Foxborough, MA - This Sunday, New England Patriots fans could be celebrating a sixth Super Bowl victory, or onlookers from Boston to the farthest reaches of Massachusetts could be wallowing in disappointment from a second consecutive season as the runners-up.
Either way, the Super Bowl is coming. And as the biggest annual event in sports, the Patriots have had a lot of experience with the big game, especially in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era. In 2002, the Patriots defeated the Rams, 20-17. Two years later, they prevailed over the Panthers, 32-29. They repeated in the next season, 24-21 against the Eagles. They lost two Super Bowls to the Giants, 17-14 and 21-17. They downed the Seahawks 28-24 and came back against the Falcons, 34-28. Last year, they fell to the Eagles, 41-33. There are many games to draw from as they head into a match-up with the Los Angeles Rams. But what can they learn from these games?
The biggest thing the Patriots can do better in Super Bowl LIII is they can step on the throats of the Rams from the get go of the game. Too many championships have come down to make or break plays because of how close the score tends to be. While this has certainly paid off for the Patriots in the past (they climbed out of a twenty-five point deficit against Atlanta), it's hard to see it succeeding against the Rams.
Apart from the Seahawks team of 2014, I do not think the Patriots have faced an offense as high octane as this current iteration of the Rams (even when compared to the greatest show on turf from all those years ago). Likewise, the Patriots offense has struggled as much as any New England team since the late 2000s and early 2010s. If they fall behind, it will be much harder to come back later. Bill Belichick's first chess move against Sean McVay should be to keep the offense quick and methodical without leaving any points on the board.
Another element lacking in the Patriots offense in Super Bowls is the rushing game. Since the first three Super Bowl victories, every team faced by New England in the championship has had more or as many rushing yards as the Patriots. This year, the Patriots have a dynamic trio of Sony Michel (the workhorse), James White (the pass catcher), and Rex Burkhead (the change of pace). Even Cordarrelle Patterson can come in for goal line rushes. Throughout the late turn of the season, the Patriots have leaned on their rushers more than any other year and it would be wise to keep up a strong rushing game against the Rams, especially with a hobbled Todd Gurley on the other side of the football.
There are many obvious things the Patriots can do to defeat the Rams, but far be it from me to question the decisions of the greatest coach of all-time, after all.