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Los Angeles Rams

Bengals OL vs Rams DL: Matchup That’ll Decide Super Bowl 56

  • Jack McKessy
  • February 12, 2022
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It seems impossible, but Super Bowl LVI is already right around the corner. One of the most important matchups in this year’s “Big Game” takes place in the trenches, as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line will have to try and stop a dominant Los Angeles Rams defensive line all day. That will be a pretty tall task for a variety of reasons. First and foremost is the obvious fact that the Bengals have struggled to protect Joe Burrow this season, and that goes back to Cincinnati’s strategy in last year’s draft. Rather than taking one of the top offensive linemen available with the fifth overall pick, the Bengals opted to pair Burrow with his college teammate: wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Now, Chase has been a massive impact player for his team in his rookie season, breaking several NFL and franchise rookie records along the way. As a result, he’ll likely end up winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award at the NFL Honors show Thursday night. But the decision not to draft a big guy up front with that pick was still shocking. It was especially surprising in the wake of Burrow’s brutal leg injury in his rookie season, which happened because of that lack of protection. So, the Bengals have a subpar offensive line, to put it lightly. But they’ve made it this far, all the way to the Super Bowl, even after giving up a record-tying nine sacks in a single postseason game against the Tennessee Titans. However, they also limited the havoc that the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive front might have created with Chris Jones and Melvin Ingram. That credit doesn’t all belong to the offensive line, though. Burrow had to perform some heroic escape acts of his own. The quarterback only took one sack on 16 pressured dropbacks, and he was able to use his legs to scramble for some key first downs late in the game. Looking across the field at who makes up the Rams’ defensive front, we see another reason why keeping Burrow protected will be easier said than done. Spoiler alert: Los Angeles’ pass-rush attack is downright scary. Los Angeles generally runs a base 3-4 defense with their three-man line consisting of Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, and A’Shawn Robinson. This season, the three of them combined for 18.5 sacks. Donald continued his dominance at the line of scrimmage and led all NFL defensive tackles in pass rush win rate. Gaines and Robinson weren’t slouches either, both finishing in the top 10 of NFL defensive tackles with run stop win rates over 40%. Meanwhile, as opponents’ offensive lines had to worry about blocking guys up the middle, outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Von Miller found tons of success in their pass rush. Floyd tallied 9.5 sacks and 37 pressures during the regular season, and Miller—a former Super Bowl MVP himself—racked up five sacks and 14 pressures of his own in just eight regular-season games for the Rams. That means the whole Rams’ defensive front is something the Bengals should be worried about. But the guy most likely to have a big day on Sunday is Donald. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has been successful against just about everything thrown at him this year. He had the highest pass-rush win rate against solo blockers during the regular season, and his win rate against double-teams was also a league-high at 23.1 percent Still, the best bet for the Bengals in their attempts to block Donald will be to put as many men in front of him as they can. One strategy other teams have used to some success is also the simple answer: set the pass protection to Donald’s side and slide the center over to help protect the inside. It sounds simple and it’s probably easier said than done, but the key to stopping the Rams’ dominant defensive lineman has been to put more guys in front of him. With this strategy, even when Donald beats the guard in front of him, the center is available to step up and at least slow him down. This is especially crucial for the Bengals’ offensive line. While they are weakest at right guard, they’ve gotten a strong showing from center Trey Hopkins in recent games. At the end of the day, Donald is just one guy, and each player on the Rams’ defensive front is capable of doing damage against any team. After all, Los Angeles’ defense was the No. 1 team in the NFL in pass-rush win rate during the regular season. Considering the Bengals’ offensive line was 30th in pass-block win rate, we’ll probably see a lot of chaos created by the Rams’ front seven. Whether the Bengals can come up with a plan to stop them all—or at least slow them down—ahead of Sunday will be what decides the outcome of this year’s Super Bowl.

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Jack McKessy