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Patriots-Rams Super Bowl LIII Keys Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
February 1, 2019 at 7:30 am ET

The New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams are in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII and contrary to popular belief outside of New England, the Patriots don’t reach the Super Bowl every year that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are together on the field. It just seems that way.

Super Bowl LIII will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, February 3 at 6:30 PM ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson, Evan Washburn, and Jay Feely will work from the sidelines.  The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (13-5) are in the big game for the third straight year, after blowing out the Chargers and winning an overtime thriller against the #1 seed Kansas City Chiefs.

The Rams (15-3) also won in overtime in the NFC Championship Game beating the New Orleans Saints after coming back from being two scores down early in the game.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2019 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Rams are meeting for the first time in the postseason since Super Bowl XXXVI, the Pats first Super Bowl win over the “Greatest Show on Turf”. The only two remaining pieces for either team remain Brady and Belichick.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Rams Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots rushing offense has been outstanding down the stretch and thru the first two games of the playoffs. New England utilizes a three-headed rushing attack with Sony Michel handling the lion’s share with Rex Burkhead, and James White also adding into the mix as well.

The Rams defense uses the Wade Phillips 3-4 where they bring an extra linebacker up on the line in run support. The Rams during the regular season allowed 5.1 yards per rush but have been much better in the playoffs. In the Saints game, Aaron Donald was shooting the gaps and blowing plays up before they had a chance to develop.

The Patriots run a different system and should line up right over Donald and will look to take him on rather than trying to reach block him like New Orleans did where Donald’s quickness off the line made that a losing proposition.

Look for the Patriots to attack the perimeter in the running game and they’ll use motion with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson to run some of those Jet Sweeps. The aggressiveness of their front, especially Donald and Ndamukong Suh is where they’ll try to exploit by running at them on the perimeter.

The Patriots interior players David Andrews, Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason will be the ones to watch against the Rams interior run stuffers. They like to move Suh around and created mismatches so this will be a key area to watch.

Patriots WRs vs Rams Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game has ratcheted up their game down the stretch with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman both having big games in the first two playoff matchups. The key obviously is in pass protection, the Rams boast Donald, Suh, and a very good pass rush which can disrupt anyone’s passing attack.

Wade Phillips will try to take away the middle of the field and may try to double up Julian Edelman. If that happens, watch Brady put him in motion. The Rams defense struggled in the passing game against “12 personnel” groupings (2 WR, 2TE, 1RB) and look for the Patriots to utilize White or Burkhead quite a bit in the passing game.

How LA decides to cover Rob Gronkowski will be fascinating to watch. Will it be in single coverage like KC did with a safety? Or will they chip and roll more coverage on him? Gronkowski looks as healthy as he has all season and had a big game inKC. Brady will try to get the ball out quickly and negate Donald and the pass rush. How well they are able to do that will determine how successful they are at passing the ball.

The Rams played a lot of zone coverage, then switching to man coverage inside the red zone. However, since Aqib Talib’s return, they’re playing more man coverage, and that should continue this week.

Next up the Los Angeles offense:

Rams RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Rams have been one of the best teams at running the football this season averaging 139.4 yards per game (3rd in the NFL) and have two excellent running backs in Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson. Some tendencies to watch for. When Gurley is in the game, they run nearly 70 percent of the time to the edge and when Anderson is in, that number is nearly 50 percent right up the middle.

The Rams offensive line is much like the Patriots, they are tough, very well-coached and rarely make mistakes. LA runs primarily out of “11 personnel” (3WR, 1TE, 1 RB). They like to condense the formations, (something Bill Belichick mentioned this week) and run a ton of misdirection. Like New England, they like to put a guy in motion to get three men on one side and like to run behind that strength.

Jared Goff lined up for 40 percent of his snaps under center, among the most in the league. Play action passing is a stable of their offense. I’m looking for the historian in Belichick to dust off a look that he used successfully in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles, the Bears 46 Defense.

Bringing up eight men in the box and placing a linebacker outside close to the line of scrimmage is a way of limiting the running game of Gurley. They’ll place a big man over the center and use their interior men to attack the gaps. The key is setting the edge, especially when Gurley is in the game. In two playoff games, they’ve allowed just 60 yards rushing.

Rams WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Rams passing game was lighting up the league in the first half of the season. The loss of Cooper Kupp to IR has been a big blow, however, they are still very, very talented. They have a plethora of targets for Jared Goff in Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Gurley, Josh Reynolds, and Tyler Higbee.

