How did we get the 53rd fight for the Lombardi?
The GOAT versus the breakout star. The Hoodie versus the Boy Genius. Mob Squad versus Do Your Job. The New England Patriots versus the Los Angeles Rams. Super Bowl LIII.
Both teams are the number 2 seeds coming out of their respective divisions, but their matching placements are where the commonalities end. The 2018 season was an absolute roller coaster for the Pats, while the Rams stomped all over their opponents on a weekly basis. For nearly two decades, the New England Patriots have built and maintained one of the greatest dynasties in sports history, but how could something be that good for that long?
Simple. They do their job.
If anyone were to scroll through the rosters of the current Pats team, one thing is brutally clear: they are not fueled by star power. Granted, they do have one of the greatest players to ever put on a football helmet under center, but let’s not forget that he was the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft. This is a team that finds players, and through superb coaching, builds stars in their own right.
The mastermind behind it all, Bill Belichick, potentially the greatest coach of all time, is perhaps the greatest embodiment of the New England attitude. Immune to adversity, with eyes hard-set on the end zone. After his Pats got obliterated by the Chiefs 41-14 in 2014, the Hoodie infamously told reporters “We’re onto Cincinnati.”
No dwelling. No pity. No drama. This same regiment is the stepping stone that saw them through this past season. When the entire league started screaming “the sky is falling!” and predicted the end of the dynasty, the boys up in Boston didn’t flinch. Though they had their lowest wins record this year (11-5), they didn’t waver. And here they are, the golden game, the end goal, the Super Bowl. Across the country, the Los Angeles Rams climbed their way to an impressive 13-3. With young gun Jared Goff finally getting the coaching he needed out of the young guru in Sean McVay, the former Saint-Louis franchise put together a team with just the right balance of star power and unknown talent.
Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh gave opposing quarterbacks nightmares on a weekly basis, while Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley caused defenses to look more ineffective than a peewee team. All that star power found itself complimented by breakouts on both sides of the ball. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp caused major headaches for any defensive coordinator. Cory Littleton and John Johnson sound more like country singers, but turned out to be keys in the Rams reaching this year’s final in Atlanta.
But how did a team that limped into a Wild Card loss the previous year, and painful losing records the year before that, make it to one of the most terrifying matchups in the NFL?
The reason the Rams are far and away one of the hardest teams to stop is the fact that they are so good at moving the ball forward, no matter which way. Their run game is just as strong as their pass game, which isn’t always the case in this day and age. While the simple solution would be to make the Rams predictable, even doing that is hard. Over the course of the 2018 season, 95% of the Rams snaps were taken in an 11 personnel. One running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers. What this does is force the defense to leave a smaller guy on the field to deal with the “just in case their prolific passing game shows up”, which leaves an easy running target.
Sean McVay appears to have hacked the system, after he built the system on his dream team. But maybe that’s the brilliant aspect of this boy genius. At 33, McVay will be the youngest head coach to appear in a Super Bowl. But it’s not as if he did something revolutionary. He prioritized his offense and found the system to fit his players. He built the hole around the pegs he had.
The GOAT, coached by the Hoodie, leading the charge to “do your job” against the Boy Genius and his breakout star’s Mob Squad. Hotlanta, bring on the fire.
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol. 48 Issue 07 on January 30th, 2018