NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, right, talks with quarterback Tom Brady during the Sept. 9 season opener against the Texans.

 

In two playoff victories that secured them a third straight trip to the Super Bowl, the Patriots exploded for 78 points and 1,022 yards.

Josh McDaniels has found the right balance with Tom Brady throwing for more than 300 yards in each contest and Sony Michel rushing for more than 100 yards in his first two postseason games.

As he gets ready for his fifth Super Bowl as Pats offensive coordinator and with ample time to prepare for the Rams, McDaniels will have to strike a balance between keeping his unit playing like it has for the last couple weeks while not overpreparing to the point where players are thinking too much and becoming slow on the field.

“There’s really only one other situation that you can compare this week to, and that’s even a stretch to say that, and that’s the first game of the year where you have so much time to prepare for the opponent but you’re not really sure what they’re going to do,” McDaniels said. “This one, same thing, you’ve got a lot of time to prepare for them, but you’ve got to be careful because you start getting into over-coaching and too much information and you overload the players. Now we’re not playing fast and aggressive, we’re thinking and trying to do too many things that are out of character or not in our nature.”

He admitted that having so many players who have been through the situation before certainly has its benefits, notably Brady, who will be starting in his record ninth Super Bowl. The hope is that past experiences preparing for the game help make the preparation seem routine and that it leads to a quality performance.

“Obviously, Tom has experience in this situation. We have a lot of players that have experience in this situation as well, so that doesn’t really much matter this week,” McDaniels said. “What matters is how well we prepare this week for this opponent who’s the best team we’ve played all year — what we’re able to do in 12 days out there on the field in terms of performance. That’s what we’re going to strive for and hopefully we have a great two weeks of preparation and go out and play our best game of the year.”

Stopping the run a key

The Patriots’ defensive line has put together a solid showing in the playoffs, creating pressure against both Philip Rivers and Patrick Mahomes while also shutting down the run game of both the Chargers and Chiefs.

Stopping the run will be of the utmost importance in Super Bowl LIII as the Rams will be the most balanced of the three teams the Pats face in the postseason.

Even though he played poorly and was essentially benched in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game victory over the Saints, Todd Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards during the regular season despite missing two games and added nearly 600 yards receiving. He also added 115 yards in the playoff win over Dallas.

C.J. Anderson has given the Rams serious depth in the backfield since signing on Dec. 18. Cut by Carolina and Oakland, Anderson filled in for Gurley and had 299 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ last two regular-season games and went for 123 yards and two TDs against the Cowboys.

“The running game is definitely something that they’re very good at and they’ve been able to effectively run the football pretty consistently over the course of the year,” said Patriots defensive line coach Brendan Daly. “They’ve got explosive playmakers at the skill positions where they’ve generated some big plays, and most importantly they’ve been able to move the ball and get the ball in the end zone.”

One of the big reasons Gurley has eight 100-yard games and Anderson has three has been the play of their offensive line, a unit considered to be among the best run blockers in the league led by left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

“They do a great job of utilizing the movement of the defenders and displacing them to create some running lanes,” Daly said. “You’ve got to play with really good technique and really good hand placement and pad level against this group, in the run game specifically.”