James White: The Case for Super Bowl LIII MVP

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If the New England Patriots are fortunate enough to capture their sixth Super Bowl trophy on Sunday night, the odds of Tom Brady being named MVP are pretty high.  Not just because he is Tom Brady and has already won 4 Super Bowl MVP's, but in the history of the Super Bowl, more than half of the MVP's named have been quarterbacks (29 of 53).  That's just the nature of the game.  Deion Branch is the only non-quarterback to be named MVP in any of the 8 Super Bowls that the Patriots have played in during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.

Photo courtesy of CBS Boston
So while it's unlikely that he would come away with the honors, I suspect James White will make a case for himself this Sunday.  It's hard to think that he'll top his performance from Super Bowl LI against Atlanta, when White ran for two touchdowns, caught another and had 14 catches for 110 yards.  Not even that performance was worthy enough of keeping the MVP award out of Brady's hands.  I'm not expecting a three touchdown, nearly 150 total yard performance on Sunday from White, but I do expect him to be a key part of what the Patriots try to do on offense.

White's been heavily involved in both postseason games; leading the Patriots in both receptions with 19, and targets with 23.  He led the team in both of those marks in the regular season as well; though he was aided by Edelman only appearing in 12 games.  So, it’s not exactly a bold statement to say he’s going to have a big role on Sunday evening.  I anticipate a game more like the one he had against the Chargers, than what he did against the Chiefs. 

Against the Chargers, Brady was content to dump it off to White, and let him operate in space.  After the snap, White would quickly jump out into the flat and await Brady’s pass.  White hauled in 15 passes that day, but only averaged 6.5 yards per catch.  They didn’t do too much of that against the Chiefs; White had just four catches in that game.

The difference being the pass rush.  The Chargers pass rush is much more dangerous than KC’s; so Brady was making an effort to get the ball out quicker.  Against KC, Brady was holding it a little bit longer and throwing it a little further downfield.  He and Edelman were exposing the middle of the Chiefs defense over and over again.

This week, with guys like Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh bringing pressure up front, Brady would be wise to get rid of the ball quickly.  To combat that, I’d expect Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to press New England’s receivers at the line, in an effort to throw off timing.  That’s where the potency of White can come in handy. 

The talk of the offense usually centers around Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Edelman; rightfully so.  However this year, White has proven he is just as important to this offense as anybody else.  He has quietly become a top 5 pass-catching running back in this league.  He finished 3rd amongst running backs in catches this year (87).  There is not a linebacker on this Rams team that will be able to stick with him.

Last Super Bowl, White was not very involved.  It’s not the reason they lost, as the offense played more than well enough to win.  The Pats offense just operated a bit differently last year.  Last year, and for the early part of this year, they wanted to outscore you.  Mid-season, they transformed into a team that wants to outlast you.  Meaning they will run it down your throat, possess the ball and are content to pick up 4 yards a play, so long as your offense remains sidelined. 

In last year's Super Bowl against Philadelphia, Brady averaged a whopping 18 yards per completion.  In each of the two playoff games this year, Brady's average completion is between 10 and 11 yards.  Part of that is certainly due to the lack of a deep threat, but it's also partly because of a change in philosophy.


Control the line of scrimmage, convert on third downs and extend drives.  They executed that game plan to perfection against LAC and KC.  Of the 124+ minutes of postseason action, the Patriots offense has had the ball for over 82 minutes.  This is the approach I would expect against the Rams on Sunday.  That means a lot of quick throws and dump offs. 

Only seven running backs have ever been named Super Bowl MVP, the last being Terrell Davis in 1998.  The position was different back then.  Now, some of the best running backs are the ones who are just as lethal out of the backfield as a receiver.  That's exactly what I expect White to be on Sunday...lethal.  Will it be enough to win MVP, probably not; but he'll be just as important to the outcome of this one.


Super Bowl LIII Prediction


It's the Patriots, it's the Super Bowl, it's coming down to the last few minutes...it always does.  It doesn't matter who the opponent is, or what the circumstance is.  The experience factor really doesn't matter.  It didn't affect last year's game, and the circumstances were pretty similar.  Young, hotshot coach, inexperienced quarterback. I think what will make the difference this year is the slight the Patriots are playing with.  They have rallied around the idea that "nobody believes in us, we suck".  A pissed off Brady is my favorite Brady.

Patriots 28, Rams 23


Follow me on Twitter - @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: James White: The Case for Super Bowl LIII MVP
James White: The Case for Super Bowl LIII MVP
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