The key is for the Patriots is to disguise their look until the final second. Goff doesn’t read the defense as well or as quick as Brady. Rams coach Sean McVay will have his team rush to the line and see how the Patriots line up and he’ll call out into Goff’s helmet the read until the microphones are cut off at the 15-second mark of the play clock. It will be then up to Belichick and Brian Flores to change things up and show something different. Can they confuse Goff enough or slow down his processing time enough to make a difference? That’s the key here.

Look for the Patriots to put Stephon Gilmore on Robert Woods, and possibly their speediest corner Jonathon Jones or Jason McCourty on Cooks with safety help. Rookie J.C. Jackson will see more of Reynolds.

Look for more of that “Amoeba Front” look to disguise where the pass rush is coming from to try to get pressure on Goff. They’ll rotate their coverages and safeties to give Goff a different look in an attempt to slow down his processing time to allow the pass rush to get home.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Los Angeles

The Patriots special teams have been much better down the stretch but for once, they’re facing a team with a slightly better cast. Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen remain extremely solid. Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson will look to make a difference in the return game.

The Rams have an outstanding STs unit and it begins with punter Johnny Hekker. He is always lavished praise by Belichick and not only is he an outstanding punter but the Rams have shown that they aren’t afraid of throwing it on 4th down with him. Greg Zuerlein is very good at kicking. JoJo Natson and Blake Countess handled return duties.

Next up, who wins and why…

Keys to the Game and Prediction

This game should be another classic must-watch down to the wire matchup. What would a Patriots Super Bowl be without an edge of your seat finish? Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective are:

Start Fast and Put the Rams in Catchup Mode: The Patriots have been very good at starting fast this postseason. That must continue. The Rams offense wants to make this a track meet and that’s a game they’re much better suited to winning.

3rd Down/Red Zone Key: The Patriots have to win the 3rd down battle, on offense they must give Brady the third and manageable distances, the 3rd and 4 or less. On defense it has to be the opposite, forcing Goff into obvious passing situations where they can mix and match their coverages and bring pressure. Field goals instead of touchdowns will be a way to win or lose the game.

Win the Turnover Battle: The Patriots and Rams should both be able to move the ball this Sunday  It may come down to getting a key turnover, especially in the opponent’s end of the field. Can the Patriots generate a turnover or two, something they were unable to do a year ago?

The feeling here is experience is a great asset. Brady, Edelman, Gronkowski and James White have been here and won, before. That will be the difference in another great Super Bowl. It will go right down to the wire, but cue the duckboats, Marty, the Lombardi is coming back to New England. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots Free Agency, Targeting Woods a Signal For Another Change?

Steve Balestrieri
March 7, 2017 at 7:41 am ET

The Patriots are entering the legal tampering phase of free agency on Tuesday and will be busy buyers with $60 million dollars to work with. And although WR isn’t a particular position of need this spring, the news that they tried to trade for New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks and one of their targets in free agency is Buffalo WR Robert Woods was interesting to note.

While everyone is talking about adding another tight end to complement Rob Gronkowski and replace Martellus Bennett in the two-tight end offense, could Bill Belichick be switching gears again and going to a three/four WR attack? More to that below.

While Belichick was particularly effusive in his praise of Cooks during the summer after he shined in joint practices and a preseason game, that’s his M.O. He likes targeting players who play well against him. Cooks did it in 2015 and last summer in Foxboro where he schooled Malcolm Butler on the first day of practice against the Saints.

The same is true for Woods who has always played well against the Patriots for the Bills despite not having a stellar group of quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Woods was taken in the 2nd round (41st overall), in the 2013 NFL Draft from USC.

He’s 6’1, 200 pounds and while not considered a burner on the outside, he has decent speed and athleticism. But where he’s excelled is in his route-running skills, where he’s shown the ability to gain separation and has flashed very good hands. Woods caught 51 passes for 613 yards, hauling in more than 67 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2016 for the Bills.

Bringing in Cooks or Woods certainly wouldn’t be great news for Danny Amendola. The 31-year old is certainly facing having his salary redone again but bringing in either one of these wide receivers could mean he’d be a cap casualty in New England. The Patriots would certainly like to get a bit younger at WR with both Amendola and Julian Edelman turning 31 this season.

