By HCR Staff | Jan. 31, 2019
With so much focus being placed on how the Los Angeles Rams defense can get to Tom Brady and what Bill Belichick can do to slow down the Rams’ high-octane offense, it’s quite possible Super Bowl LIII will come down to special teams.
The Rams have already proven they’re not afraid to be aggressive on special teams. A successful fake punt in which punter Johnny Hekker completed a fourth-down pass to convert the first down was a turning point in the Rams’ NFC title game win over New Orleans. Hekker completed two other passes during the regular season, so this isn’t new to him.
As for special teams coach John Fassel, he’s got some Super Bowl experience in his bloodlines – his father, Jim Fassel, took the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV as head coach.
While Fassel is the son of a coach, New England Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge is the son of a former player. Judge’s father played at Temple and then professionally with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
What’s impressive about Joe Judge’s coaching lineage is that he’s worked for arguably the two greatest football coaches of the modern era. He’s been with Belichick in New England since 2012. For three years prior to that, he was a football analyst working for Nick Saban at the University of Alabama. Between Saban and Belichick, Judge most certainly has learned some best practices of the job.
The Patriots’ special teams are always sound, though they’re much less apt to try a fake punt. They did execute one successfully in Week 12 of the 2017 season – with current special teamer Nate Ebner taking a direct snap and running for the first down – but that was actually New England’s first fake punt attempt in 13 years.
The Patriots have had up-and-down play from their special teams in the last two Super Bowl appearances. In last year’s Super Bowl LII loss to the Eagles, Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal and an extra point in the game. In Super bowl LI, special team play was solid as the Patriots staged their record-setting Super Bowl comeback vs. the Falcons (though they did have a failed onside kick attempt).
Gostkowski’s Super Bowl LII struggles aside, both of these teams have Pro Bowl kickers in Gostkowski and the Rams’; Greg Zuerlein. The most dangerous kick returner in the game will be the Patriots’ Cordarrelle Patterson. On the other end, the Rams have a Pro Bowl special teamer in Corey Littleton who has five blocked kicks in the last two seasons.