Super Bowl LVI featured the AFC Champion - Cincinnati Bengals (13-7) and the NFC Champion - Los Angeles Rams (15-5). The talk heading into the game: would the Rams be able to stop Joe Burrow & Ja’Marr Chase and would the Bengals be able to slow down Aaron Donald in the trenches and Cooper Kupp in the slot?
The Rams struck first on their 2nd possession with Matthew Stafford finding Odell Beckham for a 17-yard TD score. A Cincinnati FG made it 7-3. At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Stafford hit Kupp for a 11-yard TD. A botched XP kept the Rams lead at 13-3. From there, the momentum shifted in the Bengals favor. The Bengals offense countered with a 12 play TD drive. And on the Rams next series, Odell Beckham suffered a knee injury (ACL tear). Shortly after, Stafford threw an interception to Jessie Bates. At halftime, the Rams held a 13-10 lead with the Bengals getting the ball to start the 2nd half.
On the Bengals first play to open the 2nd half, Burrow connected with Tee Higgins on a controversial 75 yard TD (Higgins pulled Jalen Ramsey’s facemask). On the next play, Stafford was intercepted on a pass off of Ben Skowronek’s hands across the middle. Just like that the Rams were on the ropes. It was on the Bengals drive where the tide began to shift. On a 2nd & 10, Donald finally got to Burrow for a -1 yard sack; pushing Burrow out of bounds. A cheap shot by Trey Hopkins (not flagged) after the play on Donald provoked the 3x defensive player of the year to take the defensive line’s play to a new level. With CIN threatening to score, AD99 got home again; sacking Burrow on 3rd & 3. CIN settled for a field goal and the Rams defense began their shutdown effort in the 4th quarter of the Bengals offense.
Down 20-16 and with 6:13 left in the game, the Rams needed a touchdown to take the lead if they wanted to be World Champions. The Rams offense had struggled for the last two quarters of play. If they were going to win, they knew they had to put the ball in their superstars’ hands. The Rams followed suit. Cooper Kupp took over. The triple crown wide receiver came through on a 4th & 1; taking a jet sweep handoff and cutting up field for 7 yards. Stafford then found him three times in the passing game for 38 total yards. After a series of penalties, the Rams were on the 1 yard line. Stafford found Kupp on a goal line fade, and the Rams took a 23-20 lead with 1:25 remaining.
Now, the Rams fate rested in the hands of Aaron Donald and the defense. On 3rd & 1 at the LAR 49, Aaron Donald stopped a run attempt for no gain. And on the next play, Donald blew by the left guard and attempted double team by the center to get Burrow in the grasp. Burrow’s attempted heave to Samaje Perine fell short and the Los Angeles Rams captured their 2nd World Championship (1st in the city of Los Angeles). GIVE ME A WOOOOOOOOOO!! x 4
In the overview below, I’ll cover the players and position group performances from the Conference Championship including these major topics (*bonus edition - more topics and coverage this week*):
- Matt Stafford - exactly what McVay & Rams needed
- Cooper Kupp - Super Bowl LVI MVP and the greatest WR season of all time
- From castoff to SB contributor - Brycen Hopkins
- Andrew Whitworth - the heart of the Los Angeles Rams
- Greatest Player of All Time gets his ring
- Moment not too big for Ernest Jones
- Darious Williams and David Long Jr - keys 1A and 1B to Super Bowl win (revisited)
- Sean McVay becomes youngest coach to win a Super Bowl
- 2022 & what to expect next…
This article will cover each player’s PFF grade as it fluctuates week to week. The grade next to the individual is his current PFF grade.
*The differential +/- in parenthesis reflects whether or not he improved or declined from the previous week. Lastly, based on my own study of the game, I hand out a grade to the position group based on their ability and impact on the game (as well as injuries, signings, or releases). This grade factors into the overall grade of the positional group for the season, and ultimately the trend of the unit moving forward.*
Matthew Stafford: 86.1 (+1.0), John Wolford: 40.2 (DNP)
Just over 12 months and 2 weeks ago, the Rams made another splash in the nfl trade market. This time it was to acquire a franchise quarterback that they believe could deliver in the playoffs. A quarterback that Sean McVay could use to fully unleash his offense mind and playbook. The trade of acquiring Matt Stafford for two 1st round picks and a 3rd round pick, while also dumping Jared Goff’s salary was analyzed under a microscope all season long. Few believed it was going to be a successful trade for the Rams. Few believed that Matt Stafford would get to the playoff mountain top. Well, on February 13th at 10:00pm - Matt Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams became World Champions of the National Football League.