Cooks is more of an explosive receiver, but Woods excels in the areas that the Patriots love to work in, the short to intermediate parts of the field. And most importantly, he is very good at working the middle of the field.

Watching the NFL Combine on Monday, one can’t help be impressed with the number of big corners coming out in the draft. These big guys are fast but the one area that they could struggle in is in the short area quickness, something the Patriots excel in.

So, while everyone is now going to the two, big tight end offense, could Belichick and Josh McDaniels be switching things up and going to a more three or four wide receiver attack in 2017? Or is the team’s targeting of Cooks and Woods just them trying to get younger and healthier at the position.

It is still much too early to tell that, but adding either one of these players in free agency may certainly be a clue that the offense will evolve again. Belichick is usually ahead of the trends in these things.

This will bear watching as the spring and summer unfolds.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Bills, Different Feel for the Rematch, Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
October 28, 2016 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills in a big game for both teams. Kickoff is slated 1:05 p.m.

The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (6-1) defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-16 on the road. LeGarrette Blount rushed for 127 yards and Tom Brady threw for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski caught five passes for 93 yards and a score.

The Bills (4-3) lost to the Miami Dolphins 28-25 in Miami. The Bills blew a 17-6 lead in the second half and allowed RB Jay Ajayi to run for over 200 yards in the loss. Bills RB LeSean McCoy re-injured his hamstring in the game and left after 8 carries.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Bills will meet for the 114th time in their history and the second of two divisional matchups in 2016. The Patriots have dominated overall in the series holding a 69-43-1 edge overall. The Patriots hold a 33-22-1 advantage in Buffalo over the course of their rivalry including the last four games played there.

The Bills shut out the Patriots 16-0 in the first meeting between the two teams a month ago in Foxboro. It was the first time that the Patriots have been shut out at home since 1993. It was also coincidentally the final game of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension and was started by Jacoby Brissett.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2016 Opponents, Bills Are Coming in Banged Up

Steve Balestrieri
October 26, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Ryan Turned Around Season, Can They Maintain It?

The Patriots go back out on the road to take on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon in Buffalo. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV.

The Patriots (6-1), beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-16 and currently have the best record in the AFC. Tom Brady threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns and LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and two scores. Malcolm Butler had an interception and three passes broken up.

The Bills (4-3), lost to the Miami Dolphins 28-25 as the Fins made a furious 4th Qtr comeback, to take the game away from Buffalo who had an 11-point lead. LeSean McCoy reinjured his hamstring in the game and was held out in the second half. The Bills had one won four in a row and with a loss in South Beach lost a chance to be playing for the division lead this weekend. Rex Ryan up to this point hasn’t had the usual bombastic quotes coming into this game but it is still early in the week.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Bills:

McCoy’s Status Up in the Air This Week: Regardless of what was put out this week in Miami, obviously, RB LeSean McCoy reinjured his hamstring. He first hurt it in practice a week ago but then attempted to play thru it in Miami. The Bills  reported that he felt some pain and they shut him down, but that it wasn’t a re-injury. The smart move would have been to sit him for Miami and be ready to face the Patriots. Now after just eight carries against the Fins, his status for the Patriots won’t likely be known until game time.

He’s the guy that makes the Bills offense go, he is a very talented runner who is also dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game. The Bills are a ground and pound team and are second in the NFL with 152.3 yards per game average, The Cowboys lead the league with 161.2. But it is McCoy who drives the train. His 598 yards on the ground and a 5.3 yard per carry average lead the team.

While Tyrod Taylor and Mike Gillislee are talented runners they aren’t the game breakers that McCoy is. Especially considering his versatility as a pass receiver and how slippery he is to bring down. The last game in Foxboro was a testament to that.

Taylor is the Wildcard but Still Not “The Guy” at QB: Tyrod Taylor was given a big contract extension (6 years, $92 Million), this spring but with the exception of the week against the Patriots where he threw for 246 yards and a touchdown, he hasn’t performed like a franchise QB. Like we mentioned above, the Bills are primarily a running team, but if they’re going to take the next step and become a playoff team, they’ll need a QB who can at least occasionally put the team on his shoulders at crunch time.

So far, Taylor hasn’t been that guy. With the score either tied or within one possession in the fourth quarter, Taylor’s record is 2-7. In those games, his 4th quarter completion percentage is just 45.2, with two touchdowns and three interceptions with a passer rating of 50.3. Those aren’t franchise QB numbers.

