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Quantifying the Rams’ advantage over Bengals in the trenches

LA looks set to dominate in the trenches. Will that be enough to slow down Joe Burrow?

Rams Bucs in NFL Playoff Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams seem ready to dominate the Cincinnati Bengals in the trenches during Super Bowl LVI, at least on paper.

But the sport of football is extremely difficult to predict, in large part because it is a game of small sample sizes. On average there are 60 plays on offense and 60 plays on defense that decide the outcome of each contest - and the way the oblong pigskin bounces introduces a significant element of luck in those outcomes.

If games were decided on paper, the Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers would be playing in the Super Bowl instead of the Rams. The Bengals probably would have been out of the playoffs in the second round.

So in some ways the information shared below is pointless, because Cincinnati could adjust and adapt in unforeseen ways that counteract every data point we have ahead of the game. It is also possible that the game unfolds in a manner exactly like we’d expect it to, and you’ll be thankful you took the time to read this article.

Time will ultimately tell whether the conclusions we can draw from this data are relevant, but in this moment we can discern one key point from the Super Bowl matchup:

Overall, the Rams are objectively better in the trenches than the Bengals.

In simple terms, the charts above compare the ability of a given offensive or defensive line unit to generate or allow pressure versus the league average. The main takeaway from each of these charts is outlined below.

  1. Cincinnati’s offense gives up pressure at a more rapid rate than average
  2. LA’s defense generates pressure at a rate faster than average
  3. LA’s offense prevents pressure at a slower rate than average
  4. Cincinnati's defense is slower than average at generating pressure

The Rams usually have an advantage in both preventing pressure and generating it - they are one of the best teams in the league at doing both of these things.

Teams understand their quarterback will be under pressure against Los Angeles, and there’s a number of steps they can take to mitigate it. The Rams face a lot of quick passes, which means the ball is out of the passer’s hand before the defense can affect the play. Teams such as the 49ers consistently attempt to stretch the field with toss plays and jet sweeps, which force the Rams to defend sideline to sideline and cover the width of the field.

These aren’t new problems for Los Angeles, but there’s certain situations where they can force the Bengals’ hand and maximize one of the biggest strengths of their team.

First, the Rams must win on first and second down in order to force Joe Burrow into third and long situations. Third and long makes the Bengals deviate from their game plan and Burrow will need to hold the ball for a beat longer, which allows the defensive line more time to get home and affect the play.

Second, LA must disguise and mix up coverages in order to keep Burrow on his heels. Quick decisions are the engine of the quick passing game, and muddying the picture makes coming up with the right answers more difficult. The Rams can also buy the pass rush more time by remaining unpredictable in their coverages and the way they rotate their safeties between single-high and two-high looks. LA might also get lucky and confuse Burrow into throwing interceptions, but the second-year quarterback is too good to count on that.

We’ve seen the Rams’ pass rush and coverage schemes unnerve quarterbacks in the playoffs. Kyler Murray looked unprepared for the moment in the wildcard game, and the Rams even got the best of Tom Brady through three quarters of the divisional round.

Will Burrow be the next head on the mantel for the Los Angeles defense, or will the quarterback be able to extend plays and push the ball downfield to his explosive trio of wide receivers? At least on paper it seems Burrow will be in for a long day.