Super Bowl Matchup: Patriots LBs vs. Rams RB Todd Gurley

Super Bowl Matchup: Patriots LBs vs. Rams RB Todd Gurley

One in a series breaking down the matchups within the matchup between the Patriots and Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

IMPORTANCE TO THE GAME’S OUTCOME: When the Rams staff analyzes the AFC Championship Game, they’ll notice one area where the Patriots defense struggled. Chiefs running back Damien Williams busted loose for two massive plays in the passing game — a 23-yard touchdown on a throw across the field and a 33-yard gain on a quick throw to the flat. The Patriots know the Rams will look to attack in a similar way. And if he’s healthy, or even close to healthy, Todd Gurley is as dangerous as any running back in the league.

SKINNY: The Pats secondary is probably their strongest position group. If the Rams are looking to exploit a vulnerability in the New England defense, they could test the sideline-to-sideline speed of the Patriots linebackers. Late in the third quarter of the AFC Championship, the Chiefs sent Damien Williams sprinting to the right flat. Kyle Van Noy was in man coverage, and he couldn’t get all the way to the sideline in time to corral Williams (his path was obstructed by Tyreek Hill running a vertical route). This gave Williams plenty of open space for the huge gain. Throughout the year, other teams experienced success against the Patriots with play designs.

WHY THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE ADVANTAGE: They know what’s coming. And Todd Gurley is the Rams’ best offensive player, so the Pats will likely key on him (as opposed to Damien Williams, who was fourth or fifth on the list of priorities in the Kansas City game). Gurley has the benefit of an extra week’s rest, but he’s clearly been limited by a late-season knee injury. C.J. Anderson has amassed 40 touches in the postseason to Gurley’s 23. He has three catches for six yards in the playoffs.

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WHY THE RAMS HAVE THE ADVANTAGE: Todd Gurley is the best athlete on the field, and Sean McVay finds ways to get the ball in Gurley’s hands in space. Against the Packers, Gurley lined up wide in an empty set and ran a shallow drag that turned into a 30-yard touchdown. The Rams often use jet motion and playaction, sometimes on the same play, to freeze the defense while setting up screens to Gurley. McVay’s creative playcalling and Gurley’s big-play ability is a scary combination.