Super Bowl Sunday is a mere three days away, and the anticipation could not be built any higher. A rematch, 17 years in the making, will go down on Sunday, February 3.
For the first time in almost two decades, the Rams have made it back to the big game. In those two decades, falling under the ubiquitous pseudonym of the “Greatest Show on Turf,” seemed appropriate, bringing back flashbacks of the Dick Vermeil-coordinated and Kurt Warner-executed air-raid attack and indomitable Marshall Faulk ground game.
Now, 20 years after the franchise’s first capturing of a Lombardi, which, as fate would have it, was won in the Georgia Dome, the three-year relocatees to Los Angeles will have the ultimate chance to not only win title No. 2 but at the hands of the man who started his own dynasty at the sake of ending theirs.
The great Tom Brady, who now at this point has etched himself as the “greatest football player of all time” (it’s pretty hard to deny it even with circumstantial evidence) certainly budded his head in the conversation of who is the greatest athlete of all time. Six rings are what he’s after, and the only obstacle standing in his way is the young but star-plastered Rams, led by 2016’s first-overall pick and former Cal Jared Goff with star tailback Todd Gurley II.
Led by what many are considering the next great Bill Belichick-like coach in the NFL, the spry, bushy-haired, 32-year-old head coach Sean McVay is looking to earn a signature victory against the very man who he’s mostly compared against. An abridged, seemingly millennial version of a West Coast offense meets an immovable defensive line and you have a franchise who will prove to be here for years, if not decades, to come.
However, this isn’t a full-depth Super Bowl 53 analysis on what Tom Brady, Jared Goff, CJ Anderson, and Rob Gronkowski will do on Super Sunday. Since a strong majority of this blog contains news about the ACC and its recent occurrences, let’s brush up on some history and look at some Rams and Patriots who competed in the ACC, and who of these top -8 players will have the biggest impact to determine 2018’s champion.
Top 8 ACC Players in Super Bowl 53
8. LaMarcus Joyner, FS, LAR, Florida State
An impending free agent in 2019, LaMarcus Joyner proved to Rams fans everywhere that he’s worth the money in the final year of his contract while under the franchise tag, finishing 2018 with 78 tackles (three for loss), three passes defended and 1 interception. While 2017 was kinder to the former Slot Corner-turned-starting Free Safety, the former DB from Florida State will be key in disguising coverages for the fool-proof but immobile Brady and stopping the run game commanded by Sony Michel and James White.
In his four years as a Seminole, Joyner accumulated 197 tackles, eight picks, and 6.5 sacks. He was an integral part of the undefeated, or should they say “unconquered” 2013 National Champion Seminoles team, led by 2015 first overall pick Jameis Winston.
7. John Johnson III, SS, LAR, Boston College
The third-rounder out of Boston College and Joyner’s cohort in the Rams defensive backfield as their starting Strong Safety, Johnson further attested to the reality that some guys just do it better in the pros than at the collegiate level, if given the opportunity. As a DB for the Golden Eagles, he wasn’t bad in pass coverage but wasn’t great either, posting an average 70.6 coverage grade against opposing quarterbacks in the ACC.
That number skyrocketed, and expeditiously at that, once he set foot in the LA Coliseum in his first two years. He improved from an 82.9 grade in 2017 to an 87.3 this season. That’s insane. With 135 solo tackles and 5 picks in two years, he’s another piece that New England Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels cannot ignore to scheme against.
6. Sam Shields, CB, LAR, Miami
The Cornerback and Aquib Talib’s backup on the Rams secondary depth chart will have his hands full against the attacking Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan on the outside when he will be needed for certain blitz packages, and while his age and deteriorated explosion and burst on routes may be put in question, the former Packers defensive back has championship experience, returning to his second super bowl in eight years. When Talib went down with a high ankle sprain in week 3, Shields stepped up.
With two passes defended, 13 solo tackles while only letting up 22 receptions through 10 weeks, Shields still has it in him to do what he wants to a WR1 and WR2. The former Miami Hurricane was prone to having big games, but as a Wide Receiver for three years before converting to a CB position. He put up 75 catches, 971 yards, and 7 TDs as a receiver.