Taylor is an exciting and at times dangerous player, especially when he gets free and can make plays with his legs. He throws an excellent deep ball but is still iffy when forced to throw from the pocket and using the middle of the field. The Patriots treated him like Russell Wilson in the first meeting and took a very passive approach. That cost them dearly. Don’t expect that kind of mistake again.

The Bills will have an interesting decision to make in the spring. Will they kick in their team option for $15.9 million against the cap for Taylor for 2017? There is still a long way to go in the season. However, if they remain the #31 team in throwing the ball, averaging just 175 yards a game…they may decide to pass.

Zach Brown Will Be the Player to Watch on Defense: The Bills defense has been going thru a resurgence since the Jets game and the big story has been Lorenzo Alexander who has nine sacks thru the first seven games.  While the 33-year old Alexander is making the splashes, the guy the Patriots should account for would be LB Zach Brown.

Brown was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week when the two teams met a month ago. He made 18 tackles, had a sack and forced two fumbles. He was all over the field and was the best player for either team on the field that day. He’s the fourth rated linebacker in the league according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). He’s up there guys like Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, and the Pats’ Jamie Collins

The Patriots could only gain 90 yards on the ground against the Bills in Foxboro. They’ll be looking to do much better in that department this time around. The first guy that they’ll have to account for is Brown. He was never known as a playmaker before this season but is enjoying a big breakout season.

Who’s on First? Bills WRs Hit Hard by Injury: The Bills skill-position players are being bitten by an injury bug epidemic right now. Sammy Watkins is already on IR with a foot issue, he’s their best receiver. Greg Salas, ditto. Robert Woods is their best WR on the roster right now and has 25 catches, 240 yards, and a touchdown. But he’s been bothered by a sore foot all season, it caught up with him last week and he missed the Miami game.

Marquise Goodwin is the Buffalo deep threat, the former Olympic hopeful has 12 catches for 258 yards, good for a 21.5-yard average and three touchdowns. But right now, he’s in the concussion protocol after last week’s game in Miami. He went up for a deep ball and as he fell to the turf, he hit his head hard and appeared to briefly lose consciousness.

With Watkins on IR until at least early November, and Woods in a walking boot a week ago, Goodwin in the concussion protocol, that leaves the Bills with, for now, only three healthy wide receivers, Justin Hunter, Brandon Tate, and Walt Powell. On Tuesday, the Bills elevated Ed Eagan from the practice squad to the active roster. They’ll  hope that Woods will be able to make it back on the field this week.

Special Teams Units Have Questions: The Patriots aren’t the only ones with a Special Teams’ unit that is struggling. The Bills, normally one of the NFL’s best STs’ units have been scuffling along as well. Dan Carpenter has missed two field goals (9-11), and two extra points (20-22). Their punting unit with Colton Schmidt is about in the middle of the road in terms of net punting average.

But in Miami, they had a strong game. Returner Brandon Tate returned a punt 30 yards, his second return of 30+ yards on the season.  Schmidt had a punt downed at the one-yard line and the Bills blocked a punt in the 2nd quarter. Their coverage units have been solid, especially the punt coverage unit. They’re allowing only 3.2 yards per punt return.

Like New England, they’ve been good in their kickoff coverage unit as well. They’re allowing only 19 yards per kickoff return. This one may come down to special teams and both teams could use a boost from the specialty units.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Bills, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
September 17, 2015 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots travel to Orchard Park, New York to take on the division rival Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is slated for 1:00 p.m. The game will be televised locally on WBZ-TV with Kevin Harlan doing the play-by-play and Rich Gannon handling the color man duties.

The Patriots (1-0) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 in their opener when Tom Brady passed for 288 yards and four touchdowns. At one point Brady completed 19 in a row, a franchise record. Rob Gronkowski had three touchdowns and 94 yards receiving.

The Bills (1-0) beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-14 at home last Sunday. The Bills defense intercepted Andrew Luck twice and new QB Tyrod Taylor, making his first NFL start completed 15-19 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our  “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Bills have met 110 times with the Patriots holding a 67-42-1 overall edge in the series. In Buffalo, once again New England holds a 32-22-1 advantage. In recent years the Patriots have dominated Buffalo with Tom Brady holding a 23-3 edge overall against the Bills. The last meeting was won by Buffalo on the last week of the 2014 season. With the division and home field advantage wrapped up, the Pats sat most of the skill position players and the Bills triumphed 17-9.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense: