Position Battle: Patriots Cornerbacks vs Rams Receiversby Prime Time Sports Talk January 25, 2019 0 comments
On Feb. 3, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will meet in Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
On the 17th anniversary of New England’s first championship over the then-St. Louis Rams, Tom Brady will have a chance to earn his record-breaking sixth Super Bowl victory.
Vegas opened the total at 58.5 points, the highest total ever for a Super Bowl. Clearly, the world is ready for a high-scoring affair between two elite offenses. The Rams are set with three capable receivers and run a majority of their snaps in personnel involving three wide receivers. Los Angeles’ receivers Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds run over half of their snaps on the outside, while Robert Woods spends the majority of his time patrolling the slot.
Similar to the Rams’ defensive scheme, the Patriots utilize man-coverage at a very high rate. There are multiple coverage schemes that Bill Belichick and Brian Flores could employ—in the past, the Pats would stick their top cornerback on the opposition’s second biggest threat.
On the other side of the field, the number two cornerback would shadow the opposing team’s top option with safety help. Since Stephon Gilmore has been playing at an unreal level, he has been following the offense’s best receiver, allowing his teammates to all play single coverage. With the strength across the board for New England’s secondary, the latter makes sense, as it allows a safety to play deep or assist the front seven in short coverage.
New England’s cornerback group, consisting of Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and J.C. Jackson, will most likely be moving around the field with their assignments. Gilmore will most likely spend the majority of his snaps on the perimeter, while Jackson will probably be tasked with guarding the slot.
That being said, McCourty will also get snaps in the slot, especially when Jackson gets moved out wide. With each position group stacked with versatility and depth, we are sure to see an epic matchup in the passing attack led by Jared Goff.
The Patriots certainly have as much information as they need on Brandin Cooks, as they traded him this off-season to the Rams for a first-round pick and more. Cooks, who is a skilled route runner but shines as a speedy field-stretcher, has been the hot target as of late for Goff.
Coming off of multiple big catches against the team that drafted him, the New Orleans Saints, Cooks should once again be looking to make a statement against a former team.
Due to his recent tear, he will probably draw the coverage of the All-Pro Gilmore. It doesn’t matter how skilled Gilmore is—the speed of Cooks will always be something the team has to focus on. The former Patriot is the receiver who is most deserving of drawing additional safety coverage.
Josh Reynolds, the fill in for Cooper Kupp, who tore his ACL earlier in the year, has stepped in as a play-maker in the red zone. Standing tall and large, Reynolds is moderately clunky while running routes, but he can beat defensive backs with his impressive wingspan and athleticism.
Jason McCourty has more than filled in as a starter in his first year with New England and should be able to square up with Reynolds. I would imagine that Gilmore and McCourty would switch their targets when they come to the red zone; Gilmore has the size to neutralize the “big-body” effect that Reynolds uses as his main strength.
If J.C. Jackson moves outside, there is no telling who he could be assigned to. He has the speed (4.46 40-time) to keep up with Cooks, and the size and physicality to stone Reynolds. Out of all three of the Patriots’ cornerbacks, I project Jackson to see the most diverse coverage; his versatility and ability to cover the slot and the perimeter leaves him open to seeing different assignments around the gridiron.
Just like J.C. Jackson, I expect Robert Woods to be the wild card for the Rams. Before the Kupp injury, Woods was seeing significant action on the outside while Kupp manned the slot. Woods, whose greatest asset is his crisp route running, has no problem streaking across the middle of the field or controlling the sideline for a tight catch.
Rams’ head coach Sean McVay wants to keep Cooks on the outside, employing Cooks’s speed to keep New England’s defenders in check. However, New England did a superb job of quelling Chiefs’ receiver Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship game, who was held to one catch.
If Cooks finds himself stalling out on the perimeter, Woods could be moved outside to have more speed infused in the middle of the field. In a situation where this scenario arises, J.C. Jackson would most likely shadow Cooks in the slot—McCourty has the skill to keep him in check short, but a seam run from the slot is a deadly route, and Jackson, unlike McCourty, has the speed to contain Cooks.
I really like to see Jackson in the slot when it comes to coverage in the red zone. Like I mentioned earlier, he has the length to cover and speed to close gaps, and he could see a lot of work in the slot regardless of who he is matched up against when the Rams find themselves near scoring position.
If the Patriots want to win the pass coverage matchup, they will need to complete a couple of jobs during the game. Goff has shown that he can make difficult throws in the pocket- the pass rush, which has been excellent during the postseason, will need to rattle Goff to keep him uneasy in the pocket.
Also, the Pats will need to shut down the run game to neutralize the play-action passing attack of the Rams—the Rams threw for the most yards off of play action plays in the entire NFL. Touting Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson in the backfield requires significant attention from the front seven, and they’ll need to play smart to make the defensive backs’ assignment easier.
If the front seven can perform at the level they’ve been playing at against some of the NFL’s best teams, the secondary should have no problem doing their job as they compete to secure a sixth Super Bowl victory.