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SBLIII: Slot matchup could be key

ATLANTA – It’s generally not a good idea to pull on Superman’s cape, especially when you will be drawing one of the more difficult assignments in Super Bowl LIII.

But that didn’t stop Rams slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman from doing it earlier in the week when he discussed Tom Brady’s age before unsuccessfully trying to walk back those comments with some rambling rebuttals. Brady has found added motivation from much less in the past, and Robey-Coleman could find himself in the crosshairs Sunday night.

That’s because he will likely be tasked with tracking Julian Edelman, by far and away the Patriots most trusted receiver. Edelman has been dominant as of late, especially in the playoffs. He caught nine balls for 151 yards against the Chargers and tacked on seven for 96 – including a pair of mammoth receptions to convert third-and-10s in overtime – against the Chiefs.

“The offense has to keep doing the things that we’ve been doing – avoiding penalties and negative plays, staying balanced, controlling the ball,” Edelman said earlier in the week. “This will be our toughest test of the season.”

But while Edelman spoke in Patriots-speak, Robey-Coleman went in a different direction when he made some comments to Bleacher Report.

“We have to stay connected, and he will slowly start to reveal himself,” Robey-Coleman said. “Age has definitely taken a toll. For him to still be doing it, that’s a great compliment for him. But I think that he’s definitely not the same quarterback he was. Movement, speed, velocity, arm strength. He still can sling it, but he’s not slinging it as much.

“Whatever he was doing -- because of his age and all that – he’s not doing as much of that anymore. He’s still doing the same things; he’s just not doing as much of it. And sometimes, it’s not the sharpest. But it still gets done.”

After trying to clarify the remarks by explaining how much respect he has for Brady, Robey-Coleman told reporters he wasn’t afraid to be targeted Sunday night and will be ready.

“There ain’t no backing down, there ain’t nothing,” he said. “We’re going to see on Sunday. He is going to throw them, I’m going to try and deflect them. That’s the name of the game. As far as anything goes, I hope it is a competitive, chippy game, this is what we want.”

But the brash corner chose a different tone when talking about Edelman.

“Julian Edelman is a great receiver,” he said. “He is a hard player. He runs great routes. He’s crisp. I like his style, his tenaciousness as a small receiver. I think it’s going to be a good matchup if we ever match up in the slot. I can’t wait.”

The way Edelman described Robey-Coleman as a player the corner’s comments weren’t overly surprising. Robey-Coleman spent four years in Buffalo (2013-16) and had many battles with Edelman during that time before leaving via free agency for Los Angeles in 2017.

“He’s tough, feisty, quick guy who has a lot of savvy to his game,” Edelman said. “He’s physical, relentless and won’t back down and he plays hard. That’s what I remember.”

Edelman has always been one of Brady’s most trusted receivers but this year his presence has been magnified. Rob Gronkowski’s hasn’t been as dominant as he’s been in the past, and Brady has leaned on Edelman in the slot and James White out of the backfield.

The Rams have struggled with tight ends and backs this season, but it all starts with Edelman. And how the matchup against Robey-Coleman goes could be a key factor Sunday night.

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