By Norm Elrod
(CBS Boston/CBS Local) — What’s left to say about the New England Patriots of the 21st century? The team, led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, enters Super Bowl LIII as favorites to win their sixth title. The outcome is far from predetermined, however, with the Los Angeles Rams sporting a strong running game and a stout run defense. The teams take the field Sunday evening in Atlanta, with the game airing live on CBS.
Inside The NFL analyst Boomer Esiason looks at the Patriots-Rams matchup and what each team needs to do to stop the opposing team’s strengths. He also discusses how this game will affect the Brady-Belichick legacy, if at all. You can catch Boomer along with fellow analysts Phil Simms and Ray Lewis, guest analyst, Steve Smith, and host, James Brown, this Tuesday night at 9:00 ET on Showtime.
CBS Local Sports: What can the Rams do to keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands?
Boomer Esiason: First foremost, it’s about pressure up the middle against Brady. And every time he’s had trouble in games, defensive tackles have posed the biggest threat. And that’s Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Those guys have to have dominating games. And they have played dominating football, especially in the playoffs.
And when you look at the Rams’ success on defense, it is because they have stopped the run. They stopped the run of the Cowboys; they stopped the run of the Saints. Can they do that to the New England Patriots? Everything starts with running the ball in this game. Both teams are run-first teams. People don’t think they are, but they are. The play-action plays a big part of their success down the field.
So I think that’s how you keep the Patriots off the field. You have to play tough run defense and you have to get pressure up the middle.
CBS Local Sports: The Patriots like to run the ball between the tackles, which is also right at the strongest part of the Rams defense. What can the Patriots do to neutralize Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh?
Boomer Esiason: This is why you spend the money on your centers and your guards. These guys are warriors in the middle; they are tough football players. That’s a game within a game. So when I think about the Patriots offensive line and how good they are, and how physical they have been throughout the playoffs, they’re going to have to do the same thing.
One thing I will say is that this is going to be a fast track. So when you play at Gillette Stadium in the cold weather against the Chargers, when you play at Kansas City, this is going to be a much faster track. So I would think that offensive linemen will definitely have an advantage on this field. So, to me, I just think it’s the war within the game, and that is on the line of scrimmage for both of these teams.
CBS Local Sports: The Patriots offense seems to lack big playmakers, yet they’ve put up a lot of points in their two playoff wins. What makes this offense so productive?
Boomer Esiason: What they have is a plethora of weapons that do certain things really, really well, whether it be a trio of running backs, who are all healthy, whether it be four wide receivers, who are all healthy. Cordarrelle Patterson is a great special teams player. He’s a reverse guy, he’s a short-passing guy, he’s a guy down the sidelines. Phillip Dorsett is a speed guy. They have a collection of everything. It’s an eclectic group.
The key thing to me is just how precise Brady is and how accurate he is with his short passing. And the untold story about all of this is that, I think, 58 of his 64 completions in the playoffs are under 10 yards. It’s an extension of the running game. And that tells you just how accurate and how quickly he’s getting rid of the football.
CBS Local Sports: What effect does a Patriots win vs. a Patriots loss have on the legacy of the Brady/Belichick era?
Boomer Esiason: Their legacy is cemented. Everything they do now is just add-on. And I could have probably said that over the last five years. They’re doing things that nobody’s ever done in this league before. They should rename the NFL record book, especially in the postseason, to the Belichick and Brady record book, because of what they’re doing.
Jared Goff is starting his fourth playoff game. Tom Brady is starting his 40th playoff game. Tom Brady’s 40 games in the playoffs, statistically, I think, are better than the regular-season games of Goff. So that just tells you the real discrepancy between the two quarterbacks. The youth and inexperience against the older guy who is really experienced. And that’s what makes a game like this that much more interesting.