The Los Angeles Rams will take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. This game will be all about matchups and who wins those matchups. There will obviously be the individual matchups that analysts will focus on such as Jalen Ramsey vs. Ja’Marr Chase. However, there are matchup from position groups as a whole that need to be looked at as well. That’s what we’ll do here.
Sean McVay vs. Zac Taylor
These two have only coached against each other once before in 2019 with the Los Angeles Rams winning 24-10. That game was played in London at Wembley Stadium.
Taylor has done a great job turning around the Bengals franchise, but has been fortunate to draft players like Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase over the last two years. It’s just his first postseason and he’d led the Bengals to the Super Bowl.
Contrarily, this is McVay’s fourth postseason and second Super Bowl appearance. That experience matters in a week like this when nothing is normal. McVay has the experience of preparing for a Super Bowl after 2018. Zac Taylor was apart of that staff, but wasn’t the head coach.
McVay also has the edge on his coaching staff with guys like Raheem Morris and Kevin O’Connell as opposed to Brian Callahan and Lou Anarumo.
Where Taylor might have the advantage is on fourth downs. Taylor has sacrificed just 22.6% win probably on fourth down errors whereas McVay has sacrificed 28.3%. If this game comes down to a fourth down decision, Taylor might hold an edge. Still, for the game as a whole, McVay is the better coach.
Matthew Stafford vs. Joe Burrow
Both quarterbacks will be starting in their first Super Bowl on Sunday. Joe Burrow played in a National Championship game in 2019, defeating Clemson. Meanwhile, Stafford is a perfect 3-0 in Bowl games, including a Pro Bowl in which he won the MVP. The Los Angeles Rams traded for Stafford for this moment.
These have been two of the best quarterbacks this season. In EPA + CPOE composite, Stafford and Burrow rank third and fourth in the NFL. Stafford is first in adjusted EPA while Burrow is seventh. In QBR and passer rating, Stafford is fourth in QBR and has a passer rating of 102.9 which ranks sixth. Burrow meanwhile ranks 12th in QBR and has a passer rating of 108.3 which is second only behind Aaron Rodgers.
Both quarterbacks have made throws this postseason when it matters. Stafford has the slight edge in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Burrow has the edge in being more careful with the football, with a turnover worthy throw percentage of just 2.2%.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rushed for 140 yards in last year’s Super Bowl. The year before, Damien Williams had over 100 yards rushing despite the Chiefs trailing late in that game. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead combined for over 130 yards rushing against the Los Angeles Rams.
Running the ball doesn’t correlate to winning, but these teams will need to be able to run the ball in moments and be able to close out the game if needed.
Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine might be one of the better running back duos in the NFL. However, Mixon has averaged four yards per carry just once in his last eight games and rushed for more than 60 yards just twice. Perine can do damage through the air, but isn’t much of a runner.
Sony Michel led the NFL in rushing yards in December. Cam Akers and Michel combined for over 100 yards rushing in the playoff win against the Cardinals. The Rams will also get Darrell Henderson back.
There’s a reason that Mixon rushed for 1200 yards this year. However, the Rams running game has been slightly underrated heading into this game. Since Week 14, Michel has more yards per carry and more rushing yards over expected than Mixon. Michel is right next to Mixon in Football Outsiders’ DYAR as well. Talent-wise, the Bengals may have the edge, but overall production Michel has been right there with Mixon. Akers and Henderson also offer more than Perine.
Advantage: Slight Rams
Rams Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defensive Line
Football games are typically won and lost in the trenches. That was never more apparent than last season’s Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers absolutely dominated the Kansas City Chiefs at the line of scrimmage. It’s possible that a similar result could be in store for the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
The Los Angeles Rams allowed the 2nd-lowest pressure probability at 3 seconds this season (9.6%). The offensive line ranks first in ESPN’s pass-block win-rate and finished first in PFF’s pass blocking grade as a group. This has been a dominant group all season and only the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans had much success getting to Stafford.
That doesn’t bode well for Cincinnati who ranked just 25th in pass rush win rate and 21st via PFF.
Andrew Whitworth ranked fifth among tackles, allowing just 20 pressures all season. Where the Rams are vulnerable is on the interior. Larry Ogunjobi leads the Bengals in pressures with 41 this season and Trey Hendrickson leads the team with 14.5 sacks. The Bengals don’t get to the quarterback consistently as they rank just 11th in sacks this season. Their defense has recorded three or more sacks eight times this season whereas the Rams defense accomplished that 12 times. The Bengals also had four games this season with one or less sack.
The Los Angeles Rams don’t just do well pass blocking either. They rank sixth in the NFL in adjusted line yards and 12th in ESPN’s run block win rate. The Bengals however, rank 25th in run stop win rate. It’s not much different on PFF either. The Rams have the 10th highest run block grade whereas the Bengals rank 23rd.