To start the game, Stafford and the offense were clicking. He fired two touchdowns to Odell Beckham Jr and Cooper Kupp to give the Rams a 13-3 lead. But his pass slightly behind OBJ is where the wheels started to come off for him and the offense. OBJ exited the game and from there, the Rams offense struggled to find rhythm. Two interceptions, one midway through the 2nd quarter and one to start the 3rd quarter, put the Rams on the ropes.
But Stafford was poised for the Rams final drive. He led a 15 play drive that was capped off with a magical no-look throw to Kupp on 2nd & 7 to get the Rams just shy of the red zone and a goalline fade to Kupp for the game-winning TD.
Stafford’s line of 26/40, 283 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT wasn’t reflective of his true performance. Had it not been for a tipped pass of Skowronek’s hands, Stafford could have been staring at SB MVP honors. And his ability to throw a no-look pass across the middle of the field with 4 Cincinnati defenders in the area on a Cover 1 robber coverage was one of the greatest plays of the 2021 NFL season. Not to mention, his willingness to make that throw in that type of game with only 3:00 min left.
The Rams needed Stafford. And Stafford needed the Rams. It’s the Hollywood Ending that both needed and wanted.
SB Grade: A-, Overall: A-, Trend: Moderate Upward
Sony Michel: 63.1 (-0.7), Cam Akers: 43.7 (-0.2), Darrell Henderson: 69.3 (+0.6), Jake Funk: 53.6 (+0.0), Buddy Howell: 66.9 (+0.3)
The running backs were not given much in the Super Bowl. The Cincinnati defensive front smothered any open running lanes. I don’t fault Akers, Henderson, and Michel too much though. I thought the offensive line got whipped in run blocking. Allen, Havenstein, and Blanton could not execute blocks. And CIN kept sending an extra blitzer off the edge on any zone run schemes.
What I admire though is Akers 8 yard run on the final drive to get the Rams inside the CIN 10. He kept churning his legs for extra yards. Even when the running game was dead in the water, he was fighting. He finished with 13 carries for 21 yards in the run game and 3 receptions (4 targets) for 14 yards.
Henderson’s contributions weren’t significant in the running game (4 carries, 7 yards), but his contributions in the passing game were huge. He caught 3 receptions (5 targets) for 43 yards. Not many Rams reporters expected him to contribute, let alone play, in the Super Bowl.
Sony Michel’s usage (10% snap share) was disappointing to see since he was an offensive weapon in December that helped carry this team. He had 2 carries for 2 yards.
SB Grade: B-, Overall: C, Trend: Neutral
Cooper Kupp: 93.0* (+0.2), Odell Beckham Jr: 74.8 (+0.9), Van Jefferson: 58.5 (-0.5), Bennett Skowronek: 53.7 (-2.6), L. Akers: 58.3 (N/A), Robert Woods: 75.7 (IR), Jacob Harris: 58.7 (IR), TuTu Atwell: 60.7 (IR)
It’s official. Cooper Kupp officially owns the greatest WR season of all time. He caughts 178 receptions for 2425 yards and 22 Touchdowns. He ran away with the Triple Crown in the regular season. He collected hardware on Saturday night during the NFL honors and awards show; taking home Offensive Player of the Year. He also received 1 of the 50 MVP votes (credit to that voter for getting it right). And finally on Sunday, on the biggest stage - Kupp left no doubt about his ability. He hauled in 8 receptions, 92 yards, and 2 TDs. On the Rams final drive - Stafford and him left nothing to chance; relying on their 500+ hours of extra film time and study. Everyone in the stadium and those watching on their couches knew that Kupp was going to be targeted. It didn’t matter. The two were too good all season long. To cap off a magical 2021 season, Kupp took home Super Bowl MVP honors (I predicted this as his encore in my previous article).
Odell Beckham (35% snap share) was well on his way to an incredible SB performance. It was clear that the Rams were going to use OBJ (expecting CIN to bracket and double Kupp). OBJ caught 2 receptions (3 targets) for 52 yards and the first TD of Super Bowl LVI. His SB performance ended early from a Torn ACL in the 2nd quarter on an errant pass by Stafford. The injury was gut wrenching for the WR as he had been fighting his reputation all season long. He had finally acclimated to be a major focal point in the offense. Nonetheless, OBJ was able to win a Super Bowl. And collected more incentives from the Rams win.
