ATLANTA - Bill Belichick was asked the Tuesday after the AFC Championship Game a question about the Chiefs. He said he was focused on the Rams already. He knew they presented a big challenge and he knew he needed two weeks to prepare. Belichick had to be concerned about the big play ability of the Rams offense. He also knew it presented an opportunity because Jared Goff often needed five seconds to complete his deep passes. Bill Belichick was primarily worried about two things with the Rams - their running game and the play actions passes that come off the running game. Most of their explosive plays came off play action.
"Coach Belichick did an outstanding job," Rams coach Sean McVay said "There really is no other way to put it. I'm pretty numb right now, but definitely, I got out-coached."
The idea behind the game plan was to press the receivers at the line of scrimmage and throw a limited amount of creative bitzes at the Rams they had not seen before. The Pats didn't want to blitz too much, but just enough to keep the Rams guessing. The Pats shutdown Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson on early downs, which allowed them to get pressure on later downs. What was most impressive about the Pats defense was the play of Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. They were simply all over the field. The Pats put their best corner Stephon Gilmore on Brandin Cooks and double-teamed Robert Woods.
The Pats left Josh Reynolds in single coverage and Goff never threw to an open Reynolds on a critical third down play in the fourth quarter. The Pats surprised the Rams by playing more zone coverage than they had all season. The Pats played the highest percentage of man out of any team in the NFL.
The Pats used a lot of six-man fronts. In essence, the Pats played a 6-2 with one linebacker in the middle. In some ways, they were playing goal line defense the whole game. Belichick did not want to give Gurley space to run the ball. Belichick on Monday noted that the Pats ask a lot from Hightower and Van Noy. They must play the run, rush the passer and cover running backs at times. The defense had four sacks with Hightower and Van Noy each having a sack. Hightower was strong off the edge. The Pats also played some two high safety looks so they would not be fooled by the play action fakes of Jared Goff. Such looks allowed the linebackers to keep Goff in the pocket, which allowed Van Noy to have his critical sack.
The one adjustment the Rams could have made was to throw on first down. Gilmore was masterful against Brandin Cooks who finished with eight catches. Hard to remember any of them. Gilmore also had the game-winning interception.
It was also interesting that the Pats played Patrick Chung before he broke his arm as a down in the box linebacker. The Pats moved Jonathan Jones (who covered Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship Game to safety). The idea was to get more speed on the field so if Cooks or Woods caught the ball they would not turn it into a really big gain. When Chung broke his arm, Elandon Roberts took Chung's spot at linebacker and Duron Harmon helped out on passing downs. It also helped that Lawrence Guy and Trey Flowers were disruptive inside against a good not great offensive line.
Bill Belichick has said many times it's a players game. Belichick the coach deserves as much credit as Belichick the GM. Belichick found players who were mentally tough and were committed to getting better. Several players this year said that it is not always easy to play for the Pats because the coaches are demanding. The players, however, met the expectations and their coach gave them the game plan worthy of their talent. They deserve to be champions.