The matchup is set: The New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. It is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, a game in which the Patriots were heavy underdogs against the famous “Greatest Show on Turf.” The Patriots were able to pull off the miraculous upset thanks to the right leg of former kicker Adam Vinatieri, who booted in a 48-yard field goal as time expired. This time around, the Patriots enter the game as favorites against a highly talented Rams team. Let’s take a look at the talent the Rams bring on both sides of the ball:
Jared Goff, Quarterback
After being drafted first overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, Goff had a shaky rookie season. However, since the hiring of current Rams head coach Sean McVay, Goff’s play has escalated to an elite level. After a strong sophomore season that landed him in the Pro Bowl, Goff continued to play at a high level all throughout the 2018 season. His 32 touchdowns, 4,688 yards and 12 interceptions were enough to send him to his second straight Pro Bowl. Goff has a big arm and great accuracy, and is surrounded by a marvelous core of weapons. It will be key for the Patriots to force him to move in the pocket in order for him to be uncomfortable.
Todd Gurley, Running Back
The Rams obtain one of the most explosive and talented running backs in the NFL. The former Georgia Bulldog has produced back-to-back seasons of over 1,800 all purpose yards and at least 19 touchdowns. Gurley is an ultra-athletic back that has the speed and size to fly between the holes and run over opposing linebackers. The part of his game that makes the 2-time First Team All-Pro so effective is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Last season he caught 64 passes for 788 yards and 6 touchdowns, and in 2018 he grabbed 59 passes for 580 yards and 4 touchdowns. There’s no question that Gurley is the key part of the Rams offense, so containing him will be at the top of the to-do list for the Patriots once Sunday rolls around.
Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver
After a very successful season in New England, the Patriots traded away their deep threat to the Rams in exchange for a first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft during last years offseason. Once arriving in Los Angeles, Cooks signed a 5-year, $80 million contract that guaranteeing he’d be a Ram for years to come. He had a stellar first year as a member of the Rams. Cooks caught 80 balls for 1,204 yards and five touchdowns, setting a career high in yards and yards per game. Cooks obtains blazing fast speed that allows him to fly down the field and generate big plays.
Andrew Whitworth, Left Tackle
Andrew Whitworth is the leader of the Rams offensive line. He is playing in his 13th year of his career. Whitworth has played in 190 out of the possible 199 games throughout his career, so it’s no question that the 6’7, 330 pounder will be ready for Sunday. He protects quarterback Jared Goff’s blindside and will have to deal with the Trey Flowers/ Dont’a Hightower pass rushing combination all Sunday long.
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Aaron Donald, Defensive Tackle
When discussing defensive talent, there isn’t a more dominant player in the NFL than Aaron Donald. Since being drafted 13th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, Donald has made the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons and was named a First-Team All Pro four years straight. He lead the league in sacks with 20.5 as well as tackles for losses with 25. Donald is the “X” factor this game as the Patriots tend to establish the run to open up their offense. He is capable of controlling the line all game long and will most likely need to be double teamed to keep a clean pocket for Tom Brady.
Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle
The combination of Suh and Donald makes the Rams defensive line the top group in the NFL. In the offseason, Suh signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Rams after three years in Miami and five years with the Detroit Lions. Suh has been a dominant player in the NFL for a long time. Over the course of his career he has racked up five Pro Bowl nominations and was named a First-Team All Pro three times. He had 4.5 sacks his season and 19 quarterback hits, which is down for his standards. However, the duo of Donald and Suh make it extremely difficult for any offense to run up the middle.
Aqib Talib, Cornerback
After spending the last 4 seasons on the Denver Broncos, Talib was traded to the Rams in exchange for a fifth round draft pick this past offseason. For majority of the 2018 regular season Talib was out while he dealt with an ankle injury. Despite that, Talib has made a full recovery and is back to playing at an elite level. He is a shutdown corner that can eliminate an opposing receiver from a game with his coverage skills. This was the first season since 2013 that he didn’t get a Pro Bowl nomination.
Greg Zuerlein, Kicker
A kicker? Yes, a kicker. In last sunday’s controversial NFC Championship game, Zuerlein made 4 field goals including a 48-yarder to send the game to overtime and then a 57-yarder to win the game in overtime. Over the regular season he made 27 out of 31 kicks, including a long of 56 yards. What scares most people about Zuerlein isn’t just his leg power; it’s his ability to do it in the clutchest moments. For that, you don’t need to look any further than the NFC Championship game.
Sadly, with the Super Bowl comes the ending of another football season. For the Patriots, it’s been a season full of headlines, controversy, doubters and haters. However at the end of the day, the Patriots are playing their best football at the most important time. Hopefully the conclusion of sunday will mean another banner drop for the Patriots come september. The Pats will need to establish the run game early and the defense will need to get constant pressure on the young Jared Goff. The battle of the trenches will be a huge factor in who wins, too.
If the Patriots show up and play like they have been over the last two games then it will be hard for fans to bet against Tom Brady.
–Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr