It has taken twenty-two exciting weeks for the 2018-19 NFL season to climax into Super Bowl LIII, but it’s about to go down at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA this Sunday, February 3 at 5:30 pm EST on CBS.
Matching up for this one are the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, two teams who have had completely different types of seasons.
The 11-5 (2-0) Patriots lost an uncharacteristic five games, all to teams who didn’t make the playoffs, while the 13-3 (2-0) Los Angeles Rams dominated throughout the season and only lost to playoff-bound franchises.
5 top matchups within the game
Part of the fun of watching professional football is isolating the one-on-one matchups that occur every game between two high-level athletes forced to face off for sixty minutes at a time.
In the case of Super Bowl LIII, an endless amount of these battles will be taking place, but we’ve selected five to take a look at here in greater detail.
As you’re watching the football that’s being played between the multi-million dollar ads, be sure to check out the following five one-on-one matchups that are certain to make a difference in the final outcome of this season’s Big Game.
5) Los Angeles All-Pro defensive end Aaron Donald vs. New England center David Andrews and company
Rams defensive end Aaron Donald is considered by many to be the best overall football player in the NFL, and his numbers and accolades easily back that up.
This season, Donald led the league in sacks (20.5) and was named first-team All-Pro for his fourth year in a row, and some experts believe he’ll be named the Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in his NFL career.
Patriots center David Andrews and company is basically referring to New England’s offensive line, who have made Tom Brady one of the most protected quarterbacks in the league, allowing zero sacks in the postseason and just 21 overall in the regular season (T-28th).
Because of Andrews, along with the inside help of guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason as well as the blindside help of tackles Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon, the Patriots had a top-five rushing attack that averaged 127.3 yards per game in the regular season and 165.5 yards per game in the postseason.
When Donald and Andrews match up in Super Bowl LIII, whoever wins the battle affects the success of both quarterback Tom Brady’s passing attack and rookie running back Sony Michel’s run game.
If Donald’s rush is quick enough to get to Brady often, it will cause him to rush his throws or at least abandon the pocket where Brady’s less comfortable (and at his age less able) to be effective…
…that is unless Andrews and company can limit Donald to his current number of postseason sacks, which is zero.
If Donald and his other half Ndamukong Suh can effectively fill the gaps and come off their blocks quick enough to make strong tackles, they can totally disrupt (if not shut down) Michel’s run game, which thrives on him being able to run after contact…
…but if Andrews and company continue to do their job blowing open holes in the defensive line, Michel will once again fight his way towards his league-leading postseason average of 121.0 rushing yards per game.
4) Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore vs. Rams receiver Brandin Cooks
New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore was selected to the Pro-Bowl twice and was named a first-team All-Pro this season for a reason, mainly because in 2018 he defended 20 passes, had two interceptions, two forced fumbles, 45 combined tackles, a quarterback hit, a fumble recovery and a sack.
The Patriots’ cornerback who usually covers the opponent’s bigger receivers has already had a productive postseason with 3 passes defended, an interception and two combined tackles in two games.
Rams receiver Brandin Cooks is the speedy 5-foot-10, 183-pound deep threat who averaged 15.1 yards per catch in the regular season on his way to a career-high 1,204 total yards and five touchdowns.
So far in the postseason, Cooks has averaged 15.6 yards per catch off of 11 receptions for 172 yards, with four of those being for 20+ yards, his longest a 36-yarder against his old team the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Conference Championship game.
When Gilmore and Cooks match up in Super Bowl LIII, whoever wins the battle will determine the effectiveness of one of Rams quarterback Jared Goff’s favorite targets.
Gilmore may or may not cover Cooks, depending on the scheme the Patriots defensive coordinator and head coach Bill Belichick cooks up, but if he does and can shut him down, that takes the Rams’ deep threat out of the equation…
…but if Cooks can continue to dominate down the field regardless of who is covering him, he’ll continue to pull double-teams in the secondary, freeing up the middle of the field for middle-range targets like receiver Robert Woods and tight end Gerald Everett.
3) Patriots slot receiver Julian Edelman vs. Rams slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman
New England slot receiver Julian Edelman has become Tom Brady’s slot receiver and constant safety valve ever since the player who previously filled that role, the now retired Wes Welker, left for the Denver Broncos in 2013.
