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The Ultimate Test

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Back on February 3rd 2002 the St. Louis Rams faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.  It was the Rams second super bowl appearance in only three years and they came into the game as 14 point favorites.

Quarterback Kurt Warner led an offense that was called “The Greatest Show on Turf.”  This was supposed to be an easy win for the Rams to give them their 2nd super bowl victory in 3 years and begin a dynasty.  Unfortunately, that dream was short lived because of the Patriots 20-17 upset win in the Super Bowl.  It was the first championship for head coach Bill Belichick and the young quarterback, Tom Brady who were just getting started.

Since the devastating Super Bowl XXXVI loss, the Rams and Patriots went in completely different directions.  Due to injuries, players leaving, and players retiring, the Rams went through some tough times.  Since the Super Bowl XXXVI loss the Rams have had a record of 111-160-1 (.409) with only 4 playoff appearances in 17 years.  The Rams have also gone through 8 different head coaches and 8 different opening day starting quarterbacks in that span.  The Patriots have been the complete opposite.  Not only do the Patriots have an NFL best 209-63 (.768) record, 15 playoff appearances, and 4 super bowl wins since then but, they have done so with the same coach and starting QB for all 17 years.  The Patriots are the kings of the NFL.

In order to dethrone the Patriots, the Rams will need to play a perfect football game on Sunday from start to finish.  The Rams cannot allow to fall behind early to the Patriots like they have done in both playoff games this year against the Cowboys and the Saints.  In both of the Patriots playoff games this year they were up big at the half and that allowed them to control the clock in the second half.  In the divisional round against the Chargers, the Patriots were up 35-7 going into halftime and finished the game with over 38:20 time of possession.  The AFC Championship game against the Chiefs went the same way as the Patriots lead 14-0 at halftime and ended up with 43:59 time of possession in the game.  The good news for the Rams is that both the Chargers and the Chiefs were able to make 2nd half comebacks with the Chiefs taking the Patriots all the way to overtime.  The key for the Rams this Sunday is to not dig themselves in a hole and jump out ahead of the Patriots, forcing them to play to the Rams pace.

Besides the pace of the play, the Rams will also need to find ways to stop the Patriots offense that has exploded at the end of the season.  All season long the Rams have had a poor run defense but that has been the opposite in the playoffs.  The Rams held star running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara each to less than 50 rushing yards and will look to do the same against the Patriots rookie sensation, Sony Michel.  Due to injuries, Michel had a quieter regular season then many imagined he would this year but, he has come alive in the playoffs.  Michel rushed for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns vs the Chargers and 113 yards and 2 touchdowns vs the Chiefs. He has gotten at least 24 carries in both games and New England will look to use him a lot in the Super Bowl.  In order to stop him the Rams will need Cory Littleton and Ndamukong Suh to keep playing as effective as they have been so far this postseason.

Part of what makes the Patriots so unstoppable is their ability to pass and run but, if the Rams can make them one dimensional then they will have a much better chance to win.  However, making the Patriots throw is not always ideal as they have the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady.  There’s no debate that there is a better pocket passer than Tom Brady but if the Rams pass rush can get to Brady he will be a lot less effective.  That task begins and ends with the superstar defensive lineman, Aaron Donald.  Donald is on his way to another defensive player of the year award and will be the X factor in this game.  Earlier in the season when the Rams faced another incredible quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, Donald was able to still sack him multiple times and force two crucial fumbles.  Aaron Donald is the best chance the Rams have at pressuring Brady and forcing him to make mistakes.

On offense the Rams success will rely heavily on the play-calling of head coach Sean McVay and execution by the young quarterback, Jared Goff.  Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick, is considered by many to be the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen.  He forces other teams into doing what they don’t want to do by taking away their best offensive options.  Despite his age, Sean McVay is an offensive mastermind who always seems to find ways to get his playmakers the ball in open space.  Luckily for McVay, the Rams have many weapons (Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Todd Gurley) and he will need to use all of them.

I expect McVay to run different schemes, formations, and motions that the Patriots defense won’t be able to recognize and hopefully lead to big plays for the Rams.  In order for that to happen, the Rams will need Jared Goff to be very effective.  So far Goff has had a great postseason and has outplayed both Dak Prescott and Drew Brees in both playoff games.  Now Goff will need to go toe to toe with Tom Brady, the quarterback Goff said he idolized his entire childhood.  Goff’s play style is very similar to Brady’s as he’s a pocket passer with elite accuracy who is great at surveying the field.  As long as Goff can limit the mistakes, the Rams should have no problems moving the ball on the Patriots defense.

17 years ago the Patriots made a statement by shocking the world and winning the super bowl against the best team in the NFL.  Now the Rams have a chance to do the same thing.  Much like the Patriots 17 years ago, the Rams today are led by a young mastermind head coach and a young superstar quarterback.  In order to be the best you have to beat the best and the Patriots are the best.  The Patriots are a juggernaut of a franchise that has created the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever seen.

A win for the Rams on Sunday could finally put an end to the Patriots reign of terror and even lead to the Rams starting a dynasty of their own.

Featured Image: Tadd Haislop/ Sporting News
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