The Los Angeles Rams headed into Super Bowl 53 having averaged 32.4 points per game this season. They featured one of the league’s best offenses, and defensive and kicking game units that were also capable of putting point on the board. But when they all were needed most, they faltered: on the biggest stage, the New England Patriots held the NFC champions to a mere three points — the worst offensive performance in Super Bowl history.
Los Angeles set or tied some dubious records that day, from fewest points and touchdowns scored to most consecutive punts. But the team’s offensive ineptitude is only one part of the story, as the Patriots defense also delivered a performance for the ages. Not only did the unit execute to perfection, it also entered the contest with a perfect plan to stifle what made the Rams offense that productive during its first 18 games of the year.
L.A. running back C.J. Anderson recently joined FS1’s Undisputed to talk about the game and how New England’s defense was able to hold his team to nothing more than one field goal. “Bill [Belichick] does a great job of putting his team in the right position. They played great gap control against us, they gave us some different coverages against us that were not shown on tape,” Anderson explained.
“If you watch their season, 90% they’ve been in man. They played a little zone here but they probably played 80% zone against us — maybe because they probably didn’t think they had the best matchups [to go with man coverage],” continued the 28-year old, who didn’t join the Rams until mid-December when an injury to star running back Todd Gurley forced the club to add additional depth at the position. The move proved to be a good one up until the Super Bowl.
In the NFL’s title game, however, neither Anderson nor Gurley were able to provide the team with an offensive spark: the duo combined to touch the football just 20 times for only 68 yards — an average of a mere 3.4 yard per run or reception. With the running game being shut down, the Rams had to turn to quarterback Jared Goff to win the game for them and the third-year passer proved himself incapable of doing that against a New England defense that challenged his decision making on an every-down basis.
According to Anderson, the Patriots’ plan served one particular purpose: to take away the big play threat. “Just from the outside in, when I was watching the Rams when they came on on prime time, big plays got the offense going, the run game got the offense going,” the former undrafted rookie free agent said during the interview. “So if you slowed down the run game, then you limited the big plays.”
“Obviously, we had plenty against Dallas and then our big plays against New Orleans were just enough to find a way to win. [The Patriots] slowed down a lot of our big plays and it was frustrating. That’s kind of how the game went,” Anderson continued. Focusing on stopping the big play worked: oftentimes using a cover 4 zone look, New England surrendered just two plays of 20+ yards throughout the day.
The team did not just keep the Rams from hitting big plays, it also took advantage of their aggressiveness and Goff’s shaky decision making: in the fourth quarter, Stephon Gilmore intercepted a deep pass intended for ex-Patriot Brandin Cooks. The turnover helped seal the game in New England’s favor, leaving Anderson and the rest of L.A. without a Super Bowl title.