Rams vs Bengals: five areas where Super Bowl LVI will be won and lost
The Los Angeles Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals for the Vince Lombardi Trophy at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
Ja'Marr Chase vs Jalen Ramsey
Super Bowl LVI’s most attractive individual duel sees Cincinnati Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase, the wide receiver with the fourth-most yards per reception in the regular season, go up against the Los Angeles Rams’ star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who has been named in the All-Pro Team for the third time.
Who wins out will largely come down to the work their teams do in the trenches. If the Rams’ front seven manages to apply consistent, effective pressure on Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, defence will enjoy the upper hand. If the Bengals’ offensive line dominates the likes of Aaron Donald and Von Miller, Burrow will get the time he needs to find Chase and generate plenty of passing yards.
Aaron Donald has Joe Burrow in his sights
During the regular season, Burrow suffered the third-most sacks of any QB in the league - 55 - and, ominously for the Bengals, the Rams were the third-most prolific sackers in the NFL, registering a total of 50.
Going only on postseason figures, things don’t look much better for the Bengals. Although the Rams have only managed five sacks in the Playoffs, Cincinnati’s offensive line have allowed a total of 16 (including nine against the Tennessee Titans).
If Donald and Miller can make the most of the opposition OL’s current difficulties, Burrow could be in for a very rough ride at SoFi Stadium.
Running backs: Mixon, Akers, Michel…
During the postseason, Bengals running back Joe Mixon has registered 190 yards and one touchdown - encouraging news for a Rams team that gave up a total of just 162 rushing yards to the Arizona Cardinals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francsico 49ers. And it should be pointed out that they faced RBs of the calibre of Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, James Conner and Chase Edmonds.
The Bengals, on the other hand, have allowed an average of 127.3 yards per game in the postseason. Although this appears to bode well for Cam Akers and Sony Michel, neither of the two Rams running backs has managed more than 60 yards in a Playoffs game and their best performance came against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round.
Stafford: the weak link in the Rams' offence?
Although Matthew Stafford was second in the NFL on touchdown passes (41) and third on passing yards (4,886), the veteran was joint-top when it came to interceptions (17), alongside Trevor Lawrence.
Stafford’s issues in this department will be something Rams head coach Sean McVay focuses on, particularly in view of the fact that Cincinnati have forced seven turnovers during the Playoffs, six of which have been interceptions (a figure higher than any other team in the postseason).
Is there any way to keep Kupp in check?
This regular season, wide receiver Cooper Kupp became only the fourth winner of the triple crown since 1970 - following in the footsteps of Jerry Rice, Sterling Sharpe and Steve Smith - so his presence on the SoFi Stadium field represents a constant threat to Cincinnati’s secondary.
Keeping Kupp under control looks like being a tricky task for the Bengals, who were only the 18th-best passing defence in the regular season. The two options open to Zac Taylor are to put extra pressure on Stafford through Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader, and when the wide receiver has the ball, play a physical game to keep his yards after reception to a minimum.
It's worth noting, though, that the Bengals have kept each of their three Playoffs opponents so far under 300 passing yards - no mean feat when you consider that they were up against Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr, fourth and fifth in the league in passing yards, respectively.