DJ Reader is the Bengals’ best run defender, but pass rusher Larry Ogunjobi was one of the worst at defending the run.
Rams Defensive Line vs. Bengals Offensive Line
This might be the mismatch of the game. The Los Angeles Rams defensive line could feast. Everyone talks about the Bengals giving up nine sacks to the Tennessee Titans. However, they bring that up for a reason. That wasn’t a one-time thing type of occurrence. Joe Burrow was the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL this season.
Burrow was sacked 5+ times in six games this year and the Bengals are 2-4 in those games. It’s important to note similar defenses as the Rams in the Bears and Chargers sacked Burrow a combined 11 times. The Bengals are 0-2 in those games.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Bengals ranked 25th in pass blocking this season. Their 9.1% adjusted sack rate was the second-highest in the NFL behind the Chicago Bears. In ESPN’s pass block win-rate, they ranked 30th. This has not been a very good group this season and if not for Burrow, they likely wouldn’t be where they’re at.
Bengals tackle Jonah Williams gave up the 11th most pressures this season and his 10 sacks given up was the third-most in the NFL. At guard, Hakeem Adeniji also ranked top-10 in most sacks given up. Trey Hopkins has also had a rough year at center.
Meanwhile, look at the Los Angeles Rams defensive line and pass rushers. Donald is second in the NFL in pressures this season behind only Maxx Crosby. Von Miller also ranked 14th in pressures and fourth from Week 14 to Week 18. Leonard Floyd gets to the quarterback as well with 70 pressures this season. Since taking over in Week 8, Greg Gaines is ninth among defensive linemen in pressures.
This will be the best defensive line that the Bengals have faced and they do it against the run as well. The Rams defense ranks first against the run according to Pro Football Focus. Von Miller, A’Shawn Robinson, and Greg Gaines each rank among the top-10 at their position groups in run-stop win rate. In DVOA, the Rams rank fifth against the run.
The Bengals are better run-blocking, but not by much. Their adjusted-line yards according to Football Outsiders ranked 15th in the NFL and their team run-block win rate was 10th. Pro Football Focus graded them 20th in run-blocking. Jonah Williams is the team’s highest graded run-blocker.
Rams Wide Receivers vs. Bengals Cornerbacks
With Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Van Jefferson, the Los Angeles Rams should have the clear matchup advantage here. The Bengals went out and bought their secondary. However, that secondary is Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton. Hilton had the pick-six against the Tennessee Titans that was a game-changer.
With that said, Hilton has given up the third most yards and receptions in the slot this season. Meanwhile, Cooper Kupp led the NFL in both categories from the slot. Hilton’s 93.3 passer rating allowed does rank 18th, but this should be a favorable matchup for the Rams.
Matthew Stafford and the Rams dominated man coverage this season which will force the Bengals to play zone. Eli Apple allowed the ninth most yards in zone coverage this season, allowing 13.1 yards per reception.
Chidobe Awuzie has had a good season, allowing just 45.7% of passes thrown his way in man coverage to be caught. Awuzie has been the best all-around cornerback for the Bengals this season and was a great free agent signing. Still, the Rams should be able to take advantage here.
The Bengals secondary gave up the seventh most yards in the NFL last season and gave up the third-most pass plays of 20 or more yards. Cooper Kupp led the NFL in receptions of 20 or more yards and as a team, the Rams ranked third.
Cornerbacks vs. Wide Receivers
This is where things get interesting and the matchup that everyone will be watching. He likely won’t travel with Ja’Marr Chase, but we’ll see plenty of Jalen Ramsey vs. the Bengals rookie wide receiver. The trio of Chase, Tee Higgens, and Tyler Boyd might be one of the best receiver groups that the Los Angeles Rams have played this season.
The question is whether or not the Bengals will be able to get them the ball. That’s all mentioned earlier with the offensive line.
Chase had arguably the greatest rookie season ever for a wide receiver. Tee Higgins eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time in his young career. Lastly, Tyler Boyd is steady as always, opening things up in the slot.
We can likely consider Chase vs. Ramsey a wash. Not many receivers have had success against Ramsey this season. The one with the most success was Mike Evans in the divisional round of the playoffs. However, most of his production came on one play.
Where this gets interesting is with Darious Williams going up against Higgins and David Long or Dant’e Deayon going up against Boyd.
Higgins ranks fifth in the NFL in DYAR while Chase ranks sixth. Chase ranks third in the NFL in yards in zone coverage this season while Higgins ranks 11th. Their yards per route ran also rank inside the top-10 for both. In the slot, Boyd ranks third in the NFL.
