The Rams learned hard lessons in the Super Bowl. What were those lessons and how can the 49ers take advantage of them?
Here’s what both teams should have learned:
1. The vulnerability of the Rams.
Before the Super Bowl, the Rams seemed like they might dethrone the Patriots and become the next dynasty in the NFL. A team that dominates the league and the NFC West and the 49ers for the next 15 years.
Not so fast.
The Rams offense bombed. Scored only three points — tied for the lowest output in Super Bowl history. Sean McVay had two weeks to prepare for the New England Patriots and still had no clue how to attack them. Bill Belichick overwhelmed him.
From now on, everyone who plays the Rams, including the 49ers, will study what Belichick did to their offense and mimic his strategy. Belichick exposed how to shut them down: Play six defenders on the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and play conservative zone coverage to take away the long passes. Force the Rams to make short, quick throws, methodically drive the field and convert on third down, something they don’t do well.
McVay must come up with new plays and counters to augment his offense, because everyone has seen his old stuff for what it is: simple and overrated.
The Rams may not be so great after all. Good news for the 49ers.
2. The importance of in-game adjustments.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made one key adjustment during the fourth-quarter, and it won the Patriots the Super Bowl.
The Patriots had scored only three points — they were struggling as much as the Rams. So, McDaniels tried something different. He gathered the Patriots offensive players on the sideline between drives, threw out the original game plan and created a brand new offense for crunch time.
He combined a personnel grouping and a formation the Patriots hadn’t used all season — two running backs, two tight ends and one wide receiver aligned in a spread formation, meaning no one in the backfield other than quarterback Tom Brady.
The Patriots never practiced this formation during the two weeks before the Super Bowl. They used it anyway, and it led to the game-winning touchdown drive.
McVay couldn’t make a radical adjustment like McDaniels. And that’s a main theme of this year’s Super Bowl. McVay had nothing to change the rhythm of the game. He merely called the same plays he called all season without anything specific to the Patriots defense. And none of McVay’s plays worked consistently.
Kyle Shanahan made the same mistake in the Super Bowl two years earlier. He built a 28-3 lead over the Patriots, partially because his offense averaged a whopping 9.6 yards per carry before halftime.
After halftime, the Patriots adjusted to Shanahan’s scheme, and he couldn’t counter. The Falcons averaged only two yards per carry in the second half. That was checkmate.
In both cases, Shanahan and McVay went down like sinking ships because they were too married to their schemes. They come from the same school and have the same lessons to learn. They worked together in Washington.
Next season, Shanahan must show he knows football well enough to deviate from his system and make the necessary changes on the fly to win. Like McDaniels did. This is Shanahan’s next big area of growth.