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Super Bowl LIII special teams: Rams' kicking game more of a threat than Patriots'

Rams' kicker Greg Zuerlein has proved worthy of the nickname Legatron, and punter Johnny Hekker is a talented wild card.

Greg Zuerlein sent the Rams to Super Bowl

Greg Zuerlein sent the Rams to Super Bowl LIII with a 57-yard field goal in overtime against the Saints. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Jonathan Bachman

If the Los Angeles Rams' championship hopes come down to making a long field goal, they should feel confident in the big boot of Legatron.

Greg Zuerlein lifted Los Angeles past the New Orleans Saints with a pair of late, long kicks in the NFC Championship Game to reach Super Bowl LIII against the New England Patriots on Sunday in Atlanta. The last one, in overtime, came from 57 yards out and had plenty of length to spare.

While New England counterpart Stephen Gostkowski has been among the finest placekickers in the league for more than a decade, it's Zuerlein and the Rams who hold the edge in this key facet of special teams.

It's not the only area in which the Rams appear superior. Despite punting an NFL low 43 times this year (tied with the Saints), Johnny Hekker possesses one of the most effective legs in the league. He ranks seventh in yards per punt, and fourth on percent of punts downed inside the 20. He may not be as active as the Pats' Ryan Allen, but he's better at giving opponents a longer field to work with when starting drives.

Hekker also is a threat on fakes, having completed the most passes by a non-quarterback since 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a skill he flexed against the Saints on Jan. 20 when he completed a critical 12-yard pass for a first down.

While return men increasingly are being marginalized by NFL rules changes, both teams possess viable threats. The Patriots' Cordarrelle Patterson ranked third in yards per kick return this season, even returning one for a touchdown on Oct. 21. 

On punt returns, JoJo Natson (Rams) and Julian Edelman (Patriots) are positives for their respective teams. Natson ranks sixth in yards per return, while Edelman has four career TDs on returns — but none since 2014.

Super Bowl LIII kickers by the numbers

Includes 2018 regular-season and postseason stats

Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots)
NFL seasons: 13
Games this season:  18
Extra-point percentage: 98.3
Field goal percentage: 85.7
Kicks from 40-49 yards: 5/7
Kicks from 50+ yards: 2/5
Season long: 52

Greg Zuerlein (Rams)
NFL seasons: 7
Games this season: 13
Extra-point percentage: 97.6
Field goal percentage: 87.2
Kicks from 40-49 yards: 6/8
Kicks from 50+ yards: 5/8
Season long: 57


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