Darious Williams has given up the ninth most yards for a defensive back this season. After a stellar 2020, he’s had a very disappointing 2021. The Rams have rotated the slot with Jalen Ramsey, Deayon, Rapp, and Long. However, it’s been mostly David Long and Travin Howard in the slot during the postseason.
Rams Offense vs. Bengals Defense
What we didn’t cover above, we will basically cover in these last two sections.
We’ll start with third down situations. The Bengals have allowed 41% of third down conversations this season which ranks 21st in the NFL. However, that number is just 39.5% over the last three games. Contrarily, the Los Angeles Rams offense coverts 44.9% of third downs and that number is 50% throughout the postseason.
The Rams are going to have to win on first downs in the Super Bowl. Since Week 11, the Bengals have one of the worst 1st-down defenses. Via EPA/play, they rank 31st. Only Detroit was worse in that span. However, they rank inside the top-10 in EPA on third down during that same time span. Meanwhile, the Rams rank 11th in EPA in first down and fourth in EPA on third down. Winning on first down will make things easier for the Rams.
Nothing is more important than scoring touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The Rams offense ranked 17th in the red zone this season, scoring touchdowns at a 57.7% clip. Over the last three games, however, that number is just 46.67%. The Bengals defense has been average in the red zone, allowing touchdowns 56.1% of the time. In the playoffs, that number has been significantly better at 38.5%.
The Los Angeles Rams are going to have to utilize play action which could call for tight ends in the pass game. The Bengals linebackers struggle in space which is something McVay will look to exploit. Logan Wilson has been very good at linebacker while the Bengals safeties have been one of the better duos in the NFL.
There’s been a lot of talk about how the Bengals defense has stepped it up in the postseason. During the postseason, they’ve been right in the middle of the pack at seventh. The Bengals haven’t even been great at taking away the football with just 21 turnovers this year.
The Rams used empty this season on 18% of plays to lead the league. The Bengals defense ranked 30th in defending empty sets. Cincinnati’s most popular coverage this season has been Cover-3. Matthew Stafford ranks fifth in EPA (0.18) against Cover-3. Cincinnati’s second-most popular coverage has been Cover-1. Matthew Stafford has been the NFL’s best QB against Cover-1
Rams Defense vs. Bengals Offense
…and we’ve made our final stop.
The Bengals offense has been average on third down this season. Burrow and the Bengals have converted on third downs at just a 41.1% clip this season. That’s risen to 48.8% over the last three games. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams defense ranks 11th in the NFL on third down this season, allowing a conversation just 38.4% of the time. Over the last three games, that number is just 18.8%.
In EPA/play on third down, the Rams defense ranks fifth in the NFL. The Bengals meanwhile have been average at just 13th. A lot of that has to do with how the Bengals perform on first down which is 20th in the NFL in EPA.
In the red zone this season is where the Rams have been at their best. The Rams defense in the red zone ranks 12th in the NFL, allowing a touchdown just 54.1% of the time. That number has been a high 80% over the last three weeks, but the offense has been able to overcome it.
On the other side, the Bengals red zone offense, much like the McVay offense, struggles in the red zone. The Bengals score touchdowns just 55.6% of the time which was 20th in the NFL. In the playoffs, that number has been just 36.4%.
The Bengals are 8-1 this season when Joe Burrow has a passer rating of 110+. The Rams secondary allowed an average passer-rating of 83.6 this season which was the 5th best in the NFL. They’ve allowed a passer rating of 110+ just twice this season. Both times came in the first meeting against the 49ers and Cardinals. It’s happened zero times since 10.
The Los Angeles Rams should also expect a lot of empty sets. Zac Taylor ran out of empty sets on offense 14% of the time. The Rams defense however, ranks inside the top-10 defending it.
Joe Burrow has been at his best this season when facing man coverage. He ranked third against single-high safety looks. However, against two-high looks, he’s been more in the middle of the pack. The Rams are a zone-heavy team. They’ve played the third-lowest percentage of man coverage in the NFL.
These are two very talented teams that deserve to be where they are. The Cincinnati Bengals came back from 18 points down at Arrowhead to make the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Rams overcame the San Francisco 49ers and a 10-point deficit to get to host Super Bowl LVI.
However, at the end of the day, the Rams are favored for a reason. The Bengals are the third worst team in the DVOA era to make the Super Bowl. The other two teams were the 2003 Carolina Panthers who lost 32-29 to the Patriots and the 2008 Arizona Cardinals who lost 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This should be a competitive game, but the Rams are better up front on both sides of the ball and are simply more talented. They’ll still have to go out and take care of business, but in terms of these matchups, the Rams should have the upper-hand.