No matter what happens after the final whistle during Super Bowl LIII, the stars will be heard from. The quarterbacks, Jared Goff and Tom Brady, will have a sizeable impact be it good or bad and the other star players will also have a moment or two. However, like every Super Bowl, the game won’t come down solely to the guys that amass all the oxygen on media day. This game is always swung by the other guys. The Super Bowl LIII X-Factors are always the ones the media and the fans don’t think about until after it’s all over. This game features two teams that build their team to contain many players that can contribute when they need to the most and remain anonymous the rest of the year. These are the likeliest Super Bowl LIII X-Factors (chung chung).
The Rams’ big moves this offseason largely centered around trading draft picks and turning Trumaine Johnson‘s extension into Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Sam Shields. They also franchised safety Lamarcus Joyner after the former corner committed full time to safety and did a satisfactory enough job to at least earn a one-year pay bump. Talib missed most of the year with an ankle injury causing Marcus Peters to get roasted because he was the only marquee corner, and Joyner struggled at times. The secondary, however, wasn’t completely in shambles because second-year safety John Johnson III got better almost in complete anonymity.
Johnson was a third-round pick last season and due to the lack of safety depth, he was thrown into the fire. He not only survived but thrived. His rookie season saw 56 solo tackles, 11 passes defended and a pick. In his second campaign, his numbers jumped. He amassed 82 solo tackles, 119 total tackles, 11 passes defended, and 4 picks. His most recent pick all but sealed the NFC Championship for the Rams when he picked off Drew Brees.
He just missed out on the Pro Bowl and if he had maybe a little more media coverage it would’ve happened. He is one of the gems from Les Snead’s now increasingly stacked 2017 draft class, and the one that will eventually get the big money Joyner assumed he’d be getting. He’s likely to make Brady’s life tough because he can shadow any of his receivers and both consistently make open field tackles and break up passes. This could be the breakout game from the forgotten member of the Mob Squad.
Both tight ends could be Super Bowl LIII X-Factors and both will have a major impact on the game. The Rams curiously didn’t unleash their two dynamic tight ends until Cooper Kupp went down late in the season. Higbee only had two touchdowns and 292 yards in the regular season but as the season wore on his impact became clear. Not only has he become a skilled blocker in his third season but in the playoffs, he became the guy Goff can lean on in third down situations. He didn’t all of a sudden become Gronk but his 30 yards against Dallas and his 25 against the Saints were all impactful. Sure, he won’t win many daily fantasy leagues but he’s the kind of reliable target you need if you want to set up the big play. Speaking of big plays…
Gerald Everett had a slow start to his rookie season. Reports indicated he had trouble with his route running and wasn’t a strong blocker so he didn’t get a lot of playing time. This season his numbers remained unremarkable BUT he showed flashes of what he could be. Mt. Everett had 50 yards in the NFC Championship and unlike Higbee, his yards were noticeable. On a crucial 4th quarter drive he became the big deep threat Goff has been lacking and he routinely sets up Goff’s success. In the Eagles game, he was open on what would’ve been a game-saving play but Goff overthrew the pass. Everett can get open and the Pats linebackers are slow and that could mean big things for the second year tight end. If Everett can get open as he did against the Chiefs, the Pats could be in for a long day.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Rams’ defense this year have come with their largely young and inexperienced linebackers. The brightest spot was second-year Cory Littleton. Littleton got better as the year went along and while no one was looking, garnered 125 total tackles, four sacks, and three picks, including one against the Chiefs where he ran it in for a touchdown. The Rams vaunted pass rush will receive the lion’s share of coverage but Littleton could challenge the Pats’ outstanding offensive line. He’s not quite the stud linebacker that has become the cornerstone of a Wade Phillips’ defense but he’s on his way. Littleton’s impact will more than likely come in stopping the four-headed monster the Pats have at running back.
The Rams preach “We Not Me” 24/7 and that mantra will be on full display on Sunday. These players might be the most likely Super Bowl LIII X-Factors but the cool thing about the Rams (and yes Pats) is that an impact could be made by anyone. Which players will assume that mantle on Sunday?