An often overlooked part in today’s NFL is the work of the special teams. However, in this Super Bowl, it may be the deciding factor. Looking back at the Patriots’ previous eight Super Bowl appearances with Tom Brady at quarterback, the games have been decided by an average of 4.25 points. In fact, they are 3-1 in Super Bowls decided by a field goal.
Comparing the return units, the Patriots averaged 27 yards on 28 kickoff returns and 7.7 yards on 25 returns. Cordarette Patterson is a threat to go the distance, having returned one 95 yards for a touchdown during the regular season. Julian Edelman is a sure handed punt returner, but little threat for a huge gain. The Rams coverage units allowed 22.5 yards on 29 returns and 8.7 yards on 12 returns. The longest return allowed was a 40-yarder on a kickoff, so Los Angeles has a very solid coverage team.
The Rams averaged 21.4 yards on 30 kickoff returns and 10.2 yards on 30 punt returns. Blake Countless was the top kickoff return man at 24.6 yards per return, while Jo Jo Watson is a punt return threat, having returned one 60 yards this season. New England’s kickoff coverage unit is suspect, giving up 29.6 on 42 returns with a long of 97. They also allowed over 10 yards per punt return. The advantage in the coverage units goes to the Rams.
Both place kickers have been solid. For the Rams, Greg Zeurlein connected on 27-of-31 during the regular season and 8-of-12 from beyond 50. He proved he could hit in the clutch, drilling one from 57 yards against the Saints in overtime to win the NFC Championship Game. Stephen Gostkowski hit 27-of-32 for the season and 3-of-3 in the playoffs. However, he hit only 6-of-11 from beyond 40 yards. The dome will provide ideal kicking conditions, so both kickers should flourish in the environment.
Los Angeles has a slight advantage in terms of punting, although both Hekkler and Ryan Allen of the Patriots were stellar. Hekkler averaged 46.3 per punt with 21 inside the 20 and only 12 returns. Allen averaged 45.1 per kick, 21 inside the 20 with a net average of 39.5. As good as the offenses have been, both punters may see very little action on Sunday.