The Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. PT on NBC. There are so many great Rams storylines heading into this matchup. Will Sean McVay learn from his mistakes against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII? Will Aaron Donald win that long-awaited ring to further pad his Hall of Fame resume? Will Matthew Stafford flip the loser narrative that’s dogged him his entire career? Will LA’s offense score more that three points during this Super Bowl venture?
I’d say if the Rams at least double the score from last time, they should call it a day. This will be the biggest NFL game to hit the Los Angeles area in a long time so excitement is obviously running high. It’s FINALLY arrived Turf Show Family, Super Bowl week is here!!!!!
To gain a better insight on LA’s opposition, I sent some questions to Patrick Judis over at Cincy Jungle to describe how the Bengals made their Cinderella run to the Super Bowl.
Q - You’ve likely gotten sick of all the questions about the offensive line by now but it bears repeating. Just know, I apologize in advance. Quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked a league-high 51 times in the regular season before getting dropped an additional 12 times so far in the postseason, including taking nine sacks in the Divisional Round against Tennessee. What is the best way for Cincy to counter the Rams’ pass rush and protect Burrow?
A - It is what is is at this point, but your apology is appreciated.
The truth is that it isn’t easy to point to one area as the sole reason. Burrow himself also plays a part in it, but it is in a way that fans and everyone should get used to.
First, obviously there are deficiencies in talent. Particularly at right guard. There is no nice way of saying that position has been smoked by two of the best in the game in the Tennessee Titans Jeffery Simmons and the Kansas City Chiefs Chris Jones. However, it was very much a tale of two games as Burrow was sacked nine times in one and only once in the other.
Part of the reason for that is where Burrow’s responsibility comes into play. He has mentioned that he wants to extend plays and understands making that one guy miss or getting it out early can do that. He puts himself in those positions sometimes or hold onto the ball too long.
Sometimes he makes magic by breaking away from a tackle and hitting a receiver after escaping the pocket. Other times he gets caught and collapsed on. It is the double edged sword that will get more refined as he continues to play.
Q - While we’re on the subject of Burrow, I’ve been overjoyed to see how he’s responded following the brutal knee injury that cut his rookie year short. Throughout the season, it’s clear how special of a talent he’s been and will hopefully be the face of the franchise for years to come. Where have been the most notable areas of growth that you’ve seen from him in his stellar sophomore campaign and what is something you would like to see him improve on going into next season?
A - The biggest growth was his most obvious area that needed growth, his interceptions. Yes, there were some fluke ones in there, but more often than not he was trying too hard to fit a ball where he shouldn’t have thrown it. That obviously improved as he went the final four games of the regular season without a pick. He has only thrown two in the playoffs and one came from a ball bouncing off a running backs hands and arguably hitting the ground before being caught.
Next year he has to learn there are times where he can throw the ball away, and that outcome is much better than losing yards/taking a hit. Against the Titans, towards the end of the game, he tried to get away from a couple of defenders only to cost the team over 10 yards and move them out of field goal range.
Even that seems nitpicky as the rest of his game has just been so great. As he has gotten more comfortable with his knee this season, we have seen a return of the calm, collectiveness that made him a star at LSU.
Q - Remember when Ja’Marr Chase was apparently a bust back when he was dropping everything in preseason? Heh-heh, those were some freezing cold takes. Since then, he’s set Bengals and rookie single-season receiving records en route to being favored to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. LA star corner Jalen Ramsey is begging to guard the rookie sensation so what should he be most worried about with Chase’s play style come game day?
A - That was a very fun time. The constant debate between Chase and Penei Sewell (who will be a great player in his own right) are ripe with cold takes.
Chase is really fun to talk about, because he is already so smooth. He and Burrow just have “it.” Some of the back shoulder plays they make are just uncoverable when they are in sync.
He is just as capable of catching the ball at its highest point, burning you long or taking a slant an extra 30 yards after breaking a tackle.
He really has done very well in one-on-one situations, which is why I’m very excited for this matchup. It is obviously two of the best going at it on the biggest stage.
Q - In the offseason, the Bengals uncharacteristically spent big which helped bolster the defense. One of the best signings was Trey Hendrickson who was named to the Pro Bowl after finishing with a career-high 14 sacks, adding 2.5 more in the playoffs. Hendrickson will obviously gain a lot of attention in the Big Game so who else on the D-line will be able to step up should he be neutralized?
A - Sam Hubbard is the other edge defender. Some may recognize him as the one who almost ended the game against Kansas City early when he forced that Mahomes fumble.
Ironically enough, it is two of the other bigger acquisitions from the past two offseasons that could make a huge difference. First, D.J. Reader is probably the best nose tackle in the game. There are few that are able to stuff the run as well as he does. He was the biggest reason why Derrick Henry never got going in the Divisional Round. B.J. Hill is the lesser known name to keep an eye out for. He has been disruptive on passing downs with offensive linemen concerned with guys like Hendrickson and Hubbard.
Cincinnati also does a great job of getting defenders in one-on-one matchups against opposing protection. They rarely blitz, but they love bluffing blitzes. That often creates enough room for someone to slip by. Also when they do blitz it is often exotic. They aren’t afraid to drop Hubbard or Hendrickson into the hot route to make a quarterback panic. Also when they do all out blitz, it is so rare that often times it hits home because of how often they bluff.
Q - Following the conclusion of last season, Head Coach Zac Taylor was firmly on the hot seat after compiling a 6-25-1 record in his first two seasons with the Bengals. Typically, head coaches deserve at least three years to lay the foundation of their program and sure enough, Taylor led them to the Super Bowl in year three. Why was the front office so patient with Taylor and what is the top aspect that jumps out to you regarding his coaching style?
A - The Bengals have been a patient franchise ever since Marvin Lewis came around. He did so much to whip this franchise into shape so that they weren’t a gross laughing stock of the NFL.
So when he and the team parted ways, it was kind of obvious whoever came in was going to have some years to get things going.
It seemed the initial plan was to see if the Andy Dalton and A.J. Green era roster could be salvaged by some fresh eyes, which it obviously could not. The two years since then have been a DRASTIC rebuild.
The biggest thing that I think the Cincinnati front office appreciated was that, despite all the losing, he never lost the locker room. Those who weren’t there to buy into what the team and the young players were building were let go.
He also brought in a ton of play teams’ leaders to help build that winning culture in a locker room that had gone stale.
I think this year he really had to show a serious step forward with a healthy Burrow, and he did just that.
It is honestly a shame that Taylor won’t win Coach of the Year and Duke Tobin, director of peer personnel, won’t get Executive of the Year. The amount of home runs these two have hit to make this year possible is insane.
Bonus Question: How do you envision the Super Bowl playing out for the Bengals and what’s your final prediction before Sunday?
A - I think the biggest thing that will decide this game is that Chase and Ramsey matchup. There is no arguing that Donald will make his plays. You can’t stop a player like that with who the Bengals have. There will still be plays that Burrow will have time though.
I do see Chase edging out that matchup for the sole reason that if he makes two or three plays it could turn the tide of this whole game.
I also think this defense is disruptive enough to force Matthew Stafford into some key mistakes. He will toss up some risky passes that it will be up to the defense to make a play on.
At the end of the day, I think this ends up being a tight fought game, but the TRUE difference that will decide this game is kicker Evan McPherson being an absolute weapon. His ability to kick 50 yard field goals as well as hit the most nerve-wracking of kicks is one of the biggest reason the Bengals are even here.
Bengals 23 Rams 21 with McPherson breaking the record for field goals in a single postseason.