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Patriots vs. Rams: 4 Key Storylines in the 2019 Super Bowl

By Evan Chronis

Tell me if you've heard this one before — a prolific Rams offense is headed to the Super Bowl to face an "underdog" (stay with me for a bit) Patriots side to decide the winner of the Lombardi Trophy.

Sound familiar? 

Patriots vs. Rams

Eighteen years ago we were in a similar position, but the Rams head coach Sean McVay was fighting for the starting quarterback job on his high school team and Tom Brady still had to go to a jewelry store to get a ring. 

Maybe that's what makes this 2019 Super Bowl match up between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots so special. It's a blending of both the present and past that normally is is reserved for works of fiction — Brady getting a chance to win his sixth Super Bowl against the franchise that he beat for his first, and the revolutionary Rams getting a chance to bring a championship to Los Angeles in only their third year back in Hollywood. 

But when you remove the poetic nature of this game, you're left with one of the most enticing matchups that we never had the fortune of seeing during the NFL regular season. 

Here's what we're looking out for in the 2019 Super Bowl:

The Predicted Sean McVay Gamble

In hindsight, one of the most impressive aspects of the Philadelphia Eagles 2018 Super Bowl victory over the Patriots was the willingness of head coach Doug Pederson to throw everything at the wall in hopes of something sticking. Because of that, there is now a statue honoring the "Philly Special" outside of Lincoln Financial Field and the Eagles have their first championship in franchise history. 

So the question heading into Atlanta is — how much does Sean McVay gamble in an attempt to take down the league's most successful coach of the past two decades? If the NFC Championship game was any indication, he's willing to go as far as he needs to in order to get his team into a preferable position. At the start of the second quarter, with the Rams trailing the Saints, 13-0, McVay called a fake punt on his team's own 30-yard line that led to a first down. While a worthwhile call in hindsight, the damages may have been irreparable if the trick play had gone awry. 

With a high-powered attack and unique offensive schemes, it's almost a guarantee that McVay will dial up some trickery at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What that will be is still to be determined, but I'd expect McVay to have an arsenal of plays up his sleeve for very specific in-game situations. 

Can the Rams Stop James White?

 James White was one of the key factors to the Patriots winning the 2017 Super Bowl, even scoring the game-winning touchdown in overtime, but is often overlooked as one of the most important running backs in the NFL. This happens to be for good reason, though — there's a strong argument that White's role in New England is more as a receiver than as a tailback.

In the Patriots divisional round victory over the Chargers, White caught a playoff-tying record 15 passes on 17 targets for 97 yards. His production was lighter against the Chiefs, but he still stretched four catches out for 49 yards. 

Here is where the problem is for the Rams. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' side played zone defense against most opponents, while occasionally shifting to man on man schemes when the situation called for it. However, the Patriots proved against the Chargers, and against the Pittsburgh Steelers in last year's playoffs, that zone coverage is not an effective antidote to their offensive output. After dicing up the Chargers defense, the Chiefs opted for man on man coverage that continually left New England's tailbacks open for swing routes and short screens throughout the game. 

The Rams switched to a more man on man look against the Saints in the NFC Championship game, but had no answer for the mismatches that were occurring on Saints tailback Alvin Kamara when he left the backfield for a pass — Kamara exploded for 96 yards on 11 receptions. 

If the Patriots implement a similar offensive gameplan as the Saints, it will be White who will receive more targets and Phillips will have to prove that he learned his lesson from the NFC Championship. 

Trench Warfare

On paper, the Rams defensive line is one of the scariest trios in football. In reality, they're even more frightening. 

Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler Jr. have wreaked havoc in opposing backfields this season, but they're about to face their biggest test of the NFL Playoffs. 

The Patriots offensive line consists of left tackle Trent Brown, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon. While this group doesn't contain any high profile names in comparison to the Rams defensive front, it has been one of the most productive offensive lines in the past two months. The Patriots have re-established their run game given the faith they have in the front five — backs Sony Michel and Rex Burkehead combined for 41 rushes against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, with most of those attempts coming between the tackles. 

And while New England's offensive line has done a stellar job of establishing a ground game, it's most impressive feat has been keeping its 41-year-old quarterback safe. Since Week 15 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brady has been sacked just two times over the past four games. If the Rams want to set a tone in the 2019 Super Bowl, one of the catalysts in their defensive trio needs to get to Brady early. The best candidate would be Suh, who sacked Drew Brees 1.5 times in the NFC Championship game, and who may see more one-on-one assignments with Donald receiving most of the double teams. 

Todd Gurley's Usage

One of the biggest questions heading into the 2019 Super Bowl will be how McVay uses star running back Todd Gurley. The league's highest paid back has had an odd go of it so far in the postseason, sitting out most of the Rams' divisional win over the Cowboys and only rushing the ball four times in the NFC Championship game against the Saints. 

While Gurley is still recovering from a knee injury, McVay stated after the NFC Championship victory that Gurley's lack of snaps against the Saints was a "flow of the game" decision, certainly taking into account his two drops early on. With that being said, it explains the heavy usage of backup tailback C.J. Anderson, who rushed 16 times.

In the biggest game of the season, it's hard to believe that McVay will still hold back his star back, especially when he's a tour de force even in the passing game. With the Rams tight offensive formation, expect them to use Gurley more as a swing-out passing option than as someone they want pushing through between the tackles. 

There's Still Time for you to get a 2019 Super Bowl Ticket Package

Don't watch the 2019 Super Bowl from home — be in the midst of the action with a 2019 Super Bowl ticket package from HOF Experiences. A 2019 Super Bowl ticket package gets you a ticket to the game, plus access to the Gold Jacket Club, a pre- and post-game party hosted by Barry Sanders and Cari Champion, and the Saturday Gold Jacket Autograph Session. 

2019 Super Bowl Packages

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