Superstars on rosters can sometimes be a deceiving thing.
When you look at the Rams depth chart, you see several names that have — or are close to — a “superstar” status: Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., Andrew Whitworth, Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Jalen Ramsey.
As a roster with so much generational talent, the Rams entered the season with a Super Bowl or bust mentality. And there seems to be this perception that the 2021-22 season was a cakewalk for Los Angeles — but those people didn’t pay close enough attention this year.
Although it seems like a lifetime ago now, the Rams endured a horrific stretch of performances in November. They were 0-3 during that time, and they were outscored 95-54 over those 12 quarters. Stafford threw five interceptions, including two that were returned for a touchdown. The defense would frequently lose communication in terms of their coverages deep down the field. Sean McVay had issues with game management, and there were no answers in opening up their running game (they averaged only 65 rushing yards despite handing the ball off nearly an average of 20 times per game).
The reasons for these disappointing finishes fall on some of the bad characteristics that have plagued this Rams team throughout the last 20 weeks; being careless with the football, unnecessary penalties, trouble with open field tackling among others.
However, while there have been some flashes of those nasty habits in these playoffs, ultimately the Rams have recovered well from mistakes and found a way to pull out wins against the Cardinals, Buccaneers and 49ers to secure the NFC Championship.
Their offense has reached an impressive hot streak, with Stafford averaging a 123.97 quarterback rating in the postseason, while simultaneously playing with a defense that has made big plays when it has mattered most.
On the other side of the ball, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals have overcome tremendous odds to make it to Inglewood for the Super Bowl — whether it be a goal line stand against the Raiders, the nine sacks given up against the Titans, or the 21-10 halftime deficit versus the Chiefs.
What will the Rams need to do to cool down the scorching hot Bengals and lower the confidence of Joe Burrow? Below are a few things that may do the trick. Three (written by Jordan) are analytically driven and focus on intense football terminology. However, if you have no interest in that, the other three (written by Louis) will give you a fun and casual perspective on Sunday’s game.
First, we’ll start with the obvious.
Let Matthew Stafford win you the game while avoiding offensive turnovers: (Jordan)
Let’s be honest, Los Angeles isn’t going to win this game as a product of their rushing attack. Not only have they struggled throughout this year to get consistency in their running game, as their 99 rush yards per game was ranked 25th in the NFL, but the Bengals’ defensive front has held up very well against the run. They have given up the fifth-lowest rushing yard total among every defense in the league this season and rank 13th in DVOA on rushing plays.
Side note: DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) is an advanced metric used by “Football Outsiders” to evaluate teams, units and specific players on their overall efficiency through a league-average baseline.
This means Stafford will be forced to throw the ball — a lot. But that isn’t a bad thing for the Rams at all. Matthew Stafford has been the league’s best quarterback against man coverages and blitz packages. He has produced 0.64 EPA (Expected Points Added) per play against the blitz. Not only is that the best mark by any quarterback this season, but it’s also the best mark by any QB over the past three seasons.
Side note, again: EPA is another advanced metric that can be used for the overall performance of a team or player relative to expectation. For example, if a team gains seven yards on a 3rd and 15, that play will receive a lower EPA grade than a seven-yard gain on a 3rd and 4 due to the result of that play giving the offense a better chance to put points on the board.
But, that game plan will generate more conversation around Stafford being a mistake-prone quarterback. The statistics do prove that this critique holds some merit. Los Angeles has turned the ball over on 12.6% of its offensive possessions, which ranks 19th in the NFL. In three playoff games, that number has bumped up to 14.7% mainly due to the four fumbles lost against Tampa Bay.
To top that off, they are playing a Bengals team that has a knack for forcing turnovers. The Bengals’ defense has produced giveaways on 12.7% of their opponent’s drives this season, which is above the league average of 11.5%. To win on Sunday they will need Stafford and the passing game to be as crisp as possible.
The Rams should do their best to find a time machine: (Louis)
If you are the Rams, the first key to victory on Sunday is to stop this hit on Joe Burrow from happening.
Ever since this hit in the LSU vs UCF 2018 Playstation Fiesta Bowl (which LSU went on to win 40-32), Burrow led the Tigers to a perfect 15-0 record in the 2019 season and a 42-25 win over Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Burrow has now led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl.
The only way to stop Burrow and the Bengals offense is to stop that hit on New Year’s Day in 2019.
Time travel is tricky. There are so many ways to travel through time, especially as seen in “Back to the Future,” “Avengers: Endgame,” and “About Time.” Domhall Gleeson’s character can travel through time because he was born into the right family. Marty McFly happened to be friends with an older doctor with a really cool car. Then, we have superheroes. No further explanation there.
So, if you’re the Rams, how do you go back in time? Surely the Rams don’t have access to Tony Stark or the DeLorean but this is Hollywood, baby.
