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Scouting the Matchup: Physical Pats face tough test



Advantage: Patriots

You could argue that the New England offense has been at its best in the postseason when fullback James Develin has been in the game and used as a lead blocker in the running game. After finishing the regular season ranked fifth among NFL teams in rushing yards per game (4.26 per play), the Patriots ran for 155 yards on 34 attempts (4.6 per carry) in their playoff victory over the Chargers, and gained 176 yards on 48 carries (3.7) during their victory over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Rookie running back Sony Michel ran for 242 yards and five touchdowns in those two games. The Rams were 23rd against the run during the regular season, but limited both the Cowboys and Saints to an average of 2.3 yards per carry in the postseason.


Advantage: Patriots

The biggest factor in New England's offensive success in the playoffs has been how its offensive line has performed. Not only have the Patriots gashed teams in the running game, they haven't allowed a sack either. That line will be facing a big test in the Super Bowl, since defensive tackle Aaron Donald led the NFL with 20.5 sacks during the regular season. Like the Patriots, the Rams entered the playoffs with 18 interceptions. The teams were tied for third in that category. New England finished the regular season ranked eighth in yards passing, and the passing game has been sharp when needed in the playoffs. New England passed for 343 yards against the Chargers and 348 during the overtime victory against the Chiefs. Tom Brady has been intercepted twice in the playoffs, but one of those came on a ball that went through Julian Edelman's hands.


Advantage: Rams

The Rams have a two-headed monster in their backfield. Todd Gurley finished third in the NFL in rushing (1,251 yards) and led the league in touchdowns this season with 21 (17 rushing). He was the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year last season. Running back C.J. Anderson began the season with the Carolina Panthers, but joined the Rams in December. He ran for 167 yards during a regular-season game against Arizona, gained 132 yards in Week 17 against San Francisco and picked up 123 yards in the divisional round against Dallas. Los Angeles finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in rushing (4.86 yards per carry). The Patriots entered the postseason ranked 11th against the run, but have played from ahead for most of the postseason and have allowed 60 yards on 22 rushing attempts in their two playoff games.


Advantage: Rams

The Rams didn't finish second in the league in scoring (32.9 points per game) just by running the ball. Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff passed for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. He had 12 passes intercepted. Goff was average when the Rams opened the playoffs against the Cowboys (15 of 28 for 186 yards), but rebounded with a strong performance against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game (25 of 40 for 297 yards). Robert Woods (86 receptions for 1,219 yards) and former Patriot Brandin Cooks (80 for 1,204) are the team's leading receivers. Running back Todd Gurley caught 59 passes (four for touchdowns) and can be a big factor in the passing game. Only the Raiders (13) had fewer sacks than the Patriots (30) during the regular season, but New England has recorded six sacks in its two playoff games.


Advantage: Rams

We know the Rams punt team can't be trusted — at least not to kick. The latest example came in the NFC Championship Game when punter Johnny Hekker tossed a fourth-down pass to Sam Shields for a first down on the Rams half of the field. Los Angeles won that contest on Greg Zuerlein's 57-yard field goal that would have been good from a much longer distance. Returner JoJo Natson is fumble-prone, but has four punt returns of at least 20 yards and one for more than 40. He will rarely fair catch. The Patriots set a franchise record by averaging 27.0 yards per kickoff return, and New England's Cordarrelle Patterson is always a threat to make a big play in that phase of the game. Stephen Gostkowksi made 27 of 32 field goal attempts and 49 of 50 PATs during the regular season.


Advantage: Patriots

If Super Bowl experience is worth anything, then the Patriots have a huge edge entering this contest. Quarterback Tom Brady has played in eight Super Bowls — the most in NFL history — and has more experience in the big game than the entire Rams roster. Los Angeles has four players who have played in the Super Bowl: running back C.J. Anderson (two with the Broncos), defensive back Aqib Talib (one with the Broncos), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (one with the Patriots) and defensive back Sam Shields (one with the Packers). Thirty-eight players on New England's 53-man roster have appeared in at least one Super Bowl. Besides Brady, Stephen Gostkowski (five), Matthew Slater (four), Patrick Chung (four) and Devin McCourty (four) are the Patriots who have played in the most Super Bowls.

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