Super Bowl LIII: A Beautiful Defensive Chess Match

Super Bowl LIII was referred to by many as boring, but in the eyes of a football purest, the game was a defensive masterpiece. USA Today wrote about the game drawing an 11 year low according to Nielsen Ratings with 98 Million TV viewers and then in that same article they write off the fact that an additional 2 million viewers streamed the game online. Regardless of the variables that led to a lower TV rating the game itself was not a disappointment if you are someone who loved the chess match within the game. Regardless of the ratings, the Super Bowl is still the most watched event year in and year out.


Now for the analysis. Let’s begin with the defenses and the real reason we all watched this game.


Rams Defense

How They Attacked

  • Disguised coverages to confuse Brady led to an Int. This also took away the pre-snap read forcing Brady to identify the post-snap coverage. This also threw off his quick release because the pre-snap read was taken away post-snap.


  • Pressure up the middle with Donald and Suh to move Brady off his spot. This led to 5 Pressures on 36 Pass Att. (14%). The low number of pressure may seem small, but the Rams did an excellent job of pushing the interior lineman into the backfield just enough to not allow Brady to step into a pocket and throw. The low-pressure numbers say this was ineffective, but numbers do not always tell the whole story.


Patriots Offense

How They Adjusted

  • Edelman Adlibbing his routes finding the open spot so that Brady could still utilize his quick game with an avg. Time to throw of 2.44 seconds.


  • Edelman stem Routes occupied the middle of the field, and according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Edelman gained an average of 3.10 yds. of separation from his defender on 75% of his routes. The Rams used Peters, Talib and Robey Coleman one on one trying to stop Edelman and it was ineffective. Edelman finished with 10 Catches and 141yds.


  • The play scripting was identifying defensive reactions to specific personnel and routes. The best example of this was on the only TD drive in the game. The Patriots Run an I formation with Pat Devlin at FB and when in this formation they run the ball 84% of the time. On a 1st down and ten play on that final drive they lined up in the I and ran a play action pass out of the I with Gronk on the LOS chipping his defender before breaking into a wheel route where Brady hit him on the run with a LB in coverage. On this same drive, the Patriots ran the same play three consecutive times, throwing the ball to three different receivers. The third receiver was Gronk down the seam on the play that set up the games only TD.


The Patriots Defense

How The Attacked

  • Blitzed 50% of the time. They attacked Goff using the same ingredients used by the Rams opponents in the last three games of the regular season.


  • Pressure Moved Goff off his spot, Goff still had a decent amount of time to throw of 3.16 seconds according to NFL Next gen Stats this was his 2nd best time to throw game of the year.


  • The Rams took away the run game, therefore, eliminating the effectiveness of play action. Rams backs have 17 carries for 57 yds. And they were not involved in the passing game.


  • Eliminate the effectiveness of play action to take away the deep routes. The Patriots came into this game with the 7th best pass defense and picked off 18 passes during the regular season. In this game, they were able to eliminate the deep. The Rams love the deep crosses off of play action, but could not fool the Patriots Secondary with play action because of the ineffectiveness of the run game.


The Rams Offense

How They Adjusted

  • Time to throw 3.16 as mentioned above for Goff was his second best time to throw of the year. It was the Patriots secondary who managed to eliminate all deep throws and the RB pass game the Rams love to go to. The Patriots attack was similar to the that of the Rams; the difference is one team has Tom Brady.


  • Attacking the Patriots pressure on the drive following the Patriots TD in the 4th, Goff had his best drive of the game. The drive started with a nice WR quick screen that began with a pre-snap shift, before a WR motion. The post-snap play action finally worked because the Rams were able to get a few good running plays on the previous drive with Gurley. The backside screen would go to Brandin Cooks attacking the Patriots man blitz scheme gaining 19 yds. Two plays later Goff converted a third and nine on a cross attacking the LB ’s, and then he made a nice throw with excellent protection to Robert Woods on the sideline. The next play Cooks would drop a perfect pass from Goff in the end zone on the fly route. The drive would end on an Int. Created by the Patriots immense pressure.


  • The defensive play of the game was in the third QTR when Jason McCourty according to NFL Next Gen Stats covered 19.5 yds. in 2.4 seconds to close in on Brandin Cooks breaking up a wide open TD. This same drive led to the Rams only score in the game, FG by Greg Zuerlein. This was a sudden change play where the momentum was moving into the Rams direction before it quickly flamed out.

The Drive that Would Decide The Game

  • The offensive drive of the game set up the Gronkowski seam play on what was essentially the game winning drive that began with 9:49 left in the 4th QTR. The below sequence of plays would set up the games only red zone attempt a 2 yds TD run by Sony Michel.

21 personnel (2 backs, one TE) v. 43 w/one high safety.

The opener was out of the I formation, 21 personnel. The Patriots ran the ball 84% of the time from this formation and had run out of this formation 100% in this game. They used play action on this attempt and had Gronkowski one on one with a linebacker. Gronk chipped the LB before he released into a wheel route where Brady hit him perfectly in stride on the sideline.


22 personnel (2 backs, two TE) v. 43 w/ 2 high safeties

Play two on this drive would be one of three plays that were all the same. On this play, they motioned the TB to the boundary setting up a 3 x 1 look and one on one for Edelman v. a LB, and that’s the matchup that would get exploited. Keep an eye on Gronkowski who runs a seam in all three of these plays; this is what the Patriots see with the current defensive personnel on the field and are getting ready to exploit.

22 Personnel (2 backs, 2 TE) v. 1 high safety

Same as above, TB motions to boundary and Gronk goes down the seam. Brady goes to the TB Burkhead. This time around the SS moves over the LB who is playing over Gronk in the slot. Once again Gronk goes on a seam route.

22 Personnel (2 backs, 2 TE) v.1 high, 1 low safety.

Now for the money play. Edelman goes in motion from the boundary to the field drawing lots of attention. As you can see post motion by Edelman, Gronkowski has a free release in the slot. This play was set up by the attention given to Edelman on the motion and was essentially the game-winning play.

The entire game came down to one drive that broke through in the 4th QTR. This was the kind of game I expected after halftime. I had texted a relative that the game would come down to a turnover and special teams play, and that is in fact how it ended. Defenses battles are all about discipline and who will have a breakdown first.


The difference in the game came down to discipline and who would seize the moment.

It would be the Rams that blinked first on the above drive and the fact that they faced the best QB ever to play the game in a moment he has capitalized on in every Super Bowl he has ever won. When the Patriots scored, Goff became the liability. I expected Goff would try to force something under pressure, and so he did. On the Rams best drive of the game, Goff threw an Interception under heavy pressure. He did have a shot on the play before the interception when he threw a perfect pass to Brandin Cooks that was dropped in the endzone. This is the difference between the two teams. The Patriots seized the moment in the 4th and did not blink turning the Goff interception into a FG that would put the game out of reach. The turnover and the FG were the ultimate nails in the coffin.


The Patriots were better coached and prepared for the moment. They made the adjustments when needed, and showed the elite situational awareness that has been the staple of their dynasty. The Patriots have motto's such as no days off and Do your job. They outwork their opponents in all facets. The Rams were the more talented team, but in football, it is not always about the most talented team. On this day the blue-collar attitude of the New England Patriots who were more gritty for four quarters than the Rams Seized the moment to win the franchises sixth Super Bowl under the Belichick and Brady regime.

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