2019 - 12:45pm
I totally agree that they were at best idiotic comments and in the current climate, FO has no choice but to go in this direction.
I'm just saying, I don't like presumptive rushes to judgement. As I mentioned above, I've been around a lot of very thoughtful, well regarded people who've made plenty of deplorable comments. Sad to say, I've made them as well( mostly because they seemed harmless at the time).
In Scott's case, I'm not sure what he was thinking and there's no point trying to put any kind of positive spin to his words. They were like you said, idiotic at best.
In my opinion, I'd rather have a world where someone offers contrition for such remarks, we give that person the benefit of the doubt because people make mistakes, and move on. Remember, he broke no law here. But that's just me.
#74 by Alternator // Feb 03, 2019 - 2:49pm
That's the problem: he didn't offer contrition. He offered a boilerplate statement blaming the people who dredged them up, and claimed they were just jokes - literally the definition of a non-apology.
This wasn't a handful of tweets, either - one or two, sure, that's crass humor gone wrong. He issued dozens.