Biggest Super Bowl 53 Mismatches: Which Running Game Will Dominate Patriots-Rams?

Biggest Super Bowl 53 Mismatches: Which Running Game Will Dominate Patriots-Rams? article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Patriots RB Sony Michel (26), Rams CB Mark Barron (26), DT Aaron Donald (99).

  • The short spread suggests that the Rams and Patriots (-2.5) are evenly matched heading into Super Bowl 53.
  • Both defenses will have to contend with the talent in the opposing teams' backfield on Sunday.

Our NFL experts analyze the biggest mismatches for both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53, including which team will have the edge on the ground.

Biggest Mismatch When Patriots Have the Ball

Patriots backs and tight ends vs. Mark Barron in coverage

Especially after the Patriots ran up 331 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in two postseason games, some would argue their biggest edge against the Rams lies in the run game, as the Rams defense finished the regular season ranked 28th in Football Outsiders’ rushing DVOA and dead last in yards per carry allowed (5.1).

Others would point to the Patriots’ keen ability to dictate matchups and create mismatches before the snap as their biggest advantage against a pass defense featuring cornerback Marcus Peters, who, according to Pro Football Focus has allowed a passer rating of 112.0 this season and can almost always be found lining up at right cornerback.

But both of those purported edges cast the sample-size net a little too wide.

As maligned as the Rams’ run defense was during the regular season, it’s fresh off a two-game stretch where it offed two of the NFL’s best running games, holding the Cowboys to 22 carries for 50 yards (2.29 yards per carry) in the Divisional Round and limiting the Saints to 21 carries for 48 yards (2.27) in the NFC Championship.

Meanwhile, Peters has been far more effective with Aqib Talib on the field, allowing a passer rating of just 75.7 in the 10 games Talib has played compared to 141.4 in the eight games Talib has missed.

Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Mark Barron and Alvin Kamara[/caption]

With Talib’s presence allowing Peters to stay on one side and play to his strengths as an off-coverage route jumper, the Rams have arguably no major weaknesses in a secondary that also features slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman and safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson III.

Opposing passers are better off zeroing in on Los Angeles’ linebackers, Cory Littleton and Mark Barron. But while Littleton has allowed a team-high 62 receptions on 81 targets, per PFF, he’s also broken up nine passes and intercepted three more.

Barron hasn’t been nearly as successful. His PFF coverage grade is just 51.5, a team low among Rams defenders who have spent at least five snaps in coverage this season.

As a former safety who is listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds and was known for his athleticism coming out of Alabama in 2012, Barron should be better in coverage than he is, but a nagging Achilles injury sustained late last season could still be hampering him, and there’s a reason he’s not still a safety in the first place.

The 29-year-old inside ‘backer has been targeted 14 times through two postseason contests, a significant jump from the 3.1 targets per game he saw during the regular season.

Barron has given up 10 catches for 109 yards on those looks, with running backs and tight ends accounting for all but one of the catches.

Rob Gronkowski, James White, and Rex Burkhead give Brady a plethora of options capable of exploiting Barron’s deficiencies. — Chris Raybon

Biggest Mismatch When Rams Have the Ball

Rams run blocking vs. Patriots defense

Per Football Outsiders, the Rams have the No. 1 ranked rush offense in the NFL. It all starts with their offensive line, which ranks No. 1 in adjusted line yards, which is a regression-based metric that measures how much an offensive line impacts a team’s running game.

The Rams not only rank second in the NFL in stuff percentage (only the Saints have been stopped fewer times at or behind the line of scrimmage), they lead the NFL in runs between 5 and 10 yards.

It all starts with their two tackles, Andrew Whitworth and Rod Havenstein, who have started all 18 games this year.

Per PFF, they rank third and fourth overall among all tackles (min. 250 snaps). And guess who ranks No. 1 and 2 in run-blocking among tackles? Yup, you guessed it: Whitworth and Havenstein.

Oh, and the Rams’ guards aren’t too shabby, either. Rodger Saffold and Austin Blythe have also started all 18 games this year — and each rank in the top 10 in run blocking among all guards (min. 250 snaps), per PFF.

You can talk about Jared Goff or Todd Gurley or Brandin Cooks, but don’t forget about this O-line. It’s a big reason why the Rams are so effective in play action.

The Patriots ranked 19th in the NFL in rush defense. They were routinely torched away from Foxboro — and against BAD rush offenses. If we revisit those two stats the Rams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in, the Patriots defensive line ranks 24th in Adjusted Line Yards and 23rd in stuff rate.

C.J. Anderson
C.J. Anderson celebrates a touchdown against the Cowboys. Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA Today Sports.

Los Angeles should break plenty of runs and have no issues converting on third-and-short situations right up the middle against a Pats run defense that is weak in that area (27th against the run up middle/guard, where the Rams rank first).

I’m not sure who is going to get the carries for the Rams — Gurley or C.J. Anderson — but I’m confident they will have success running the ball. — Stuckey

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