Super Bowl LIII will be remembered for the defensive showdown that unfolded in Atlanta, as the league's two best teams held each other to a combined 16 points.
Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit, in discussions with the Los Angeles Rams' players and coaches, learned about the "tells" the team identified to slow down the New England Patriots' offense.
Wade Phillips, the Rams' defensive coordinator, is certainly familiar with what it takes to slow down Tom Brady and the Patriots.
His defenses confounded the Pats when Phillips was the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos.
On Brady's first pass of the game, the Pats' QB threw an interception into intricate coverage out in the right flat. Rams' cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman discussed what went into forcing the pick on Brady:
"If it was man [coverage], I wouldn’t have been on [tight end] Dwayne Allen [in the slot], when Julian Edelman motioned in [strong safety], John Johnson came down. That’s another tell; if it was man-to-man, J.J. would’ve already been down there on Rob Gronkowski. Brady’s too smart, he knows when it’s man and when it’s zone...he just thought the throw would get there..."
While it's no secret that Tom Brady and the Patriots get a lot of production out of short, efficient routes, Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his team figured out what was necessary to throw off the Patriots' passing game, and hold the Pats to just three points through the first three quarters of play. The Rams' plan would have likely been more successful if the Patriots' defense didn't also figure out how to hold the Rams' high-flying offense to a matching three points through three quarters as well.
But with Pats running back Sony Michel racking up 94 yards and one touchdown (the game's only touchdown) on 18 carries, and fellow RB Rex Burkhead recording 43 yards on his seven carries, the team's use of multiple backs indeed helped the team keep open up the passing game.
When Phillips last bested the Patriots, in the 2015 AFC Championship Game in Denver a few years before, the team at that point had virtually no running game to speak of, leaving the team one-dimensional, and in large part why Phillips' Broncos were able to slow down the Patriots' offense in that game.
However, it sounds like the Rams became wise to the Patriots' plans based on their strong run game according to defensive end Michael Brockers: “'They had a big tell on two-back alignments.' [Brockers] explained that if Develin aligned on the strong side, he would trap-block the nose tackle. If Develin aligned on the weak side, he would wind back across the formation as a lead-blocker."
While many football fans disliked the defensive slugfest for which the game is remembered, there clearly was quite a bit of scheming and strategy that went on behind the scenes for both teams.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.