Van Jefferson (99% snap share) added 4 receptions (8 targets) for 23 yards. He was the target on Stafford’s first interception. Unfortunately, Van didn’t work back towards the football (yes, it was underthrown), but you’d like to see him show more effort to prevent that turnover. In recapping Van Jefferson’s 2021 season, there were a lot of highs and lows. The 2nd year WR still has a lot of room to grow. Drops and creating more short/intermediate separation will be necessary for his development going into Year 3.
Ben Skowronek (67% snap share) found himself playing more in Super Bowl LVI because of OBJ’s injury. Skowronek caught 2 passes (5 targets) for 12 yards. Stafford targeted him to start off the Rams 3rd quarter drive, but he couldn’t haul in the pass; deflecting off his hands and Cincinnati was able to secure the interception. The turnover allowed the Bengals to add a field goal.
SB Grade: A, Overall: A, Trend: Slight Upward
Tyler Higbee: 69.1 (IR), Kendall Blanton: 50.7 (-1.8), Brycen Hopkins: 60.9 (+9.3), Johnny Mundt: 64.7 (IR)
With Tyler Higbee forced to miss the Super Bowl because of a sprained MCL, there was a lot of fear the Rams offense wouldn’t be as explosive. Kendall Blanton (43% snap share) had displayed playoff heroics in the divisional rounds against Tampa Bay and in the conference championship versus San Francisco. However, against Cincinnati, his impact was minimal. Blanton didn’t record any targets in the passing game and his run-blocking was below average according to PFF.
This time the heroics came from Brycen Hopkins. Hopkins had been scrutinized by Rams reporters and writers all season for being inconsistently active for games. In his NFL career, Hopkins had recorded 1 reception for 9 yards against Seattle. He was active for the Super Bowl because of Higbee’s injury. When Blanton went down in the 1st half with a pec injury. Hopkins was forced to finish the game. He became Stafford’s secondary option to Kupp in the 2nd half. Hopkins added 4 receptions (4 targets) for 47 yards. On Stafford and Kupp’s no-look throw on 2nd down on the 15 play drive, Hopkins was the curl route that Stafford made Von Bell bite on to open up Kupp across the middle. For not being active for the majority of the season, Hopkins executed his routes and caught his passes when his number was called.
SB Grade: B, Overall: B, Trend: Very Slight Upward
Andrew Whitworth: 87.2 (+1.5), Joe Noteboom: 78.6 (IR), David Edwards: 68.0 (+0.7), Brian Allen: 74.8 (-1.4), Coleman Shelton: 59.5 (+0.2), Austin Corbett: 69.6 (+0.8), Bobby Evans: 48.4 (DNP), Rob Havenstein: 83.4 (-1.3), Alaric Jackson: 70.2 (DNP), Tremayne Anchrum: N/A (INA)
Andrew Whitworth. I couldn’t be happier for you. Talk about the class of the NFL. At age 40, Andrew Whitworth has done the unthinkable; playing Left Tackle for the past 16 seasons. He has been a cornerstone for the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams franchises. He has poured into countless NFL peers and thousands off the field with his community outreach. His efforts resulted in the NFL community recognizing him with the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award before the Super Bowl. If you haven’t already, please watch his speech below. This is what being an athlete is all about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAxZ46o4UHM
Whitworth even dedicated this game to Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee, going as far as to write their names on his undershirt. Watching him play just makes you smile. Watching him embrace his teammates as the confetti fell - it leaves you in tears.
Whitworth and the offensive line couldn’t create any running lanes for the running backs to hit and get upfield, but the OL does deserve praise for keeping Stafford upright outside of 2 sacks. With over 40+ dropbacks, they held up in crunch time.
SB Grade: B+, Overall: B, Trend: Very Slight Upward
Aaron Donald: 93.5* (+0.0), A’Shawn Robinson: 77.7 (+2.4), Greg Gaines: 69.8 (+2.4), Sebastian Joseph-Day: 61.5 (-0.9), Marquise Copeland: 67.8 (-0.3), Bobby Brown III: 64.5 (DNP), Mike Hoecht: 48.7 (DNP), Jonah Williams: 64.9 (DNP)
Aaron Donald, the GREATEST of ALL TIME, has earned his Super Bowl ring.I wondered how many times Donald would get to Burrow. Sure enough - he got to him the perfect amount (2 sacks and the game ending play).
AD99 was kept quiet through the first quarter and a half of play. It wasn’t until Burrow scrambled and Donald pushed him out of bounds (-1 yard loss / Donald’s first sack) that Donald took over. In fact, it was probably a cheap shot by T. Hopkins (Cincinnati’s center) after that first sack that provoked Donald to elevate his game. A few plays later, Donald came up the middle and brought Burrow down for a -9 yard sack. For the remainder of the 2nd half, Donald and the defense were all over Burrow; dropping him a total of 7 times in the game (tying a Super Bowl record).
