The mere thought of the New England Patriots holding the Los Angeles Rams to just three points in Super Bowl LIII seemed crazy before kickoff, but that's exactly what unfolded at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Los Angeles had the NFL's second-highest scoring offense in the regular season, led by star running back Todd Gurley, a strong offensive line and an offensive guru at head coach in Sean McVay. But the Patriots did an excellent job giving the Rams some different looks and schemes throughout the game, often times confusing L.A. quarterback Jared Goff and forcing him into mistakes. No mistake was more costly than his interception late in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed New England's 13-3 win.
What specifically did the Patriots do so well to slow down the Rams' high-powered offense? McVay gave a good explanation Thursday at his NFL Scouting Combine press conference in Indianapolis.
"What they did such a nice job of is they played a loaded front structure, which is something that we expected," McVay told reporters. "They went with really, the early downs, more of a top-down principle where they were playing some quarters structures, kind of similar to what Chicago had a little bit of success with (in its Week 14 win over the Rams).
"But Chicago mixed that up and did some other things. (The Patriots) kind of exclusively stayed in that in those early down and distances, and unfortunately we didn't really ever make them pay. That's where it's a great opportunity for you, No. 1 as a coach, to look inwardly and say, ‘How can we use these as learning opportunities to make sure that if these things do come up in the future, we're putting our players in a position where they're better ready to execute on the fly and adjust.'
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"They were mostly playing more man principles against teams like the Chargers in Kansas City in the playoffs, and they played a little bit different front structure. Basically, against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, it wasn't until like, the 22nd or 23rd snap that you even saw a snap of zone. They were mostly doubling (Chiefs wide receiver) Tyreek Hill north and south where they had somebody over the top always, and then they'd put in their good matchups with who they felt like based on, whether it was (Travis) Kelce or Sammy Watkins, (Stephon) Gilmore traveled with (Watkins). They did an excellent job, and that's what makes them great coaches. You got to tip your hat to those guys."
The Patriots defense held the Rams to just 260 yards of offense, one turnover and sacked Goff four times. New England also dominated in key spots as Los Angeles converted on just three of 13 third downs. The Rams coaching staff wasn't able to adjust in time and it cost Los Angeles a chance to beat Tom Brady and win the Lombardi Trophy.
McVay is a really smart coach, though, so it's hard to imagine this disappointing performance not making him better in the long run.
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