Call up some connections, stop the hit and… never mind. Maybe just overpower the Bengals offensive line with Aaron Donald. That’s more realistic.
Speaking of Donald, on the defensive end it will be about winning those battles up front: (Jordan)
Teams in the past have proven this point true: In order to win the Super Bowl, you need to take advantage of the aspects of the game in which you are heavily favored. For the Rams, that exact mismatch lies in their defensive front.
According to ESPN’s win rate metric (a metric used to determine how well an offensive or defensive line performs in the act of blocking), their pass rush ranked first in the NFL, meaning their defensive line has been masterful at overpowering blocks.
The Bengals have the exact opposite situation. Their biggest issue on offense, by a wide margin, is their offensive line. Burrow’s protection rate of 75.6% was dead last in the NFL, and ESPN’s win rate metric ranked them 30th in blocking success.
These numbers should make Rams fans grin with joy while making Bengals fans shiver with worry. Although the Bengals have been able to overcome those protection issues so far this postseason due to the playmaking of Burrow, they have yet to face a better defensive front this season than L.A.’s.
In order for the Rams to play a sound game defensively, they will need to find a way to get to the quarterback with a four-man pass rush. And luckily for them, it is the perfect matchup for them to have success in doing so.
Perhaps the Rams should use ‘The Griddy’ to their advantage: (Louis)
There are a good amount of Louisiana ties in this year’s Super Bowl. There are former LSU Tigers like Burrow, Beckham Jr., Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin. It seems likely one of these players will score and celebrate by hitting “The Griddy.”
You may be thinking “What is that?” — glad I pretended you asked.
The dance was invented by Louisiana’s Allen Davis, a friend of Ja’Marr Chase. It’s been popularized by Minnesota Vikings wide receiver and LSU alum Justin Jefferson. There’s even an entire video compilation of Jefferson doing the dance.
The key for the Rams here is to execute this celebration more times than the Bengals. If you see more Bengals doing The Griddy, it’s safe to assume things are going better for them.
Odell is the X-factor here for the Rams. With wide receiver Cooper Kupp likely getting more attention, the Rams in-season acquisition and former LSU Tiger himself could have his own video compilation from this game.
Obviously, Chase has his own video compilation. But what about Kupp? Matthew Stafford? There are no video compilations of either of those guys doing this specific dance, but hopefully there’s plenty of opportunity for them to do so in the Super Bowl. I mean, New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones even did it in the 2022 Pro Bowl.
Bonus: Chances are high we will see The Griddy in this year’s Super Bowl. It’s about who does it more. You might be wondering, though, how do you do it to celebrate with your favorite team?
Here’s a step-by-step tutorial from the creator himself.
To prevent seeing ‘The Griddy’ against them, the Rams will need more people in coverage to guard Chase: (Jordan)
Although containing Burrow will be the priority for the Rams defense, finding a way to cover Chase down the field is not too far behind.
The rookie receiver has been an explosive addition for the Bengals this season. Only the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel was better after the catch this season, and there was no receiver more effective on “go” routes than Chase — he had 608 yards on those exact routes in 2021.
This isn’t great news for the Rams passing defense which finished with a 22nd rank in terms of passing yards allowed per game (241.7 ypg). Even more than this, the safety position has been a huge hole for this defense. While strong safety Nick Scott took a major stride forward this season and became a menace in terms of his hitting power, the free safety position has been a struggle for these Rams. Normal starter Taylor Rapp — who himself has had issues in the middle of the field throughout the season — has been injured these playoffs, and the Rams have needed to call on 37-year-old veteran Eric Weddle to take over his role.
With Chase’s ability to escape coverage down the field, particularly on the right sideline, the Rams need to have a strong game plan to contain him. Attempting to do so in man coverage seems like a nightmare in real-time, so expect to see the Rams lean on a heavy dose of Cover-6 and Cover-4 in this game as the split-safety zones will give them help over the top against Chase.
What that means for the Rams is they will need to give up the short field passing lanes in order to protect the dangers that the deep ball brings. With the other receiving weapons that the Bengals possess in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, expect Burrow to find those guys underneath deep coverages quite a bit. For Los Angeles, though, they should be willing to give up those short passing plays over the possibility of being beat over the top.
However, not being forced to blitz will be a huge perk for Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, as getting to Burrow with a four-man rush will consistently allow them to place more bodies in zone coverage.
But most importantly, have fun: (Louis)
It’s not about winning the one game a player works towards their entire life. It is, however, about the friends they make along the way.
I imagine there are a lot of nerves when playing in the Super Bowl. I’ve never played in one, personally. But if the Rams can just go out there and have a good time then the scoreboard shouldn’t matter as much!
Heavy disclaimer: I’ve never played in a Super Bowl so I’m sure the main objective is to win and the fun comes second.