With the conclusion of Senior Bowl/Pro Bowl weekend, we are officially in Super Bowl week.
Are non– Patriots f ans familiar with the Super Bowl? It’s that really important game at the end of the regular season that New England always plays in.
With an eye towards the big game, it’s interesting to note the lack of rookie production from Los Angeles and New England. The two teams have the fewest and second fewest snaps from their rookie classes. Part of this has to do with roster construction, as the Rams sacrificed their high picks in the 2018 NFL Draft for proven talent.
They swapped their 2018 first round pick to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks, coincidentally from the New England Patriots. They had previously surrendered their 2018 second round pick to acquire Sammy Watkins, who is no longer with the team.
Los Angeles would take depth pieces along the offensive line with their 3rd and 4th round selections, Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen. While each has played sparingly and have starter potential, neither fills a starting role for the team just yet.
To their credit, Los Angeles would take EDGE John Franklin-Myers from FCS school Stephen F. Austin. Franklin-Myers has been the Rams most productive rookie as a rotational defensive end.
Overall, the production among rookies has been minimal for the Rams. However, when you take into account the addition of Brandin Cooks into the “class,” he provides a dynamic playmaker in an offense already loaded with talent.
With the Los Angeles pick from the Brandin Cooks trade, the Patriots would select Georgia offensive tackle/guard Isaiah Wynn. Unfortunately, he would miss the season with an injury. Multiple other draft picks for New England would suffer the same fate, but they’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of two guys, one of which being Sony Michel.
Michel was taken with New England’s own first-round pick, and has become the workhorse of the Patriots rushing attack.
Particularly in the playoffs, Michel’s rushing has been the catalyst of the Patriots offense. In New England’s two playoff wins to this point, Michel has 53 rushes for 242 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Sony Michel’s runs of 9+ yards or TD’s in the first half – all five were ran behind Gronkowski, four came out of 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end)
New England made a conscious effort to establish outside zone, forcing the extra DB’s on defense scrape, fill and tackle: pic.twitter.com/YxFIAIBiMZ
— Patriots Film (@PatriotsFilm) January 14, 2019
On top of that, his successful runs out of 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end) and 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end) have been used to set up play-action passes later on.
Against the Chargers in the divisional round, Julian Edelman had three receptions of 10+ yards off of play-action fakes to Michel. The Patriots offense has worked in unison because of Michel’s success running behind heavier sets.
All 6 of Julian Edelman’s receptions of 10+ yards in the first half – 101 total yards, 38 yards after catch
3 of these receptions came off of play-action out of 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end), all of which saw the second-level defenders aggressively fill downhill: pic.twitter.com/uxh49PJQ53
— Patriots Film (@PatriotsFilm) January 14, 2019
The second Patriots rookie who has developed into a major contributor is undrafted cornerback JC Jackson. The Maryland product will be a key piece in the Patriots attempts to slow down the Rams offense. Why? Because of Los Angeles’ propensity to use 11 personnel (1 tight end, 1 running back). Los Angeles operates out of this personnel grouping on over 90% of offensive snaps.
New England’s typical defensive personnel to counter this is base nickel, which includes three cornerbacks. Along with Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, Jackson will be apart of the group tasked with slowing down the Rams trio of wide receivers; Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds.
New England’s man-based defense will be difficult to consistently employ with the Rams fondness of bunch sets and pre-snap motions. However, New England will likely still default to man coverages when necessary, which could see Jackson matched up with either Woods or Cooks.
While he’ll be given help over the top, both of those receivers gained over 1,200 yards this season. That’s no easy task for an undrafted rookie cornerback.
Jackson has figured out a way to slow down receivers with just enough physicality to not get constantly called for pass interference. With fluid enough hips for the slot, his man coverage ability can be a weapon to stop a technically refined receiver such as Woods.
While Los Angeles and New England had different philosophies regarding the 2018 NFL Draft, their seasons have been effective either way. New England’s rookie impact may be the key to their victory, while the Rams move to go “all-in” acquiring Cooks could be what puts them over the top.
Welcome to Super Bowl week.