In the end it was Aaron Donald’s dominance on a 3rd & 1 and 4th & 1 with less than a 1:30 left that sealed the game. He stuffed a Perine run to force 4th down and on the next play, he burst through the left side of the offensive line; forcing an errant pass by Burrow (similar to Garoppolo in the conference championship).
Gaines (90% snap share) was one of the few that didn’t register a sack, but his pass rushing ability was a huge factor in collapsing the pocket on Burrow.
A’Shawn Robinson (43% snap share) finished this year in remarkable fashion. He tallied a sack on Burrow and was a MONSTER in run defense. He added 6 tackles (5 solo) with a TFL. A’Shawn single-handedly forced Zac Taylor to avoid running when he was in the game. That alone made the Bengals drop back and throw more; allowing the Rams to pin their ears back and pressure the 2nd year QB.
I’m happy for Sebastian Joseph-Day (5% snap share). Though he did not record any box stats in his 3 defensive snaps, he was able to take the field for the Super Bowl. As a fan favorite amongst the Rams community, it was great to see the big fella put on his helmet after missing significant time this season because of a torn pec muscle.
The Rams run defense wasn’t as dominant like they were versus San Francisco, but they still tied down the Bengals rushing attack to 20 carries for 79 yards.
SB Grade: A+, Overall: A+, Trend: Moderate Upward
Troy Reeder: 43.1 (+0.5), Ernest Jones: 61.4 (+2.2), Travin Howard: 82.6 (DNP), Christian Rozeboom: 63.9 (DNP)
Ernest Jones was an underrated game changer for the Rams defense. He played 93% of the snaps and put together a huge performance as a rookie. Jones was arguably just as impactful as Von Miller, posting 7 tackles (6 solo), 1 sack, 2 TFL, and 3 QB hits. Jones also had a huge 4th down stop on the Bengals first possession, knocking away a pass intended for Chase on a shallow curl route.
It was the right move to take Troy Reeder (34% snap share) out of the starting lineup because of his pass coverage and tackling liabilities. He finished the game with 2 tackles (1 solo).
SB Grade: B+, Overall: B-, Trend: Moderate Upward
Leonard Floyd: 73.8 (+3.1), Von Miller: 91.2* (+0.8), Justin Hollins: 64.3 (-1.6), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: 79.5 (+1.2), Terrell Lewis: 50.3 (INA), Chris Garrett: 53.8 (INA), Justin Lawlar: 63.8 (INA)
The decision to add Von Miller to this team was a brilliant one by Les Snead. His influence on Aaron Donald will not be able to be quantified. His impact on the field, well, resulted in a Championship defense.
Von was the highest graded player by PFF in the Super Bowl (93.5). He tallied 2 tackles (2 solo), 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 3 QB hits, and 6 pressures. For a Super Bowl encore, he loaded up the box score. Von Miller delivered on his promise to the Lombardi trophy that he was coming back for it. Mission accomplished.
Leonard Floyd saved his best game of the season for the Super Bowl according to PFF (90.4). He brought down Burrow for a sack and pressured him 3 times.
Okoronkwo (16% snap share) added 1 tackle (1 solo) in his SB appearance.
Justin Hollins (18% snap share) also added 1 tackle (1 solo) but was graded as the Rams worst defensive player (47.8) because he missed a tackle in his limited time.
SB Grade: B+, Overall: B+, Trend: Slight-to-Moderate Upward
Jalen Ramsey: 84.4* (-0.8), Darious Williams: 59.5 (+0.5), David Long Jr.: 60.1 (+0.2), Dont’e Deayon: 68.0 (DNP), Robert Rochell: 61.9 (IR), Grant Haley: 64.0 (DNP), Kareem Orr: 28.1 (DNP)
Let me set the record straight. Yeah, I would agree that Jalen Ramsey didn’t have the Super Bowl performance he probably had hoped for. But I bet he also doesn’t care a whole lot about the stats. He’s a SB Champion, not J. Chase. Furthermore, Ramsey knows the referees missed a facemask on Higgins that resulted in the touchdown he gave up. As for speculation about the last defensive play - no, Chase did not have him beat on the play. Ramsey fell down, only after the ball had been released by Burrow. At Donald’s initial point of contact and grasping Burrow, Ramsey was stride for stride with Chase along the sideline. Let’s put to bed any theories that “if” Burrow had seen Chase he would have gone his way. Burrow probably saw Chase was locked up and didn’t go his way with the football. I forget the total amount (somewhere between 12-18 coverage snaps), Ramsey limited Chase to 2 receptions. Ramsey did his job. Credit to Chase for his first catch on Ramsey. Chase might have won a few battles that are considered splash/explosive plays, but Ramsey won the war.
