Super Bowl LVI: What to Watch for When the Bengals Have the Ball
The Cincinnati Bengals take advantage of their opportunities to make explosive plays. It’s where Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Co. thrive offensively.
But if Cincinnati is going to find chunk yards either through the air or on the ground against the Los Angeles secondary, the Rams defensive line will need to be mitigated on a handful of plays and the Bengals will have to get some extra yards through some missed tackles.
Even if that happens, the one outcome we simply don’t see happening is a Bengals blowout win. Yes, Cincinnati has surprised at every corner, but from a data perspective, the Rams have a huge advantage in the key positional battles.
We mapped out some of that yesterday when we broke down the Rams offense versus the Bengals defense, now let’s dig into what to expect when Cincy has the ball against Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Co.
The Bengals are a little more multiple in their running game than the Rams, but most of their runs come in the form of inside zone, duo and outside zone.
We discussed inside zone and duo as part of the Rams offensive analysis, but outside zone is something the Rams don’t run a lot and it’s the Bengals best run play – averaging 0.6 yards per play more than league average.
Outside zone relies on an offensive line with a lot of movement skills, as linemen need to be moving laterally while also creating space down the field and moving the second level to block linebackers one on one.
Like inside zone, the running back reads each offensive lineman to find the first gap where the lineman’s numbers are pointed towards the play side.
In the video, the back reads that each lineman has backside leverage on the defender until he gets all the way to the left tackle and tight end. This creates a big hole and a one-on-one matchup with a defensive back.
The appeal of outside zone is that there are a lot of potential gaps for the running back to hit. The line can block defenders in the direction the defenders are already going, and it’s on the running back to navigate the holes.
The offensive line can help by getting downfield push as well, which allows the running back to cut while also moving forward.
Bengals Blockers vs. Rams Defenders
The Bengals offensive line has four confirmed starters and one position where they’re still shuffling players in and out.
The offensive line is the weakest unit for the Bengals. Right guard has been a disaster all year, while center has been an additional weak spot in the run game. Where the Bengals do have an advantage is in their usage of tight ends in their run blocking schemes.
C.J. Uzomah (75.3%) and Drew Sample (81.7%) are both great run blocking tight ends. Uzomah, however, is questionable for the Super Bowl, and like the Rams with Higbee, he’d be a significant loss to their ability to run block. Both tight ends will need to be healthy for the Bengals to have any chance at success against one of the best run defenses in football.
The Rams defense plays almost exclusively in a 3-3-5. They have three down linemen, two outside linebackers standing at the line of scrimmage, and one inside linebacker.
As a percentage of their matchups, the Rams were first in the NFL in defensive tackle usage in the run game. The Rams will sub more than the Bengals, but for most run plays they will feature this front.
The win rates for Donald and Miller are among the best in the NFL, while the rest of the defensive line is also above average. Inside linebacker is a weakness, but usually the play is blown up so quickly in the backfield that the inside linebacker never even has to take on a blocker.
If the Bengals running backs can get past the first set of defenders, there will be opportunities for huge gains against defensive backs.
Verdict: Advantage Rams
While the Rams use boots and play action to creatively get their players into advantageous positions, the Bengals passing offense keeps the pocket in one place and is almost entirely on the shoulders of Burrow to read the field.
Nearly 75% of their passing plays are either quick game or three-step, drop-back passes. They’ll sprinkle in a good dosage of screens to try and slow a pass rush, but for the most part they rely on Burrow to get rid of the ball quick and for their playmakers to generate yards once the ball is in their hands.
Bengals Pass Protection vs. Rams Rush
This is the biggest mismatch of the Super Bowl.
The Bengals offensive line has put Burrow into trouble repeatedly during the playoffs, and now it must block the best pass rush in the NFL.
The left side of the offensive line is average or a little better, but the right side is a disaster in pass pro. That’s a problem against Donald and Miller, who win at some of the highest rates in the NFL.
Donald has a win rate more than 10% better than the next best defensive tackle. Miller’s rates this year are behind only Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa among edge defenders.
Burrow’s ability to escape pressure has been a focal point of the Bengals offense in the playoffs, but we could see some sack production like what the Tennessee Titans did in the divisional round, and Leonard Floyd is why.
The Titans recorded nine sacks, and they got a lot of them by getting interior pressure while also having supreme athletes on the edge who can run Burrow down. Floyd is one of the fastest defensive linemen in the league and could be tasked with occupying a blocker while essentially playing a version of a spy on Burrow.
If Burrow can escape Donald and Miller, Floyd could be there waiting to clean up.
Bengals Receivers vs. Rams Defensive Backs
As we mentioned earlier, much of the Bengals offense relies upon getting the ball into the hands of playmakers quickly and letting them work.
This makes sense both because the offensive line can’t hold up, but also because as a whole, the Bengals pass-catchers don’t win that much.
Chase and Tee Higgins are both above average, but neither Tyler Boyd nor Uzomah are great route winners. Chase is excellent with the ball in his hands. Among players with 80 or more receptions, only Deebo Samuel and CeeDee Lamb have a higher number of missed or broken forced per touch. Of those three, Chase is the only one who operates solely as a wide receiver.
Defensively, the Rams play majority zone coverage. They play Cover 3 35% of the time, Cover 4 28% of the time and Cover 6 17% of the time.
This year, they had only two defenders who had over 100 man coverage matchups: cornerback Darious Williams, who had a matchup loss rate of 22.7%, and corner Jalen Ramsey, who lost at just a 15.8% clip. For defensive backs, corners average a loss rate of 31.7%.
The Rams third cornerback has been a turnstile this year with David Long, Donte Deayon, and Robert Rochell all spending some time there. All three have been below average in man coverage and will have to have safety help to hold up against Chase and Higgins.
As usual, Ramsey put up some of the best cornerback numbers in the league, and while Williams was good, it could be a bad matchup for him because of his size. If the Bengals offensive line can hold up long enough, there could be some openings down the field.
The Rams defense comes from the Vic Fangio tree of schemes. This year, the Bengals have played six games against Fangio-tree defenses: the Cleveland Browns twice, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
In those games, the Bengals went 1-5 and Burrow averaged 247 yards with a total of six touchdowns and nine interceptions. It’s been a weak point all season and will be something to watch.
Verdict: Advantage Rams
The Bengals offensive line simply isn’t good enough to hold up on a play-to-play basis against the Rams’ vaunted defensive front. Los Angeles has the advantage in every facet of the game, but Cincinnati has been playing with fire all postseason and still hasn’t been burned.
Do the Bengals have one more surprise in them? We’re going to find out.
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Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.