Vs. RAMS (16-2)


6:30 p.m. today, Superdome, New Orleans, chs. 45, 5

Super Bowl

February 03, 2002

Patriots rushing vs. Rams run defense -- EVEN

The Patriots haven't rushed for more than 68 yards in either postseason game and are averaging a paltry 2.5 per carry. Running back Antowain Smith is averaging 3.2 per carry, down from 4.0 in the regular season. Circumstantial? The Patriots have run in snow and against Pittsburgh's No. 1 rush defense. The Rams suddenly appear vulnerable to the big run in the postseason, giving up more than 100 rushing yards in each game. New England's massive line will attempt to overpower St. Louis' lighter, quicker defensive front.

Key matchup: Patriots center Damien Woody vs. Rams middle linebacker London Fletcher. Woody earned a Pro Bowl trip with his stellar play and, although deserving, Fletcher was a Pro Bowl snub.

Stat to remember: 5.2. Yards per rush allowed by the Rams' defense in this year's playoffs.

Patriots passing vs. Rams pass defense -- RAMS

The Patriots have become one-dimensional in the postseason, relying almost exclusively on the passing game. Quarterback Tom Brady has yet to throw a touchdown pass in the playoffs, but his completion rate is 62.9 percent. New England will want to throw short and quickly to keep the pass rush away from their quarterback's sore ankle. The Rams' secondary has been phenomenal in the playoffs with seven interceptions in two games, backing up a pass rush that has netted five sacks. To control the clock, the Patriots will need to avoid turnovers.

Key matchup: Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown vs. Rams cornerback Aeneas Williams. The Patriots will throw often to their best receiver, and he'll be covered by the Rams' best defender.

Stat to remember: 3. The Rams have returned three of their seven postseason interceptions for touchdowns.

Rams rushing vs. Patriots run defense -- RAMS

The Rams turned to their running game in last week's NFC championship game when Philadelphia took away the deep ball. Marshall Faulk carried a season-high 31 times for 159 of the team's 161 ground yards. He has gotten the lion's share (47 of 54) of the Rams' postseason carries. How left tackle Orlando Pace's sprained left knee holds up will be critical. The Rams are averaging 126 rushing yards a game and 4.6 per carry in the postseason. The Patriots are giving up just 67.5 per game and 2.6 per carry. They totally shut down Pittsburgh's No. 1 rush offense last week.

Key matchup: Faulk vs. Patriots middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Faulk showed against Philadelphia that he can be effective between the tackles. Bruschi's job is to see that he doesn't get into the secondary and maximize the damage.

Stat to remember: 58. Rushing yards the Patriots allowed against the Steelers, including 19 (on 13 carries) by Jerome Bettis and Amos Zereoue.

Rams passing vs. Patriots pass defense -- RAMS

The Rams' prolific passing game has been hampered by quarterback Kurt Warner's physical ailments the past two weeks, when he threw for 216 and 212 yards. The big question is what the Patriots will do to throw off the timing routes that make the Rams so explosive. Blitz or drop back into coverage? It will be a guessing game every play. The Patriots' blitzes unhinged Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart and he threw three interceptions, two at the end of the game. Warner won't come unglued, but he did throw 22 picks during the season.

Key matchup: Rams coach Mike Martz, the reigning offensive guru of the NFL, vs. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the current defensive whiz. The coach whose team makes more big plays wins.

Stat to remember: 6.79. Warner's average gain per pass attempt is down 2 yards in the postseason from his regular-season average of 8.85.

Special teams -- PATRIOTS

The Patriots have a big advantage in virtually all phases of special teams play. They got two touchdowns out of special teams against Pittsburgh to win the game. Containing Brown on punt returns will be St. Louis' biggest challenge. He returned two punts for touchdowns in the regular season and another last week. New England's punt-coverage team gives up just 4.8 yards a return. The Rams gave up 25.5 yards per kickoff in the regular season. The Patriots' Adam Vinatieri was 24-for-30 in field goals, the Rams' Jeff Wilkins was 23-for-29. Both hit 54-yarders.

Key matchup: Brown vs. Rams' punt-coverage team. Brown averaged 14.2 yards per return in the regular season, and the Rams allowed an average of 9.8.

Stat to remember: 2. The Rams surrendered two kickoff return touchdowns during the regular season.

Intangibles -- EVEN

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