Super Bowl LVI is on the horizon, now only a couple of days away. Naturally, that means we here at The Draft Network are here to continue breaking down all of the “Big Game” storylines that will come into play this weekend. On Thursday, I broke down the battle in the trenches that could prove crucial on Sunday, but the matchup between the Bengals’ O-line and Rams’ D-line isn’t the only one to look out for. One of the most important one-on-one clashes we’ll see in this year’s Super Bowl is on the outside: Cincinnati receiver Ja’Marr Chase versus Los Angeles cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Chase has been the Bengals’ X-factor, their game-changer, all season long. After Cincinnati made waves with their decision to pair Joe Burrow back up with his college teammate rather than draft an offensive lineman, the receiver has done everything to prove it was the right choice. Chase set NFL rookie records in single-game receiving yards and postseason receiving yards, and he broke fellow LSU receiver Justin Jefferson’s post-merger rookie receiving yards record as well. Aside from his personal accomplishments, Chase elevated his quarterback and the Bengals’ offense as a whole. He combined his ability to win on the outside using his route-running and contested-catch ability with incredible yards-after-catch potential. The result was a huge leap in Cincinnati’s explosive play potential from the year before. On the other side of this matchup is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL over the last five seasons. Since 2017, only two players have as many passes defended and combined tackles as Ramsey—the Denver Broncos’ Kyle Fuller and New York Giants’ James Bradberry—and each has played in more games. What makes Ramsey so special is his versatility in coverage. For one thing, he’s fast, so he can cover fast guys down the field. For another, he’s physical. Ramsey doesn’t allow himself to get bullied or steamrolled in coverage by bigger guys, something he displayed in his matchup against Mike Evans in this year’s NFC divisional round. That’s why Ramsey’s matchup with Chase will be particularly interesting. The receiver and cornerback’s measured 40-yard dash times line up almost exactly—around 4.4 seconds. And not only is Chase fast, but he’s also one of the most physical receivers in the league. The skill sets of these two players match perfectly, and they’ll be lining up against each other one-on-one on Sunday. Ironically, another reason why this particular matchup is so important is because of how it affects the other 20 players on the field. What many teams started doing against the Bengals during the later parts of the season was dropping two safeties deep in an attempt to shut down Chase. While the primary goal of that change in strategy worked, it opened up the possibility for Cincinnati’s other stellar receivers—Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd—to get more involved. Or it leaves the run box emptier for Joe Mixon to go to work. Or, as the Chiefs learned a couple of weeks ago, it likely leaves Burrow open without a spy to take off scrambling for potential big gains. The Bengals’ receivers are arguably the most dangerous receiving trio in the NFL. That means the Rams can’t afford to use up all of their focus only on stopping Chase, even though he may be the most serious threat when he’s left in one-on-one coverage. This leads us back to the importance of Ramsey winning in coverage on Sunday. If he’s able to keep up with Chase’s speed and physicality in isolated coverage—which should be possible, given the corner’s history—defensive coordinator Raheem Morris can focus on other things, like making Burrow uncomfortable or stopping the run. If Ramsey can’t win consistently, Los Angeles is just going to have to hope that their strong D-line can keep getting to Burrow before he can get the ball to Chase. Otherwise, just like the last time Burrow and Chase played with a championship on the line, the duo is going to light up their opponent’s defense.
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