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Super Bowl LVI: First impressions of the matchup, storylines

Similar to everybody anticipated, here’s a preview of the Los Angeles Rams’ try at profitable a Super Bowl towards the (double-checks notes) Cincinnati Bengals! On the heels of one of the biggest playoff tournaments in trendy NFL historical past, through which 5 straight video games have been selected the closing play and the Bengals turned one of simply two groups in playoff historical past to win an additional time recreation with out profitable the coin toss, we have now a completely sudden Super Bowl. From the NFC, a star-studded roster perpetually mortgaging their future for the likelihood to make video games like this. From the AFC, a homegrown roster peppered with a handful of fantastically overperforming free brokers who all orbit round their collective solar, quarterback Joe Burrow.

Let’s get into it…

Who does Las Vegas suppose will win?

The Rams are at the moment a 3.5 level favourite, in keeping with SI Sportsbook. Whereas an enormous deal is being made of the truth {that a} second straight workforce will play of their house stadium, this is not going to be an overwhelmingly pro-Rams crowd. There have been a number of instances on Sunday that the Rams had to make use of a silent rely in their very own stadium on offense. Makes an attempt to curb the 49ers’ ticket purchases have been laughably ineffective. A Super Bowl all the time produces a impartial crowd anyway, which is able to additional drown out the Rams’ nascent Los Angeles fan base.

Bengals followers journey impressively effectively. A primary-hand account of their presence in Nashville reveals a willingness to make the journey. It is a magical run. They are going to be effectively represented.

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How do the Rams win this recreation?

Whereas it seemed like some Rams followers have been overtly rooting for a Bengals victory previous to their very own win on Sunday, Cincinnati’s success defending the perimeter towards the Chiefs cuts at the coronary heart of what the Rams accomplish that effectively. The fourth-down cease of Tyreek Hill and the approach their protection instinctively flooded a short-yardage bread-and-butter play is an efficient microcosm of the instinctive effort performs Lou Anarumo’s protection have proven all through the playoffs. Sean McVay typically bets that his opponents are going to battle to make open-field tackles. It’s the identical core philosophy that drove Kyle Shanahan to load up on YAC superstars like Deebo Samuel. It’s the motive Cooper Kupp is a triple crown winner at the large receiver place.

San Francisco 49ers defensive back Dontae Johnson (27) tackles Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif.

Kupp’s presence in the display recreation is gorgeous to look at. He slithered by means of a really aggressive 49ers secondary on Sunday and has crushed nearly any type of protection groups have thrown at him. He’s the Rams’ quick yardage/operating recreation when the operating recreation isn’t efficient. When the Cardinals found out a solution to neutralize him just a few weeks in the past, Odell Beckham and Tyler Higbee have been in a position to dominate in isolation.

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The Rams can win and can win if they can dictate the phrases by which the protection has to play. If McVay will get an opportunity to place the chess items on the board, there isn’t a approach he can lose. If the protection is simply too scared to get after Matt Stafford, cautious of downfield passing performs, if he is ready to get off some semblance of a operating recreation, the Bengals can kiss their miracle season goodbye.

That is very true if Los Angeles can construct some semblance of a lead. We noticed that illustrated effectively towards the 49ers. Whereas Von Miller’s title wasn’t referred to as a complete bunch, Raheem Morris dials up the good delayed blitz to pressure Jimmy Garoppolo’s hand on the knockout interception. When this protection is aware of they’ll merely rush the passer, they’re set as much as totally dominate.

How do the Bengals win this recreation?

I’m unsure how many individuals might be speaking about Samaje Perine’s landing earlier than the half, which made an unmanageable recreation a 21–10 deficit, however they need to. It was indicative of the type of effort performs the Bengals have gotten from their talent place gamers that hold them in video games and alter the complexion of what the opposing protection is making an attempt to do.

This was much like Ja’Marr Chase’s massive catch against the Titans, which was on one of the few performs that Mike Vrabel determined to ship additional rushers and prevented Vrabel from doing so once more (though the Titans nonetheless had loads of success with fundamental four-man strain). 

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The Bengals win this recreation by conserving Joe Burrow considerably upright, permitting him some small stretches of time to get in rhythm and getting one other one of these large, game-altering performs on offense. Will or not it’s any harder towards the Rams? Probably. 

Whereas Zac Taylor was inventive along with his utilization of Chase on Sunday, at instances making him a decoy to lighten the field for Joe Mixon, he’ll must yank Chase out of the Jalen Ramsey lure and pressure the Rams to respect their very proficient set of complementary wideouts. They’ll additionally want to determine Mixon early in the recreation, which is a tricky ask on condition that the Rams will seemingly use Aaron Donald over their weaker proper aspect, forcing all the operating performs to the reverse aspect the place a swath of defenders are ready.

What are the main story strains?

• Early Sean McVay legacy recreation: McVay continues to be solely 36 years previous however is three years faraway from his first journey to the Super Bowl. He’s been open and trustworthy about the classes he’s realized, particularly not diversifying sufficient of what he did effectively throughout the postseason to match the protection Invoice Belichick trotted out particularly to stamp out some of their staple offensive ideas. After all, McVay has offered a training masterclass over his first few years in the NFL and has weathered an awfully tough NFC playoff discipline to get again to the Super Bowl. He’s additionally now armed with one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL. Successful this recreation takes him from a doubtlessly seemingly future Corridor of Famer to a could-he-ever-rival-Belichick type of profession.

• Matt Stafford in the Super Bowl: Whereas it appeared inconceivable for thus a few years on condition that he was on the Lions, Stafford is now in the largest recreation of his life; the type of video games he stated he wished he may play in all these lonely years in Michigan. The second legitimizes all of the decide and cap gymnastics the Rams have needed to do, each to clear the books of Jared Goff’s contract and to convey Stafford aboard in the first place. Now, Stafford might be pressured with returning the favor. Whereas he has been super in Los Angeles, he has not been resistant to some Goff-ian interceptions and almost tossed a season-ending one towards the 49ers on Sunday. Had the decide not been dropped in the fourth quarter, permitting the 49ers an opportunity to go up 10 factors, we might be discussing a vastly totally different type of Stafford narrative.

• Andrew Whitworth, the Rams’ seemingly ageless offensive sort out, spent the majority of his profession in Cincinnati and is maybe the final energetic bridge to each the Bengals’ rocky previous and their string of playoff failures. Whitworth’s departure was seen, at the time, for instance of the Bengals white-flag waving in free company, averse to spending cash.

Joe Burrow playing for the Bengals.

• Joe Burrow’s star rising: Burrow got here to the NFL with a repute as one of the greatest big-game gamers in latest school soccer historical past. Nonetheless, what he has completed at the NFL degree is just transcendent. We’re witnessing one of the biggest runs for a younger quarterback in NFL historical past, and he may turn into the first individual ever to win a Heisman, school nationwide title and a Super Bowl. Via all of it, he has been unflappable, participating, robust, and tireless. With every week off to get dialed in for Raheem Morris’s protection, there ought to be little doubt left in his skill to maintain this recreation shut.

• One other battle of acquainted minds: Zac Taylor was Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator in Los Angeles earlier than taking the Bengals job and represents the second coach McVay has confronted in a row with intimate data of how he likes to function. Kyle Shanahan did a superb job forcing McVay to punch with one hand behind his again schematically. Taylor will little question have his personal concepts. As the nouveau-Shanahan tree begins to unfold all through the NFL, these matchups are going to turn into more and more frequent. Will the relative stalemates?

• What’s subsequent for Odell Beckham? Beckham’s 9 catches for 113 yards towards the 49ers was a benchmark of types, forcing groups to acknowledge that he’s merely unguardable in single protection. His humble beginnings in Los Angeles weren’t for lengthy. He showcased a capability to digest a posh playbook rapidly and to grasp the nuances of a McVay offense that hinges on the splendidly small particulars. It looks like one other life and time that Beckham first stepped into our consciousness as a one-handed catching rookie phenom. And that could be true. However he’s come by means of some dry spells to emerge as one of the Rams’ offensive fulcrums. The extra he embraces this technique, the extra it loves him again.

Extra NFL Protection:

• The Bengals Are the NFL’s Greatest Underdog Story in Many years
• Cooper Kupp’s Scientific Method to Greatness
• Von Miller on His Commerce, OBJ and Cleveland, and Demaryius Thomas’s Loss of life
• Joe Burrow’s Rise, Via the Eyes of His Mother and father
• Convention Championship Sunday Takeaways: Burrow Makes Magic 

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