Despite some inconsistencies by quarterback Jared Goff over the second half of the season, the Los Angeles Rams feature a potent passing game. Accompanying one of the NFL’s better rushing attacks, the Rams’ aerial game ranked as the fifth best during the regular season according to Football Outsiders. It also played a big role during the playoffs so far and is expected to do the same in the Super Bowl, one way or the other.
After all, L.A. will have to go up against one of the best pass defenses in the league this year: the New England Patriots’ — a unit that while also battling inconsistency at times during the season stepped up over its second half and into the postseason. Physical press-man schemes and creative pressure have all contributed to this and created a defense that now seems tailor-made to go against the Rams.
Why is that? Because the Patriots perform very well against Los Angeles’ favored route concepts (numbers compiled by Sports Info Solutions, via Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar):
Illustrated above are the success rates of each route. A play is considered to be successful when it gains at least 40% of the necessary yardage on first down (think 4 yards on 1st and 10), 60% of on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down.
While route trees in the NFL vary depending on scheme and terminology used, the basic principles are more or less the same as illustrated in the graphic below — and the Rams’ west coast offense is no different which is why we can use it as a guideline to see which routes New England defends particularly well:
As can be seen in the breakdown above, the Rams’ offense likes to run out routes: the team attempted 78 passes to a receiver running some a form of an out — illustrated as (3) in the graphic — so far this season, gaining 7.0 yards per attempt. While the success rate is a comparatively mediocre 38%, L.A. likes to go back to the well on a fairly regular basis. New England’s defensive success, meanwhile, is only marginally better at 39%.
The two teams are evenly matched up on four other route concepts: screen passes, curl routes (6), deep crossers and whip routes (out breaking-routes off a quick direction change; thinks the game-winner in Super Bowl 49). The Rams offense is more successful than the Patriots’ defense on just two routes, flats (1) and swings (passes to the running backs in the flat area of the field).
For comparison, New England’s defense holds a clear advantage on six of Los Angeles’ 13 favorites — including the four most productive on a yards per play basis. This discrepancy is especially notable on posts (8) and slants (2): on average, the Patriots are 40% more productive on those routes than a Rams offense that gains 12.9 and 17.1 yards per attempted pass towards receivers running them.
While this does not necessarily mean that New England will shut down its opponent’s passing attack on Sunday, it shows that the defense has generally fared well in situations the Rams like to put opponents in. And if this only slightly leads to getting L.A. out of its offensive comfort zone, it can be considered a win for the AFC champions — which in turn might lead to an actual victory.