SUPER BOWL 56: four things to keep an eye on
By Tayyib Abu
The Super Bowl is here! Two long weeks of waiting is over, and the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams are ready to battle it out for sporting immortality and the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The $5 billion SoFi Stadium hosts the 56th edition of the NFL’s World Championship game, and for the second consecutive year, there is a team playing in their home stadium. The fourth seed Rams welcome the fourth seed Bengals to their house.
It promises to be a spectacular occasion as two former first-round picks lead their teams into battle. Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow are at different stages of their career, but they are eyeing the same prize. Add their remarkable stories to the litany of stars on show, and Super Bowl 56 is ready to deliver a story Hollywood would be proud of; The world will watch with eager eyes as two unlikely teams play the final game of the season.
Here are four things to watch in Super Bowl 56.
Will The Superstars Align for the Rams?
The Los Angeles Rams are nearing the end game. Ever since owner Stan Kroenke opted to move the team away from St. Louis, the Rams have made aggressive moves to announce themselves on the sporting stage. Hiring the youngest head coach in NFL history, making bold moves in the draft and free agency, and constructing the most expensive stadium in sporting history. They’ve built to this moment, where they are hosting their party in their house. The stars have aligned for the Rams, and now their superstars must come together for one last tilt.
Homegrown stars Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Cam Akers team up alongside star acquisitions Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr, Andrew Whitworth, and Jalen Ramsey to grab the Lombardi Trophy come Sunday night. These key players must step up if the Rams wish to celebrate on the podium after the game.
The Hollywood spotlight will burn bright on three players in particular. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Stafford’s 12 years of toil saw him leave the Detroit Lions for a new challenge. In his first season, the maverick veteran has expertly guided the Rams through the playoffs with perhaps the best quarterback play of his career. Stafford’s thrown six touchdowns, to one interception, and has a passer rating of 115.6. It is the most significant moment of Stafford’s career; it is by far the biggest game of his career. A Super Bowl victory provides Stafford with validation and a tangible reward for the sacrifices he’s made in the NFL.
Another player seeking redemption is Odell Beckham Jr. The LSU product is one of the most talented wideouts in NFL history. Yet, despite the talents and awe-inspiring moments, the pervading thoughts on Beckham’s career are the various controversies and negative assumptions on his character. Beckham forced his way out of the Cleveland Browns organization before the Rams scooped him up. Beckham performed exceptionally well in the NFC Championship Game, and if Bengals’ slot corner Mike Hilton neuters Cooper Kupp, Beckham will need to rise to the occasion again. The NFL’s Hollywood wide receiver could solidify his legend with a victory.
On the other side of the ball, Aaron Donald stands on the precipice of greatness. Donald is a first-ballot Hall of Famer; he is a perennial All-Pro, and every opposition team targets him in pre-game meetings. Donald’s played in a Super Bowl before, resulting in a miserable defeat. Donald vowed to get back to the big game, and he’s back, and he’ll relish the chance to attack the Bengals’ weak offensive line. Per ESPN, the Bengals finished 30th in pass-block success. The top defensive tackle in pass-rush win rate was Donald.
Furthermore, according to Next Gen Stats, the Rams limit the time to throw to 2.65 seconds when Donald is on the field. Generating pressure on Joe Burrow is vital, and Donald is one wrecking-ball game away from legend status.
The Moment Won't Unnerve the Bengals
Many experts are tapping into the Bengals’ lack of experience ahead of the game. However, a glance at some of their players suggests that they possess a healthy amount of big-game experience. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase played massive games for LSU as they brought a national championship back to Baton Rouge.
Joe Mixon plied his trade in Oklahoma for the Boomer Sooners. OU is one of the premier collegiate programs, which should stand him in good stead. Tee Higgins shone at Clemson, while Trey Hendrickson, Vonn Bell, and Sam Hubbard boast a healthy amount of NFL experience.
Mix that with the Bengals’ mindset and attitude, and the show shouldn’t be too much for them. Burrow and his teammates have played loose and relaxed throughout the playoffs, which won’t change in the Super Bowl. Burrow is an outstanding leader, a calming presence with iron-clad self-belief. Some NFL savants liken him to Joe Montana and Joe Namath, and it is easy to see why. They look comfortable with the weight of a city on their shoulders. The Bengals have embraced everything, which will help them once the game kicks off.
