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#pounditTuesday, May 21, 2024

Five biggest Super Bowl X-factors

Johnny Hekker

You’ll be hearing a lot about big names like Tom Brady, Todd Gurley, Sean McVay, and Bill Belichick over the next week, but what about the lesser-known units and factors that could ultimately decide Super Bowl LIII? There are many of them, some more obvious than others, and some are simply key points that must be addressed by both teams if they want to win the game.

Here are five big X-factors to watch during Super Bowl LIII.

5) Coaching distractions

It is likely that members of both coaching staffs will be handling their final game for their respective teams. Patriots linebacker coach Brian Flores looks to be on his way to the Miami Dolphins, while Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor is in line to be the next head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots in particular are used to being in this situation, and it hasn’t really affected them much. For the Rams, this is newer. It’s hard to imagine a lack of focus from anyone on either staff at this point, but it’s worth watching.

4) Johnny Hekker and the Rams’ special teams

Rams coach Sean McVay has not had any fear of pulling out some risky fakes or trick plays if things are going awry. That includes the use of punter Johnny Hekker on a fake, as he successfully did in a pivotal moment of the NFC Championship. The Rams know they may have to be bold to win a game like this, and McVay will certainly be considering options like this one. The Philadelphia Eagles’ effective use of trickery in last year’s game could give the Rams more confidence. The Patriots must be prepared for it this time as well.

3) New England’s offensive line

They’ve quietly done their job, and there’s an argument to be made that the New England offensive line has been the key to their postseason success. Not only has Tom Brady not been sacked this postseason, but he’s only taken three quarterback hits in two games. New England’s superstar quarterback has essentially been able to do his job untouched against some solid pass rushes. Much has been said about the Rams’ defensive line and what it must do to beat Brady, but not enough credit has been given to New England’s offensive line and just how effective they’ve been.

2) Los Angeles Rams’ linebackers

There has been a lot of discussion about how the Rams’ defense will handle Tom Brady. The defensive line must do the job and the secondary has to stand up to Tom Brady’s throwing, but the less-heralded linebacker group has a key role to play too. The likes of starters Mark Barron, Samson Ebukam, and Cory Littleton will be tasked with handling Rob Gronkowski and keeping weapons like James White from drifting out of the backfield and hurting them. Those are huge jobs that, if done effectively, could take away several of Brady’s weapons.

1) The Patriots on third down

Anyone who watched the late stages of the AFC Championship knows that the Rams might end up with work to do on third down. The Patriots are 20 for 33 on third down in the playoffs, including a remarkable 14 of 19 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Many of those conversions came in third and long situations, with Julian Edelman and Gronkowski frequent targets. The Rams will surely know this and must be prepared to do better in this department. Getting the Patriots off the field is always a major victory, while allowing third down conversions can be hugely deflating.

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