Darious Williams (100% snap share) and David Long Jr (82% snap share) were my keys to a Super Bowl win. The UAB alumni lead the Rams in tackles with 8 (3 solo) and did not allow his assignments to take advantage of his size. David Long Jr added 4 tackles (3 solo). While the two DBs didn’t have any splash plays, they were reliable from snap to finish and got the job done against a strong trio of Bengals WRs.
SB Grade: B-, Overall: B-, Trend: Very Slight Upward
Taylor Rapp: 64.5 (-1.0), Terrell Burgess: 64.1 (+0.1), Nick Scott: 59.3 (-2.3), Eric Weddle: 75.0 (+5.6), Jordan Fuller: 74.3 (IR)
The safeties were not really tested downfield by Zac Taylor and the Bengals offense. Instead the Bengals wanted to see if the Rams DBs would tackle on short and intermediate routes. Scott struggled despite a good playoff run; missing 2 tackles on 4 attempts. However, he only allowed 1 reception for 6 yards. Taylor Rapp (44% snap share) allowed 4 catches on 4 targets for 38 yards.
Eric Weddle was the unsung hero for the secondary. Despite tearing his pec in the 1st quarter, Weddle gutted it out for all four quarters. The signal caller made five tackles. He made a tackle on Tyler Boyd on 1st & 10; keeping Boyd short of the 1st down marker. That effort and the Rams next three defensive stops gave them the Lombardi.
SB Grade: B, Overall: B, Trend: Very Slight Upward
Johnny Hekker: 62.2 (-2.8), Matt Gay: 82.6 (+0.7)
Johnny Hekker had 6 punts for 261 yards (43.5 avg/punt). He placed 3 punts inside the Bengals 20. He out-punted his coverage twice; allowing Trent Taylor of the Bengals to return a pair of punts for a total of 28 yards.
Matt Gay nailed his only FG attempt from 41 yards out to cut the deficit to 4 points. He notched 5 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Brandon Powell had 1 kickoff return for 17 yards. With punt return duties, he ran back 4 punts for a total of 25 yards (6.3 avg).
SB Grade: B-, Overall: B-, Trend: Very Slight Upward
MCVAY AND CO.
Sean McVay is now the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl in NFL history. He will go down in Rams lore as the franchise’s most influential coach, completely flipping a losing franchise (‘06 - ‘16) and making it a SB contender within 2 years of his control and ultimately a SB champion team in his first 5 years at the helm.
His cultural change was paramount to flipping the script. The players he brought in and the development he has done has been nothing short of greatness. His coaching tree continues to expand across the NFL landscape, with Kevin O’Connell getting a HC job and many of McVay’s assistant coaches getting promotions.
The question now for McVay is how long will he continue to coach with the Rams. He’s a competitor at heart and he loves coaching. But he has admitted to family being first and foremost, and broadcasting as an alternative option.
I will say this…
How often do you get to coach in Los Angeles? How often do you get to coach Aaron Donald, Matt Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Jalen Ramsey? Those opportunities will likely not come around again. But Sean McVay has proven many wrong before…
As for Super Bowl LVI itself, I am glad that McVay stuck to the running game as long as he did. The 32-33 year old McVay would have abandoned the run earlier. Keeping to the run allowed the Rams to stay balanced. And when the time came to pass, McVay put the ball in his best offensive hands - Stafford & Kupp.
Raheem Morris made a fantastic adjustment when his pass rush wasn’t getting home at the beginning of the game. The adjustment to use stunts with V. Miller and Donald on the same side lead to 7 sacks.
Competitive Greatness baby!
SB Grade: McVay: A- / Morris: A- / DeCamillis: B+, Overall: A, Trend: Moderate Upward
It’s been an honor writing and recapping the 2021 season for all of you at TurfShowTimes as we captured our 2nd WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!
I have the privilege of being able to continue writing on a weekly basis. Until the 2022 season begins, I will cover the off-season; reviewing 2021 player performances on offense and defense, examining cap casualties on the roster for 2022, and how the Rams will look to reconstruct their roster in free agency and the 2022 draft.
RAMNATION! WE ARE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!