The Unit Matchups Which Will Decide Super Bowl LVI

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Many expect the upcoming edition of the Super Bowl to be very exciting and to resemble a close showdown that goes down to the wire. Despite their underdog status, the Bengals have shown that not only can they defy the odds but they possess assets that should challenge their reputation of complete outsiders in the 2021/2022 NFL playoffs.

When carrying out an in-depth breakdown of the game, the two sides’ units prove that the matchups which the NBC audience will witness on Sunday night correlate with the expectations for a close game. On the one hand, amongst the game’s faces is that of a battle where Cincy will have to catch up on its opponent. The Rams’ air raid, led by Matthew Stafford and the dominant Cooper Kupp and in the top ten in completion percentage, yards and rating, goes up against a vulnerable Cincinnati passing defense, which allowed the 12th-most yards per throw. The clash between Los Angeles’ pass-rush and the Bengals’ offensive line is in the same boat.

On the other hand, the other unit matchups, except for the aforementioned two, seem shockingly competitive. In some cases, two of the league’s top groups will go head to head. Most important, a breakthrough in those departments could give either LA or Cincinnati a game-deciding advantage.

The four vital matchups heading into Super Bowl LVI are described in the following paragraphs.

Bengals Air Raid vs Rams Secondary

69.2% completion (2nd), 8.7 yards/attempt (1st), 106.9 passer rating (2nd) vs 66.6% completion (24th), 7.2 yards/attempt (22nd), 83.5 passer rating (5th)

Joe Burrow has been one of the sensations of the 2021 National Football League campaign. The 2020 first overall pick out of LSU has lived up to the huge reputation that he built up during his final year in Baton Rogue. Burrow will be the seventh quarterback in NFL history to start a Super Bowl in his second year and could become the fifth to win the Lombardi Trophy.

The Iowa native’s supporting cast has been a mixed bag at best. This only put even more emphasis on his potential when analyzing the success of him and his air raid as a whole. Burrow finished the regular season with a passer rating of 106.8, placing second after Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ air attack ranks first in yards per attempt and second in completion percentage. Even though both Burrow and the Bengals are in the bottom half in attempted throws, this is an efficiency many others can be envious of.

KANSAS CITY, MO – JANUARY 30: Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes from the pocket in the first quarter of the AFC Championship game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs on Jan 30, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What is the AFC champions’ strength is bound to go up against a Rams secondary with a high ceiling but a disappointing 2021 turnout. The unit was fifth in lowest collective passer rating but in the bottom half in both completion percentage and yards per attempt. However, Jalen Ramsey, the secondary’s main outside corner, and his Pro Bowl-caliber regular season display that saw him concede a passer rating of merely 71.1 provide a reason for positivity and hope. Moreover, no corner with more than 40 throws in coverage has a rating north of 95.8.

The relationship between the passer rating and the completion percentage means that Los Angeles is more unstable against a large volume of short-distance attacks than the long ball. This is especially good news with Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals’ main air weapon, being a deep-threat target with eighteen yards per reception. That gives the Rams secondary a serious dose of optimism in their quest to overperform and compete with Burrow’s cast.

Bengals Pass-Rush vs Rams Offensive Line

42 sacks (11th) vs 32 sacks allowed (8th)

The front-line defensive area was one of the most fiercely-addressed departments by Bengals owner Mike Brown. Last year, Cincy produced the fewest sacks in the entirety of professional football. The team was also facing the challenge of replacing sack leader Carl Lawson, who eventually signed with the Jets, only to get injured before the start of the year.

During the offseason, Brown acquired two high-profile assets in free agency. The first one was Trey Hendrickson, who was coming off a career-high 13.5-sack putout in his swan song with the Saints. That transaction was followed up by a one-year deal with former Cleveland Brown Larry Ogunjobi, who plays on the interior, unlike Hendrickson.

These moves were hardly immense gambles but, oh boy, did they pay off. The Bengals climbed all the way from 32nd to 11th, with the new additions contributing to 21 of the group’s 43 sacks. At the same time, even the old suspects went off – Sam Hubbard sacked opposing passers 7.5 times, an increase of almost 300 percent from the previous campaign.

Cincinnati’s D-Line is now a substantial threat for opposing air raids around the league. Their enhanced capabilities could be a vital tool in the club’s mission in Super Bowl LVI. That is because it will be going up against an offensive line it would not have been able to overcome last year.

INGLEWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 05: The Los Angeles Rams offensive line of Austin Corbett #63, Coleman Shelton #65, David Edwards #73 and Andrew Whitworth #77 talks during a time out in the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium on December 5, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

As the Rams replaced Jared Goff by trading for Matt Stafford last January, the QB’s pass-protection retained its effectiveness in the process. The only difference between last winter’s group and this campaign’s unit is the departure of center Austin Blythe and the emergence of Brian Allen, who started sixteen of the team’s seventeen games. That change made for no headaches as Los Angeles allowed just 31 sacks, the eight-fewest in the NFL and a slight fall from last year’s fifth-spot finish.

LAR’s offensive line has been the centerpiece of the squad for quite some time and has consistently provided adequate protection. This time, however, they will face a Bengals pass-rush that is clearly able to interfere with Stafford’s tremendous connection with his wide receivers.

Running Battles

CIN Run vs LAR D – 4.0 yards/run (T-26th) vs 4.0 yards/run (7th)

LAR Run vs CIN D – 4.0 yards/run (T-26th) vs 4.3 yards/run (16th)

Lastly, both the Rams and the Bengals can find a major, and also unexpected, edge by getting their abysmal running factions to overperform at SoFi Stadium.

When it comes to rushing the ball or stopping this process on the defensive side of the ball, the two participants in the upcoming Big Game are staggeringly identical. Firstly, both LA and Cincy averaged exactly four yards per carry, being tied with the Giants and the Panthers for the seventh-worst.

TAMPA, FLORIDA – JANUARY 23: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Los Angeles Rams hands the ball off to teammate Cam Akers #23in the fourth quarter of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Secondly, both rushing defenses proved to be very stable during the regular season. The Rams surrendered the seventh-smallest amount of yardage on the ground while the Bengals were near the middle of the pack.

As a result, both Cam Akers and Joe Mixon, with the former battling injury not helping either, can be anticipated to struggle in the Super Bowl. This means that the attention might be elsewhere for the better part of the game. However, as with the other matchups, a breakthrough here could be the final piece of the championship-sealing puzzle.

Closing Arguments

There are a few notable unit showdowns in which the Rams have a considerable advantage. Meanwhile, there is no field where Cincinnati is in such a situation. Therefore, the Bengals might find the path to victory a tough one. The four unit matchups mentioned above could either result in a turnaround for the Bengals or the Rams sealing their first Super Bowl title in 22 years.

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Teodor Tsenov is a writer in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also a second-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.