Edelman is a grinder who knows how to get open before the catch and how to evade tackles afterwards, touching the ball 83 times in the regular season for 957 total yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns, now leading the league in the postseason with 16 catches for 247 yards.
Los Angeles slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman’s name might ring a bell if you caught the NFC Conference Championship game against the Saints, Robey-Cleman being the player who dove into receiver Tommylee Lewis, committing what looked exactly like a helmet-to-helmet hit and pass interference to everybody in the world but the referees, who threw no flags giving the Rams new life.
Robey-Coleman knew he got away with a game-losing penalty, but he did what he thought he had to do to save the game and it worked, and it will be his job on Sunday to shut down the most effective slot receiver in the game.
When Edelman and Robey-Coleman match up in Super Bowl LIII, it will be a battle to see who can dominate the middle of the field.
If Edelman wins the match up, it makes everything easier for the Patriots, since Brady can use the slot receiver as a threat to balance off Michel’s run game…
…but if Robey-Coleman can shut Edelman down, it will force other players, like banged-up tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back James White, to step up and get open or risk allowing Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to focus all his efforts on Michel’s running attack.
2) New England head coach Bill Belichick vs. Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the crafty old veteran of this matchup with roomfuls of rings and trophies from his 43-years in the NFL and his seven total Super Bowl championships, three NFL Coach of the Year Awards and nine AFC Championships.
A defensive guru, Belichick, using a no nonsense approach to professional football, has created an NFL dynasty whose bread and butter is taking mid-level, lower-paid players and fitting them in a system that takes advantage their premiere skill, all under the guidance of Brady, the only player who could handle such a complex task.
Rams head coach Sean McVay is only thirty-three years old, making him the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, but that hasn’t stopped him from defying expectations for the two seasons that he’s been in charge of the Los Angeles Rams.
Under McVay’s leadership, the Rams went from being a 4-12 third place finisher during the 2016 season prior to his arrival, to being an 11-5 NFC West Champion and playoff contender in 2017 and in Super Bowl LIII in just his second season as a head coach in 2018.
When Belichick and McVay match up in Super Bowl LIII, it will be the old man’s defensive mind against the young man’s offensive brilliance, though neither team is weak where the other team is strong.
If Belichick and Brady can get off to a quick lead in the first half and maintain it while the defense holds the Rams to something manageable, it will be tough for Goff to win down the stretch than it would be for Brady, the man who’s had nine comeback wins in the playoffs…
…but if McVay stays calm and does what he does best, which is radioing the perfect audibles into the ears of his highly-skilled quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams could jump ahead of the Patriots fast and early, that is if defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can somehow figure out how to outsmart the uber-crafty Brady.
1) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Rams quarterback Jared Goff
New England quarterback Tom Brady spent 2000, his rookie season in the NFL, as the Patriots’ fourth-string quarterback, but by the next season he was starting and he proceeded to lead his team to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Brady has won four more Super Bowl rings since then, plus the same number of Super Bowl MVPs, and with Belichick has appeared in nine NFL Big Games altogether.
Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff is only twenty-four years old and in his third NFL season, and after a rough rookie year with then head coach Jeff Fisher, has developed into a top-tier NFL quarterback who threw for the fourth most yards during the regular season (4,688) and tied for the sixth most touchdowns thrown (32).
This is the second playoff appearance by Goff and his first Super Bowl, but so far the lights haven’t been too bright and he’s led his second-seeded team past the fourth-seeded Dallas Cowboys and the number one seeded New Orleans Saints.
When Brady and Goff match up in Super Bowl LIII, they will actually be facing the other team’s defensive coordinator – Belichick for the Patriots and Phillips for the Rams – but who knows how one quarterback’s success from moment-to-moment might affect the other’s momentum.
If Brady wins this matchup, it will not be because he has a better arm or can run faster, it will be because he knows how to manage his players and the clock, and Goff can’t beat him if he hardly ever gets on the field…
…but if Goff ends up winning this matchup it will be because he and McVay came up with a game plan that somehow befuddled Belichick, and Goff’s defense has gotten to Brady, snuffed Michel and forced some turnovers, and it would signal the end of a dynasty and perhaps the beginning of a new one.
Note:For a more detailed comparison between quarterback Brady and Goff, from age and experience to birthplace and QB-mechanics, take a look at our recent article: Super Bowl: Comparing Tom ‘Old Patriot’ Brady to Jared ‘Young Ram’ Goff.