ATLANTA — A lot has been made, rightfully, about the matchup between the Rams' outside zone running game and how the Patriots will try to go about defending it.
At its base, the Rams would prefer to be successful pressing the edges of the defense and letting Todd Gurley exploit cutback lanes. Then, Sean McVay would like to run play-action/boot-action off that for big pass plays down the field. It's a similar playbook to Mike Shanahan and, later, his son Kyle with the Falcons. It gave the Patriots fits in Super Bowl LI. The elder Shanahan was 5-3 against Bill Belichick.
"I've had the privilege of coaching in this league for a long time against a lot of great people, especially offensively," Belichick said in 2005. "I have to put Mike right up there with any I've ever coached against. ... I don't think there is anybody any better at game-planning and creating problems for the defense. He takes a look at what you do, and then he presents a situation for you that is tough to deal with. It's always something that is a little bit different, but it always hits right where it hurts the most."
So job No. 1 for the Patriots will be to stop the outside zone/stretch runs McVay loves to use to set up the passing game and make things easier for quarterback Jared Goff.
Many have pointed to the Week 13 matchup between the Lions and Rams as a reason for optimism for the Patriots. Yes, L.A. won 30-16, but Detroit gave the Rams fits in the running game for portions of the contest. The head coach of the Lions? Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who at least tries to think and approach gameplans like his mentor.
So, no problem for the Patriots. Just do what Patricia did and the Patriots should have a good chance at victory. Right?
Not exactly. The adjustments McVay made in that game illustrate exactly why he's a very formidable in-game opponent for Belichick and Brian Flores, and how this game should be a series of constant adjustments.
THE LIONS' PLAN