This Super Bowl preview includes a lot of in-depth statistics, analytics and attempts to make the game more predictable. I packed it with a ton of information that can help you form an opinion about how this game could play out. It’ll be broken up into two sections with each part analyzing one offense and defense. If you missed it, you can find part one here.
Opening Spread/Total: Pick/58
Current Spread/Total: Patriots -2.5/56.5
Patriots Implied Team Total: 29.5
Rams Implied Team Total: 27
If you want to read about when the Patriots have the ball click HERE
When the Rams have the Ball
Despite dodging a questionable no-call in the conference championship, the Rams are one of the league’s best teams. Their offense ranks 2nd in offensive efficiency, 1st in rushing success rate (58%) and 8th in passing success rate (50%). They were also one of the league’s most explosive offenses, ranking 11th in explosive run rate (14%) and 2nd in explosive pass rate (11%).
Like the Patriots offense, a lot of the Rams’ success was due to their offensive line. They rank No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, No. 2 in stuffed yards, No. 1 in second level yards, and No. 6 in adjusted sack rate allowed. Their offensive line was consistently among the leagues’ best in most metrics and helped the offense remain efficient. The battle in the trenches is one of the key pieces of this matchup we have to look at.
In all honesty, If the Patriots can pressure QB Jared Goff as frequently as they pressured Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship game (50%), this game is over before it starts. In part one we discussed Brady’s immense splits with a clean pocket and under pressure. Unfortunately for the Rams, Jared Goff’s splits are worse. When Goff has a clean pocket he ranks 5th in passer rating (114.1) and 16th in completion percentage (72.1%). Under pressure, he turns into a cupcake with the 35th ranked completion percentage (43.4 percent) and 29th ranked passer rating (58.2.).
If we are just looking at the Patriots’ season-long metrics, their 30th ranked adjusted sack rate and 30 total sacks shouldn’t worry the Rams. On the other hand, the conference championship game against the Chiefs should worry the Rams. The Chiefs offensive line had the same adjusted sack rate allowed as the Rams and was unable to contain the Patriots vicious and aggressive game plan. The Patriots played physical press-jam defense while trying to chip TE Travis Kelce every chance they had while blitzing Mahomes. This resulted in an incredible 50 percent pressure rate and made it much more difficult for the Chiefs’ explosive receiving options to get downfield.
There’s a good chance the Patriots come in with a similar gameplan this week in order to get pressure on Goff and prevent the explosive passes the Rams are so good at. Their ability to dial up blitzes will come down to the ability of the Rams’ receivers to get open quickly. The Rams line up in 11 personnel at the highest rate in the league (90%) meaning there’s a good chance we see Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds on most offensive snaps. Cooper Kupp was obviously a big part of the offense prior to his injury and the Rams have moved Robert Woods in the slot with Josh Reynolds on the outside. Using The Quant Edge’s injury impact tool, we can see how frequently each wideout lines up in each spot after the Cooper Kupp injury.
The Quant Edge also has a WR/CB matchup tool we can use to break down the Rams’ wide receiver’s ability to get open against different types of coverages.
Cooks has a notably worse catch rate against man or press (52%) than against zone or other (78%). It’s naturally a bit easier for receivers to perform better against zone, but the splits usually aren’t this large. Not only are his struggles apparent now, but Cooks struggled against man or press in both 2017 (48.7% catch rate) and 2016 (54.5% catch rate). Cooks has played well this season against press-jam (62.5% catch rate, 106.2 passer rating), but struggled mightily in both 2016 (caught 2-of-6 targets) and 2017 (caught 0-of-7 targets).
Yahoo’s Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) has also detailed Cooks’ struggles at length in his wide receivers study Reception Perception. For those who want the evidence on film, go back and watch him get physically dominated by Dolphins CB Xavien Howard in Week 14 in 2017 (caught 1-of-7 targets).
I don’t think the Patriots are all that concerned about Cooks’ speed either as their secondary is quite fast. CB Stephon Gilmore ran a 4.4, CB Jason McCourty reportedly ran a 4.3, J.C. Jackson ran a 4.46, and Safety Devin McCourty ran a 4.41 and was the 3rd fastest ball-carrier of the season on a pick-six (Next Gen Stats).
Robert Woods has caught just 53% of his passes against man, press, or press-jam but caught 74.1% against zone or “other” coverages. Josh Reynolds has actually been better against man (caught 10-of-15 targets) than zone (17-of-29), but has struggled in both press (1-of-4 targets caught) and press-jam (1-of-4 targets caught). It’s also important to note that on most plays Reynolds is likely lining up against the opposing teams’ second or third string cornerback. The Rams general struggles against press, press-jam, and man is bad news against the Patriots, who play man defense at the highest rate in the NFL (58.8 %).
CB Stephon Gilmore is also having an unbelievable season, which is summed up well in a tweet by NFL Network’s Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield):
Unlike the Rams where each corner mans a side of the field and Robey-Coleman mans the slot, the Patriots corners rotate.
This has allowed them to run a lot of press-jam frequently while blitzing. Derek Klassen (@QBKlass) wrote an excellent breakdown on why the Patriots defense has been so effective in the playoffs using this strategy. I would be much more confident in the wideout trio if Cooper Kupp were active. Not only was he the Rams best wideout against man, press, and press-jam (63% catch rate), but Jared Goff has significant splits with him on and off the field.
Goff averaged 73 fewer passing yards and 2.3 fewer yards per attempt in games that Kupp missed. Using The Quant Edge’s Injury Impact Tool, we see, on a per snap basis, the Rams posted a 10.2% lower success rate, a 6.6% lower explosive pass rate, and 2.66 fewer yards per pass attempt without Kupp.
The best way for the Rams to counteract the Patriots press-jam and blitz defense would be to run a lot of pick plays, use a lot of motion and bunch the receivers to create chaos. It sounds simple, but McVay’s ability to scheme the Rams wideouts open will likely make or break the Rams passing success. They should also look to attack the Patriots on passes from 5-to-10 yards where they allow an above average catch rate. (airyards.com)
Looking at the Rams’ ground game, they not only rank No. 1 in rushing success rate but are also 11th in explosive run rate. The lingering questions that no one has answers to are, who will be the Rams lead back, and how big of a workload will they get? During the Saints game it was tough not to think something wasn’t wrong with Gurley’s health but afterwards, both he and HC Sean McVay noted that C.J. Anderson simply outplayed him. After two early drops by Gurley, McVay rode the hot hand in Anderson the rest of the game. Evan Silva (@evansilva) also noted that Gurley had his most explosive game of the season the week prior against the Cowboys. So if Gurley’s health isn’t an issue it makes the backfield extremely difficult to project.
The Westgate Superbook believes Gurley should still be the lead back with an over/under of 14.5 carries and 68.5 rushing yards while Anderson’s are set at 10.5 carries and 42.5 rushing yards. Props aren’t great barometers at what will actually happen, but it’s intriguing to look at how sportsbooks’ view this dilemma. My guess is that the Rams start with Gurley and mix in Anderson occasionally in the first half. As the game progresses and one back is playing better, that back will receive the bulk of the work. This makes betting on any prop involving Gurley extremely risky with a very low floor and a limited ceiling.
Both backs should have some success against the Patriots run defense, who rank 21st in rushing success rate allowed (49%) and 30th in explosive rush rate allowed (16%). The Patriots defense also benefited from the 2nd easiest strength of opposing offenses, including the 3rd easiest schedule of passing offenses and 7th easiest schedule of opposing rushing offenses. They have been stout against the run in the playoffs though, allowing just 60 rushing yards on 22 carries to the Nos. 4 and 6 ranked rushing offenses in the Chiefs and Chargers. So while the matchup looks good on paper, the Patriots’ recent play suggests otherwise.
The Pats’ defense is susceptible to passes to the running back due to its aggression and painstakingly slow linebacker corps. It ranks 22nd in success rate and 6.3 yards per attempt allowed on passes to running backs. That doesn’t sound bad on a glance but including the playoffs, the Patriots played against teams who rank inside the top 10 in running back pass-catching efficiency four times.
The Rams rank 6th in running back pass-catching efficiency and have an edge in this area. Utilizing Gurley and Anderson frequently on screens and in the passing game is not only attacking a significant weakness but will also help to counteract the Patriots press-jam blitz strategy. I would be all over a Gurley receiving prop if we knew he was going to be used in the same capacity he was before the playoffs.
Circling back to personnel, the Rams have used 11 personnel on 90 percent of their plays. New England’s defense has allowed a 52 percent rushing success rate but just a 42 percent passing success rate against 11 personnel this season. I expect the Rams to continue using a lot of 11 personnel against the Patriots.
This was by far the hardest Super Bowl for me to predict because at face value both teams have the capability to either expose the others defense or slow the opposing offense. This matchup will be like a game of chess, with McVay and Belichick countering one another every step of the way. In the end, I think the Patriots win but the Rams cover. I’ll have half a unit down on the Rams at +3 and would be willing to wager a full unit if the spread ever gets to 3.5. I lean towards the under but this game could easily get out of hand and end up in the sixties.
The Quant Edge Betting Tool (Hitting 57.32% ATS, 61.18% O/U this season) Picks
Best Bets When the Rams have the Ball
Sony Michel to have 7.5 rushing yards more than Gurley
Brandin Cooks Under 75.5 Receiving Yards
Success Rate: A play is successful when it gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down
Adjusted Line Yards: A statistic that attempts to, even to a small extent, separate the ability of a running back from the ability of the offensive line. Adjusted Line Yards begin as a measure of average rushing yards per play by running backs only, adjusted in the following way.
Adjusted Sack Rate: Sack Rate represents sacks divided by pass plays, which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps. It is a better measure of pass blocking than total sacks because it takes into account how often an offense passes the ball. Adjusted Sack Rate adds adjustments for opponent quality, as well as down and distance (sacks are more common on third down, especially third-and-long).
Explosive pass rate: Percent of pass plays which go for 20+ yards.
Explosive run rate: Percent of run plays which go for 10+ yards.
Huge thanks to sites like Airyards.com, Sharpfootballstats.com, Football Outsiders, NFL Next Gen Stats for the data.
Connor Allen utilizes analytics and his knowledge of Football to leverage sportsbooks, fantasy leagues, and DFS. He is a Chicago native and you can find more of his work over at http://Rotoworld.com or on twitter @ConnorAllenNFL.