5. Dwayne Allen, TE, NE, Clemson
The Tight End opposite to Gronk played in 13 games this year but statistically hasn’t shown much to ascertain himself as a difference maker when Gronk doesn’t get the ball. He only caught 13 balls for 113 yards and one touchdown in his two years as a Patriot. But, let Super Bowl 53 make a change to that.
Brady has a bunch of weapons and while Gronk and Julian Edelman are obviously the cornerstones of the offense, Dwayne Allen does the things that don’t quite show up on the box score. With the impending onslaught of the Rams defensive line full of pro bowlers and game-breaking talent, Brady will need all the blocking help he can get.
Plus, the Super Bowl is often a site for unexpected performances from previously unrecognized talent. Remember Chris Matthews in Super Bowl 48? Remember those four grabs, 109 yards, and that touchdown? It’s apples to oranges comparing a Tight End who’s been acclimated into a system for two years to a special teams reserve who just so happened to get open on some routes, but if the former Clemson standout knows anything about big games (since he was such a big part of the Colts’ offense in his first 5 years), you can never really predict what happens on SB Sunday.
4. Phillip Dorsett, WR, NE, Miami
The starter turned-mid-season-backup-turned-mid-season starter again will be crucial to Brady’s success as a WR2 in this grudge match against arguably the best secondary in the NFL that isn’t named the Baltimore Ravens. Dorsett, who subbed in for the troubled yet extremely talented Josh Gordon, had himself a pretty decent ending to his 2018 regular season while Edelman and Hogan mainly picked up the slack for the WR core.
The “next man up” philosophy had to be taken over by the three-year deep threat out of Miami, putting up some considerable numbers in the Pats’ last three outings. He hauled in five catches for 34 yards and a score in their Week 17 stomp out of the Jets, five receptions for 41 yards in the divisional playoff against the Chargers, and while only getting one catch in the AFC Championship, it was a pretty big catch, a 29-yard Touchdown at that, in the final minute of the first half. Expect this kid to have some more clutch moments in the biggest game of his life on Sunday.
3. Joe Thuney, G, NC State
This Patriots offensive line has passed both tests against two of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL with flying colors, but not a test like this. Brady’s blind side guard with championship experience, now making his 3rd super bowl start in his first three years, something that hasn’t been accomplished by any other player in NFL history.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia saw something in this kid three years ago when he was a third-round selection out of NC State, and he confided in him, and for good reason. Accompanied by former 49ers Left Tackle Trent Brown, Brady’s side of limited view where left edge rushers make their money has been exceptionally silenced, no matter the opponent. Now, while having to deal with the likes of Samson Ebukam and Michael Brockers off the edge and, occasionally off the edge, Aaron Donald, Thuney can only hope his historic feat is matched with two rings in three years.
2. Shaq Mason, C, NE, Georgia Tech
Needless to say, this game will be won in the trenches, and it should go without saying that if Brady is to have another signature 500+yard championship performance, his offensive line will have to deal with the likes of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Ethan Westbrooks.
A timeless chess game between two timeless figures of the coaching stratosphere in Belichick and Wade Phillips will be decided in up front. Whoever pushes harder and makes more space for blitzes or splash plays will be a champion, and former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket and Patriots Center Mason must be up for the challenge.
Because for the unblockable Aaron Donald, swallowing guards and centers whole is just another walk to the water cooler. If Brady wants to have a chance of doing anything to that defense, his center has to face him straight up, for 60 minutes. That’ll be a dandy to watch.
1. Aaron Donald, DT, LAR, Pittsburgh
You knew this was coming, and here it is. It’s now safe to say Donald is well on his way to repeating as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and as the second-highest paid defensive player in the sport, is looking to add his first piece of jewelry that may very well not be his last. Even a gold jacket is already prophesized to be in his future.
There could be sentiments written about Aaron Donald and what he does to basically destroy every offensive line he’s ever faced, but to keep it short: the Los Angeles Rams will be Super Bowl Champions if Brady’s offensive line cannot block this man. It’s that simple. His ability to singlehandedly turn a game around by forcing a fumble, disrespectfully stuffing a team’s running attack and just make life for OCs a living hell makes him the best defensive player in the league and to a majority, an MVP candidate.
The former Pitt Panther smashed records en route to his first-round selection in 2014. In his three years at Pitt, he was a beast equally against the run and pass. He got over 181 tackles, forced 6 fumbles, and sacked the quarterback an astounding 29.5 times.