The story lines are abundant; Belichick vs. McVay, Brady vs Goff, Gurley vs. Michel, CJ Anderson vs. Weight Watchers, Edelman vs. Talib, you know, the big ones.
Much will be made of how the Rams will try to cover Gronk, and how much he has left in the tank (he sure seems to have a pep in his step this week doesn’t he).
There will be coverage on how healthy Todd Gurley really is. He’s had 2 weeks off since his incredibly low usage game vs. New Orleans. Do you really “save” your best play maker in the conference championship game that goes to overtime?
Can the Patriots defensive backfield find a way to cover Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Josh Reynolds while also keeping enough in the box to slow the Rams running game (CJ Anderson has had his way with the Patriots before, he tossed them around like a rag doll. I’m remembering a 2015 loss at Denver where Anderson had 153 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches and 2 touchdowns and broke the Patriots’ backs in the 4th quarter and overtime)?
Will the Rams’ backers be able to cover the soft underbelly of the field? An area that has plagued them all season, and also the area that has been the Patriots bread and butter for about 20 years now.
All these are things to watch for. Questions to be answered. Subplots to a thrilling story. But the real key to this matchup will be in the trenches. The Rams defensive line versus the Patriots interior line. One group is manned entirely by highly decorated former first round picks. The other is a headed by an undrafted player bookended by a couple mid round picks. If the Patriots interior line is able to keep Michael Brockers, Ndamukong Suh, and Aaron Donald off Tom Brady, then the Patriots have pretty darn good chance of winning the game. If they can somehow also open holes for Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as well, then the Patriots could have their first Superbowl victory that isn’t a nail biter.
Lets take a look at the key players in this battle royale. Sure there will be other participants in the fray. The Patriot tackles like Trent Brown, and Marcus Cannon will be in the trenches, as well as full back James Develin, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. The Rams will throw everything but the kitchen sink at Brady. Dante Fowler, Mark Barron, hell, you could see an Aqib Talib stunt tossed in for kicks. But these 6 men could very well decide who raises the Lombardi Trophy Sunday evening.
MICHAEL BROCKERS – 28 years old- 6’5” 322 lbs.
The big lineman didn’t put up the gaudy stats of his line mates but his presence was felt strongly all year none the less. He started all 16 games for Los Angeles providing a steady interior push that resulted in 1 sack and 54 tackles.
NDAMUKONG SUH – 32 years old – 6’4” 307 lbs.
The surely former corn husker has toiled outside the playoffs for most of his career after stops in Detroit and Miami. Pretty much the definition of a disruptive force, Suh has put forth his best work in the playoffs. The big pawed tackle is big enough to plug the interior, strong enough to provide a push up the middle, and quick enough to set the edge on the outside. He also started every game for the Rams and amassed 4.5 sacks to go along with 59 tackles, and even defended 4 passes.
AARON DONALD – 27 years old – 6’1” 285
All the superlatives used to describe Suh’s ability? Strong enough to push inside, quick enough to set the edge outside, big enough to plug gaps in the middle. You can use all these to describe Donald and it still doesn’t do him justice. In the discussion as the best defensive player in the league (its a short discussion, its either him or Khalil Mack, and since my wife is a Bears fan, we’ll say its Khalil Mack, just don’t tell Donald I said that). Statistically he didn’t have THAT great a season. I mean forcing 4 fumbles to go along with 20.5 sacks in a season isn’t all that and a bag of chips. Regardless of where they line Donald up, he can expect to become intimately aware of James Develin.
JOE THUNEY – 26 years old – 6’5” 304 lbs.
The third year guard has had a rough career so far. 3 seasons, 3 superbowl starts. Most guys sign contracts expecting to play 16 games a season. Thuney only knows how to play 19 game seasons. After a solid rookie year, and then a somewhat up and down sophomore campaign, the 3rd year guard has proven to be amongst the league’s best this season. His length and strength inside have really come together with great technique.
DAVID ANDREWS – 26 years old – 6’2” 286 lbs.
Coming out of Georgia, Andrews went undrafted. His signing started what looks to be the new Patriots pipeline (Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, and coming soon to a theatre near you, Jake Fromm). He has risen from the ranks of the undrafted rookie free agent crop to becoming a captain for a team littered with leaders. His ability to hold at the point of attack will be key for this game.
SHAQ MASON – 25 years old – 6’2” 310 lbs.
The “star” of the Patriots defensive line. 2018 has seen Mason rise into the ranks of the leagues most respected interior linemen. The 5 year $50 million extension he inked in training camp now looks like a steal as he’d command much more than that if he were to hit the open market this spring. His last name seems apt as when he pulls out into space it must feel like you’re getting hit with a pile of bricks. It also feels appropriate that he was assigned #69 as it seems like if he’s involved you’re gonna end up on your back, or face down, but either way he’s gonna get a piece of dat ass.
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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