Los Angeles Rams vs. New England Patriots Defense/Special Teams Analysis
As the cliche goes, defense wins championships. While most of the buzz surrounding the Patriots and Rams has centered around their high-flying offenses, this game will be won on defense. Both defenses, as well as the special teams of both sides, have taken their games to a new level in the playoffs. Here’s what you can expect from the Rams vs. New England Patriots Defense notes.
The Rams’ defense struggled for most of the season. They gave up the most yards per carry of any team, and their secondary was burnt frequently thanks to lackluster play from Marcus Peters. But the unit trended up the last couple weeks of the regular season, and has dominated in their two playoff games. The defensive line, particularly Dante Fowler Jr. and Ndamukong Suh, has played at an elite level. They completely shutdown the running games of the Cowboys and Saints, and it’ll be very interesting to see how they fare against the offensive line of the Patriots here.
The Patriots’ offensive line has played lights out in the playoffs, and has barely allowed Tom Brady to get touched. The key for the Rams in this game will be getting pressure, and if Suh, Fowler, and Aaron Donald can get home then they’ll be Super Bowl champions. Cornerback Aqib Talib is another X-factor here, as the whole defense has played a lot better since he returned from the ankle injury that sidelined him the majority of the season. Talib has plenty of experience playing against the Patriots, and he’s helped shut them down in the past. Speaking of experience against the Patriots, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has the blueprint to beating them. Phillips coordinated the Broncos defense that beat New England twice in the 2015 season, and his defense dominated Brady in both of those games. Phillips knows you have to play press man coverage and not drop back into soft zones against the Patriots, and there’s no doubt he’ll have a good game plan here.
The Rams’ special teams have played a large role in getting them to this point. As Johnny Hekker’s fake punt pass in the NFC Championship Game highlighted, the unit has been making great plays all year long. They have one of the league’s best kickers in Greg Zuerlein, and have the clear best punter/kicker duo in the NFL. They’re absolute weapons, and give the Rams some pretty big advantages here.
The Patriots’ defense was never as bad as the Rams’ during the regular season, but they’ve undergone a similar transformation in the playoffs. Their pass-rush has come out of nowhere to somehow resemble the ’85 Bears. They were relentless getting after Philip Rivers in the divisional round, and pressured Patrick Mahomes all game long in the AFC Championship Game. Getting pressure on Jared Goff is the key to slowing down the Rams’ dynamic offense, and if New England’s defensive front can continue to play at this level they should be able to severely rattle Goff.
The Patriots’ secondary has been vulnerable to big plays over the top in both rounds, and I’d expect to see the Rams take a few deep shots here. If the Patriots can’t get consistent pressure, then Sean McVay will be able to scheme open Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods for big gains. The Patriots’ run defense has looked much improved as well the past couple of weeks, and it’ll be very interesting to see how they contain the Todd Gurley/C.J. Anderson committee. The Rams’ offensive line is a lot better than the Chargers and Chiefs’, so it’ll be a much tougher test for this New England front seven.
The Patriots’ special teams are, as usual, very good. Stephen Gostkowski is a very reliable kicker, and Cordarelle Patterson is one of the best kick returners in the league, capable of taking any kick to the house. This game is expected to be very tight, and a single big kick return could very well swing the outcome. Patriots fans should be glad to have Patterson on their side.