Run the ball. Stop the run. Rush the passer.
If ever there was a classic example to validate old-school Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s simple three-step formula to build a winning football program, look np further than the New England Patriots’ “boring” 13-3 win over the upstart Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Sure, lighting up the scoreboard with touchdown after touchdown after touchdown is exciting and likely helps out those who take out friendly wagers on the over/under which, if year-end regular season statistics were to be any indication, a waterfall of points between the league’s second-highest (Rams) and fourth-highest (Patriots) offenses was supposed to yield.
In the end, However, the boring old three-point plan — run the ball, stop the run and rush the passer” proved to be the most effective plan of all.
Run the ball
It’s really quite simple. Run the ball and you can not only control the clock, especially in those critical late-game periods when you want to keep your opponent’s offense on the sideline, you avoid becoming one-dimensional as an offense and hence easier to defend.
The Patriots did just that, rushing for 154 yards on 32 carries (4.8 yards per carry). Of that rushing yardage, 94 came from running back Sony Michel, who after three quarters of play had 51 yards on 10 carries.
When the game ended, the Patriots had clearly won the time of possession battle, 33:10 to 26:50. But perhaps of greater note was how the Patriots were able to sprinkle in the run game rather than forcing it.
”That was kind of our goal, to try to play some physical football,” Patriots running back Sony Michel said after the game. “The offensive line did a tremendous job today and they did a tremendous job all year.”
The Rams, on the other hand, had trouble running the ball. Whether it was because Todd Gurley was still nursing some sort of an injury or the Patriots run defense was just that good, Los Angeles managed just 62 yards on 18 attempts.
And when we speak of balance, consider this statistic. Given how close the score was all game, the Patriots still found a way to run a balanced offense, rushing 32 times and passing 35. The Rams, for whatever the reason, rushed 18 times while passing 38 times, again despite being down by three points for the game’s first 45 minutes of play.
Stop the run
If you’re not able to run the ball, that means one of two things: Your head coach and/or offensive coordinator gave up on the run or your opponent figured out a way to shut your running game down.
The latter was the case in Super Bowl LIII.
The Rams finished with the league’s third-best rushing attack, averaging 139.4 yards per game thanks to the duo of Gurley and C.J. Anderson. Of their 459 rushing attempts, only 38 were stuffed for zero or negative yards (approximately 8 percent of their rushing attempts), per NFL game stats.
In Super Bowl LIII, that percentage of run stops went to 11 percent, though to be fair, the Rams only attempted 18 rushing attempts, far below their regular-season average of 28.6 per game.
By forcing the Rams to rely more on the passing game, the Patriots were able to deploy what was perhaps the biggest and most important part of their defensive strategy.
The Patriots finished seventh in the NFL in scoring defense this season. This marks the 46th time in 53 Super Bowls that a team that finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense captured the Lombardi Trophy.— Rick Gosselin (@RickGosselin9) February 4, 2019
Rush the passer
This is where the Patriots defense really rose to the occasion. New England finished with four sacks and 12 quarterback hits. They also picked off one pass and had eight pass breakups thanks to a variety of different looks they threw at Jared Goff.
“It was tough. They did a great job, obviously, defensively,” Goff said during postgame interviews. “It made it tough on us all night. They were doing such a good job defensively mixing it up on us, and we had a hard time moving the ball.”
Goff admitted that the Patriots did some things that the Rams didn’t see on film, one of which, according to his head coach Sean McVay, was the types of stunts and twists the Patriots ran.
“They have done a good job with that — with the stunts and different things,” McVay said. “They mixed it up. They played almost exclusively some man coverage principles and decided to take away — really in the early downs, all they ended up was playing some single high buzz structures and some quarters principles. It was a great game plan.”
Despite what the Patriots were throwing at them, Goff hoped that the Rams would get untracked.
“You think at some point you’re going to come out of it, as we have all year, and we almost did,” he said.
“We were moving the ball there well at times in the game, and just one play, just one play. We couldn’t get one play, and they did. They played so well, and we know what type of offense we are, and for them to do what they did to us is impressive.”
So, what did we learn?
Football is a team sport — that much probably everyone can agree on.
But without a solid team defensive effort to slow down those high powered offenses teams eventually face, high-scoring offenses are usually going to have their way at the end of the day.
That’s something Patriots head coach Bill Belichick preached to his defensive players as a huge key to winning this game.
”There is not one guy that can stop the Rams. They have too many good players, too many explosive guys and they’re too well coached,” he said.
“We played the run competitively. I felt we rushed the passer competitively. I thought we covered competitively. We didn’t give up big plays, which they hit on everybody,” Belichick said.
“We for the most part kept the ball in front of us and force them to execute a solid number of plays to move the ball. Eventually, we were able to get some stops.”
And their sixth championship of the Brady-Belichick era.