Super Bowl 56: Four Matchup Storylines

Feb 1- 13 min read

Super Bowl 56 Preview: Rams vs Bengals

Super Bowl LVI

Cincinnati Bengals @ Los Angeles Rams -4 | O/U 49.5

Sunday February 13th @ 6:30pm EST

SoFi Stadium – Inglewood, CA

The stage is set for Super Bowl 56 after yet another down to the wire finish, this time on Conference Championship weekend. Both the Rams and Bengals were able to overcome double digit deficits to get to the Big Game. We’ve had some really fascinating matchups in the Super Bowl the last few seasons and this one is certainly not lacking storylines.

Matthew Stafford went from not winning a single playoff game as a Lion to a Super Bowl appearance in his first year in Los Angeles. Joe Burrow is playing in the Super Bowl in just his second NFL season and only 15 months since sustaining an ACL tear in his rookie season. Meanwhile this is the youngest matchup between opposing coaches in Super Bowl history in Sean McVay and Zac Taylor.

Let’s get under the hood and talk about the dynamics of this game and how these two teams matchup against each other.

Super Bowl 56

Can the Bengals O-Line Hold Up?

The number one storyline for this matchup will be how the Bengals 30th ranked offensive line will hold up against a Rams front-4 that is 1st in pass rush win rate this season. But it’s something Zac Taylor’s offense has weathered the entire postseason, that includes a game where the Bengals became the first team to win a playoff game despite allowing 9 sacks.

The pressure Burrow has been under during the playoffs is not much different then the regular season. In his 17 games of regular season action he was pressured on 33.3% of his dropbacks, this postseason it’s up a tick to 36%. In the Wild Card Round the Raiders actually managed a 36.1% pressure rate despite blitzing just twice the entire game!

With the talent the Rams have up front with Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd and Von Miller they should be able to generate pressure without the blitz as well. But could that be a problem for Raheem Morris’ defensive scheme? The Rams are 11th in blitz rate this season at 26.6%. Joe Burrow was a perfect 7-0 this season against teams that blitzed him at a 25% rate or higher. He’s amongst the best in NFL against the blitz, so it seems obvious to bring that rate down a fair bit.

Super Bowl 56

Burrow and the Deep Ball

If you need any further reason to blitz at a lower rate look no further then Joe Burrow’s success with the deep ball. He leads the NFL in touchdown passes on throws of 20+ yards with 13. He’s always willing to give his guys a chance downfield, especially when the pressure is coming. He’s got guys who can execute too with Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase.

The Rams defensive scheme is a great counter to the way the Bengals offense prioritizes the deep ball. Raheem Morris likes to play a lot of 2-high safety looks along with a lot of light boxes. This helps them keep opposing offenses from hitting explosive plays. But the Rams don’t have their ideal personnel to do this as safeties Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp are out. They are relying on Eric Weddle and Nick Scott which does create a talent mismatch.

The clear and obvious formula for the Rams needs to be relying on getting pressure by rushing 4 and having a numbers advantage in the secondary to limit the Bengals explosive passing plays. Los Angeles has some of the top players at their position in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald but there are talent deficiencies at other positions that will need to be masked by Morris’ playcalling.

Super Bowl 56

Should McVay Run the Ball?

In back-to-back weeks the Rams have faced two of the toughest rushing defenses in the NFL in Tampa Bay and San Francisco. They’ve really struggled to move the ball on the ground as a result but it’s a part of the offense that McVay historically relies on. Even though they’ve averaged just 2.9 yards per carry they’ve still run the ball on 47.8% plays in the postseason.

It’s been really puzzling how often McVay has opted to run the football, it’s nearly been their demise on a few occasions. But now the Bengals provide an opportunity for the Rams to find success on the ground. Cincinnati is allowing 4.5 yards per carry this season which ranks 24th overall. The linebackers have struggled to tackle on the second level, they rank 25th in open field yards. Open field yards is defined as yards which the team’s running backs earn more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries.

I’d expect to see plenty of Cam Akers on early downs for the Rams. A better matchup should limit the amount of third downs and third and longs the team faces. The Rams have faced third down on average 14 times per game this postseason. This is because of their inefficiency on early downs. An improved rushing attack should result in less 3rd down situations.

Super Bowl 56

Don’t Blitz Stafford

The Bengals face a similar foe as the Rams when it comes to the blitz this season. Matthew Stafford is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, a league best 74.4% completion percentage, 15 touchdowns and just 1 interception against the blitz this season. But for some reason the Buccaneers and 49ers decided to blitz in the most important moment of each game. The Bengals cannot make this same fatal mistake.

Cincinnati hasn’t been blitzing at a high rate this season, their 20.5% rate is the 7th lowest in the league. In the AFC Championship game they blitzed Mahomes on just 15.2% of his dropbacks. They instead dropped 8 into coverage and rushed with only 3 defensive linemen. The veteran secondary the Bengals have has flourished as the season has gone on.

Stafford has actually been a pretty middling to below average quarterback when teams don’t blitz. His turnover worthy play rate ranks 31st amongst 40 qualified quarterbacks. Worse than rookies Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence. Stafford really likes to push the ball deep, he has the 3rd most attempts of 20+ yards.

I see this as the reason why he hasn’t been good when he isn’t blitzed. When he has time in the pocket he can’t resist pushing the ball down the field while when teams blitz he’s forced into an early read. This is where Cooper Kupp and his league leading 1,032 yards after the catch make this offense flourish. Stafford will need to be disciplined and take what the defense gives him in the intermediate areas of the field.

In those intermediate areas, Stafford’s running backs and tight ends could be some of the most important players on the field. The Bengals are allowing the 5th most receiving yards per game to running backs and tight ends this season. If Tyler Higbee is unable to go look for Kendall Blanton to have an impact in the receiving game along with Akers.

 

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