We analyse how the Rams and Patriots will match up at Wembley
By Alex Williams. Last Updated: October 25, 2012 7:12pm
Sam Bradford: Hopes to take advantage of a shaky New England secondary
The clash between the St Louis Rams and New England Patriots at Wembley evokes memories of Super Bowl XXXVI at the end of the 2001 season.
Back then, the Rams went in as reigning champions and huge favourites but were left stunned as second-year quarterback Tom Brady led a last-gasp drive to set up the winning field goal.
It was a watershed moment as since then the two teams' fortunes have gone in completely different directions, the Patriots building a title-winning dynasty and the Rams posting just one winning season since that Super Bowl defeat.
With the sides at opposing ends of the NFL scale New England would be expected to have the edge in every important area. But is it that simple? We find out in our head-to-head comparison.
The match-up pits two of the most respected coaches in the NFL against each other, but it is clear that Patriots boss Bill Belichick has the greater resume. Since taking over at New England in 2000 he has led his team to five Super Bowls, winning three, and has made them a regular fixture in the play-offs. Josh McDaniels has also had a lot more success since returning to the offensive co-ordinator role with the Patriots than he did during his single season at the Rams.
Rams boss Jeff Fisher, meanwhile, also has a Super Bowl appearance on his record with the Tennessee Titans, who he stayed with for 17 years before leaving at the end of the 2010 season. His set-up at the Rams includes Brian Schottenheimer as offensive co-ordinator while defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams is absent having been banned indefinitely due to his involvement in the Saints' bountygate scandal.
Tom Brady's exploits with the Patriots are already stuff of NFL legend and the 35-year-old is certain to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The two-time MVP has won three Super Bowls, led his team to an unbeaten regular season and has set the record for the most touchdown passes in one campaign over the course of his glittering career. Brady is one of the sport's superstars and is still very much one of, if not the, best quarterback in the NFL.
Unlike sixth-round pick Brady, Sam Bradford came into the league surrounded by hype and fanfare as the top selection of the NFL Draft. The Rams seemed to have struck gold after he nearly led them to the play-offs in his rookie season, but Bradford suffered a second-year regression in 2011. After seven touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games this season, it is getting towards make or break time.
The fact that the Rams possess one of the lowest-regarded receiving corps in the NFL does not help ease the pressure on Bradford. The fact that Bradford's main weapon, Danny Amendola, is currently sidelined through injury only adds to St Louis' woes. Brandon Gibson has stepped up in his absence, but St Louis are still well short of a serious threat at receiver.
Brady's talent can elevate the receivers around him, but he has quality players to throw the ball to anyway. The focal point is Wes Welker, who leads the league in catches and receiving yards, while Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are game-breaking threats from the tight end position. With Brady at quarterback, it adds up to one of the most potent passing attacks in the NFL.
While the Patriots are always strong through the air, the fact they have the NFL's fifth-rated rushing attack this year comes as much more of a surprise. Stevan Ridley has made the running back position his own and is helping his team average almost 150 yards per game.
The Rams' running game has been their most effective offensive weapon in recent years but star tailback Steven Jackson has shown signs of slowing down and is averaging fewer than four yards a carry this season. The Rams have leant on rookie Daryl Richardson as a result and the two complemented each other well in the last two weeks. At the moment, however, they are still only the 15th-rated rushing attack in the league.
New England's success running and passing the ball means they are the top-ranked offence in the NFL and will be hard even for an impressive Rams stop unit to contain. St Louis are on the fringes of top 10 in most defensive categories but could not put the clamps on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers last time out. They are a solid unit, but now have to face a second elite quarterback in a row.
New England, meanwhile, have the 23rd-rated defence in the NFL with their Achilles heel being defending the pass. Since week three they have given up an average of 338 passing yards a game to opposing quarterbacks, which will give the Rams hope they can keep up with Brady on the scoreboard. The run defence is much better but overall the stop unit is lacking.
New England have a slight edge on kick and punt returns helped by Devin McCourty taking a kick-off 104 yards to the house against the New York Jets last time out.
But the Rams have a not-so-secret weapon in the form of kicker Greg 'The Leg' Zuerlein. The rookie has been phenomenal this year, kicking five field goals from beyond the 50 and going a perfect seven-of-seven from between the 40 and 50. Zuerlein has quickly established himself as a special teams superstar and possesses one of the strongest legs ever seen at Wembley.
Overall edge: The Patriots come out 4-2 winners in our comparison but not all aspects of the game are equal in today's pass-happy NFL. If the struggling New England secondary is unable to contain Sam Bradford, the contest could go either way.