The X's and O's
The top matchup to watch is between rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase and shut-down cornerback Jalen Ramsey. These two players are elite competitors, and neither will back down. Ramsey stated in his press conference that he is the best in the world, while Chase said that he wouldn’t fear the veteran corner.
The primary aim for the Bengals is to get Chase into favorable matchups. Cincinnati likes to leave him one-on-one, as they believe in Burrow’s accuracy and Chase’s ability to win his matchups. Burrow and Chase led the league in explosive passing plays, and the Rams’ two-high shell defense will aim to negate the deep ball.
However, that raises another issue for the Rams defense. On early downs, the Bengals may opt to line Chase up by himself in 3×1 sets and use in-breaking routes or screen throws to set the star receiver loose on quick passing plays. Chase averaged 8.1 YAC in the regular season. The Rams allowed the most YAC on passes thrown within 2.5 seconds. Chase may hold the key for the quick passing game, which could keep Burrow away from the Rams’ fearless defensive front.
In the AFC Championship Game, the Bengals proved that they could play disciplined man-coverage while containing Patrick Mahomes in the pocket. Matthew Stafford won’t willingly use his legs; therefore, the Bengals should cage him in the pocket. For Sean McVay, his offense must put Stafford into high-leverage positions. Consequently, the Rams must run the ball to keep Stafford away from dangerous passing plays. Despite boasting 12 years of experience, Stafford’s gunslinger mentality can seduce him into bad decisions.
Look for the Rams to call plenty of run plays early on, specifically out of bunch formations. The Rams led the NFL in calling plays out of bunch formation, and they can violently run the ball in these sets. Keep an eye on Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson possibly motioning out to the side of the run to lead block and clear second-level defenders. They did this very well in the NFC Championship Game. A functioning running game could force the Bengals to bring an extra player in the tackle box or keep the linebackers guessing in the play-action game. Stafford will feast on deep passes if the Bengals stiffen up the run-defense and leave space in the backfield.
Unleashing Stafford but maintaining his discipline is the tightrope Sean McVay must walk. It could decide the outcome of the game.
The Unlikely Heroes
Understandably, much of the attention has gone towards the megastars on show. However, there are other players more than capable of taking the plaudits. Edge rusher Trey Hendrickson has enjoyed an outstanding season for the Bengals. The speed rusher will attempt to collapse the pocket on the blindside and get to Matthew Stafford. Moreover, Hendrickson could drop into coverage to block passing lanes on certain occasions.
Walter Payton Man of The Year Andrew Whitworth will hope to stop Hendrickson. The 40-year-old left tackle is the emotional heartbeat of the Rams locker room, and he could cap a remarkable career with a Super Bowl title.
Another veteran hoping to end his season on a high is Von Miller. If the Bengals double-team Donald as expected, Miller could see some one-on-one matchups and take advantage. Despite the injuries and his veteran status, Miller still ranked in the top 20 for pressures generated. The Super Bowl 50 MVP could enjoy another big day in the NFL’s marquee game.
Miller must disrupt Joe Burrow. The young quarterback seldom looks fazed, and he’ll get chances to target Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, and CJ Uzomah. If the Rams deploy Jalen Ramsey with a safety shading to that side, that trio of Bengals pass-catchers could get room to excel. Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan like employing 3×1 sets. If the Rams heavily defend Chase, Cincinnati may have a tactical edge with their secondary receivers.
Lastly, Eric Weddle may be the most astonishing story in a game packed with stories. Weddle was on a beach six weeks ago enjoying his retirement. An injury crisis in the Rams’ safety room forced GM Les Snead to make an emergency phone call. The veteran has starred for the Rams, particularly against the run. Weddle’s PFF grade for run defense is 91.1. The Bengals’ explosive offense and style may force Weddle to retreat into the two-high shell that the Rams like to employ, which will examine Weddle in a different situation. Against the 49ers, Weddle was in his comfort zone. This game will fascinate fans and analysts how Weddle plays in the backfield. He is one win away from a perfect second retirement.
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1