The Super Bowls in recent years have come down to the last few plays. This Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams has the makings of a similar outcome. Let’s take a look at which players will be the most important and most likely to make an enormous late-game play for their teams.
- Julian Edelman
Edelman is going to influence the outcome of the game Sunday more than any other non-quarterback. Edelman has been the go-to target in crunch time for Tom Brady for years now, wearing the shoes that used to fit Wes Welker’s feet. We saw it in Super Bowl 49 against the Seattle Seahawks when Edelman caught a third-and-long pass over the middle before a massive hit by Kam Chancellor. We saw it again in Super Bowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons when Edelman caught the should-have-been-picked tipped pass over the middle. We then saw Edelman rise above against the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense in the AFC Championship Game.
The best non-quarterback in this Super Bowl is Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald (more on him below), but the Rams have a path to victory that doesn’t involve Donald taking over. Edelman, on the other hand, will need to make some key receptions for New England to emerge victorious, as the Patriots’ weaponry is weaker than in past years. If Wade Phillips’ defense can neutralize Edelman and prevent him from creating enough space, the Patriots will be forced to rely upon Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett at the receiver position. That’s likely not a recipe for Super Bowl success.
2. Aaron Donald
As I mentioned above, Donald is best non-quarterback on either side of the ball. He’s on a very short list of best non-quarterbacks in the league, period. Donald recorded 20.5 sacks during the regular season, virtually unheard of from a defensive tackle. He has the potential to make life a nightmare in the pocket for Tom Brady. Donald’s ability to bulldoze through offensive guards and command double teams allows more freedom for the other pass rushers to get after Brady.
Donald’s activity in this game will have tremendous influence in the outcome, but pass rushers have been unlucky against the Patriots this postseason. In two postseason games against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady has been hit just once and sacked zero times. Donald will need to bring pressure up the middle and force Brady into uncomfortable throws. Wade Phillips had the recipe during his days calling the defense for the Broncos. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots attempt to block Donald; it’ll also be key to see if Donald affects New England’s running game with Sony Michel and James White. Defensive linemen were the keys to two Super Bowl victories over the Patriots for the New York Giants with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora wreaking havoc. Donald is a defensive stalwart that a team must game plan for, and it makes him that much more dangerous with Ndamukong Suh next to him.
3. Brandin Cooks
The Patriots are known for taking away the other team’s best weapon. They took away Melvin Gordon when they played the Chargers and Gordon rushed for 15 yards on nine total carries in their meeting. They silenced Tyreek Hill a week later as Hill had one long catch and nothing else. Sean McVay is too smart for that piece of information to go unnoticed.
It stands to reason that the Patriots will try to force the Rams to beat them in a way that does not include Todd Gurley’s legs. Jared Goff will need to beat the Patriots with his arm and what sweeter revenge for Brandin Cooks than to burn his former team’s defense? The Rams’ receivers are going to be active; McVay has shown offensive wizardry since he was hired in Los Angeles. The Rams will likely run a lot of play action in hopes of exposing the lack of speed and athleticism on New England’s defense, and it all starts with their fastest weapon—Brandin Cooks.
Who is the most important non-quarterback playing in the Super Bowl?
This poll is closed