This matchup will decide the outcome of Super Bowl 53

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Aaron Donald’s performance could decide the outcome of Super Bowl 53. | Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire

Super Bowl 53 will be all about matchups.

Like all football games, Sunday’s winner will be decided by the outcome of several independent matchups.

This concept is nothing new. It will only be magnified when the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots battle it out on the grandest stage in American Professional sports.

On Super Bowl Sunday in Atlanta, Georgia, there will be plenty of noteworthy (and hyped) matchups that are worth keeping an eye on, including:

  • Julian Edelman versus Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.
  • Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson versus New England’s defensive front seven.
  • Rob Gronkowski versus L.A.’s safeties and linebackers.
  • Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels versus Wade Phillips and the Rams’ defense.
  • Both teams’ outstanding special teams.

None will be more important, though, than the matchup between New England’s rushing attack and L.A.’s defensive front seven.

In fact, it is this matchup that will likely decide which team leaves Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the Lombardi Trophy in hand as Super Bowl 53 champions.

Here’s why.

Unlike years past, the Patriots were heavily reliant on their rushing attack to carry them through the AFC Playoffs.

Rookie running back Sony Michel was outstanding, carrying the ball 53 times for 242 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and five touchdowns in two games. For as good as Michel was in his first postseason action, though, the New England offensive line was even better and deserves heaps of credit for their superb play.

In the Pats’ Divisional round win over the Los Angeles Chargers, pretty much everything went right for the New England offense. It all started by establishing their rushing attack.

In the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs, New England executed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ ball-control gameplan (almost) without flaw.

The Chiefs’ high-powered offense, led by NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, was held scoreless and totaled just 32 net yards of offense in the first half. To be fair, part of that was due to some great play by the Patriots’ defense. But at the end of the day, the fact that New England held on to the ball for just over 21 (out of 30) minutes, keeping Mahomes off the field, in the first half is the reason why they are playing in their third-straight Super Bowl today.

Given their success, I fully expect New England to go into Super Bowl 53 with a similar offensive gameplan — establish the run, neutralize the Los Angeles pass rush, and use play-action to take chances downfield.

For L.A., the goal is simple: Stop the run, consistently force New England into passing situations on second and third down, and unleash hell on four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady.

History has proven the best way — and pretty much the only way — to slow down Brady is to apply constant pressure — particularly from the interior of the pocket.

History has also proven that L.A. defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the best of all-time when it comes to devising and executing a plan to limit the success of New England’s offense — remember the performance of his Denver Broncos defense in the 2015 AFC Championship Game?

When it comes down to it, if the Patriots are able to continue their dominance on the ground, they will likely win their sixth Super Bowl title since 2001. If the Rams can shut down the run, something they weren’t particularly good at throughout the 2018 season, they will likely pull off the upset and win Super Bowl 53.

If both teams are truly committed to establishing the run (as they’ve indicated all week), this will be a much lower-scoring affair than expected (the over/under is currently hovering around 58 points). If it turns into a shootout, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Rams quarterback Jared Goff out-duels Brady on the big stage.

With that being the case, the pressure is on L.A.’s defensive front, led by Aaron Donald, the recently crowned NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers, Dante Fowler Jr., and Cory Littleton, to not only stuff the run, but to also apply pressure and force Brady into making mistakes. And as we all know, that is extremely rare.

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Posted in: NFL