Super Bowl 2022: eight clashes that will decide the result

Through Bucky Brooks
FOX Sports NFL Writer

Preparing for the Super Bowl is undoubtedly producing sleepless nights for Zac Taylor and Sean McVay. They burn the midnight oil thinking of every possible way to gain an advantage over the opposition.

Looking at the matchups that could decide the game, here are eight burning questions the Bengals and Rams will need to answer to secure a victory on Sunday.

1. How will the Bengals’ O line handle Aaron Donald and Von Miller?

After giving up the league’s third-most sacks (55) in the regular season, the Bengals’ offensive line was considered the weakest link on a team with championship-caliber firepower on the perimeter. The scrutiny intensified after Joe Burrow & Co. overcame a Titans nine-sack effort in the divisional round. Although the unit performed better against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, the spotlight remains squarely on the Cincinnati front line.

Shannon Sharpe: “Aaron Donald is already in the top five.”

Shannon Sharpe:

Shannon Sharpe explains where Aaron Donald ranks among the best defensive players in NFL history.

The idea of ​​a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (Donald) and former Super Bowl MVP (Miller) starting on a front line that has struggled with lesser talent should make even fans the most optimistic of the disgusted Bengals. Donald and Miller are two of the most disruptive defensemen in NFL history, and their ability to wreak havoc on opponents as explosive passing throwers helped the Rams’ defense increase in the playoffs. The duo tallied 3.5 sacks and six tackles for the playoff loss, and even those numbers don’t accurately reflect the lingering pressure and chaos created by the tandem at the line of scrimmage.

If the Bengals are unable to contain No. 99 and No. 40 at the point of attack, the explosive offense of Burrow and the Bengals will struggle to make it work against a defense designed to face opponents looking for points. from the pocket.

2. Who corresponds to Ja’Marr Chase?

It’s rare for a rookie to command the attention and respect of the footballing world, but Chase’s dominance on the perimeter is impossible to ignore. The freshman professional has had 1,455 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns this season. And he did it while displaying a rugged style of play that reminds me of Dez Bryant in his heyday.

With Chase clearly established as the Bengals’ No. 1 option in the passing game, the Rams must decide how to minimize his potential impact. Jalen Ramsey is LA’s designated gum in the secondary, but matching him to No. 1 could allow Tee Higgins and/or Tyler Boyd to have big games on the other side. If the Rams play it safe and line up their defensive backs in their normal positions, Burrow could play pitch-and-catch with Chase against a revolving door of outclassed defenders away from Ramsey.

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Top 10 Super Bowl LVI Players

Colin Cowherd ranks the top 10 Super Bowl players, including Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase and Aaron Donald.

The dilemma of the game could prompt Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to use an unconventional double-coverage assignment, with Ramsey taking on Higgins and LA doubling Chase with a cornerback and linebacker or safety. This tactic would be a radical departure from the Rams’ traditional pattern, but it could be the team’s only option to slow down one of the game’s best receivers.

3. Can Matthew Stafford avoid the turnover bug?

There’s no denying that the ultra-talented sniper has added dimension to the Los Angeles offense. The Rams’ explosive plays and average yards per pass attempt have improved dramatically since his arrival, but with the rewards comes risk. Stafford finished the regular season as a co-leader in steals (17) and gave up four pick sixes on errant passes, misreads or poor decisions.

Given the impact turnovers have on the outcome of games, Stafford’s propensity to give away the ball on risky throws makes it difficult to rule out the Bengals’ chances of pulling off an upset on Sunday. If the veteran throws caution to the wind and tries to heroically throw for a big play, he could give the Bengals a few more possessions on costly interceptions.

4. How will the Bengals contain Cooper Kupp?

I’m amazed at how often the Triple Crown winner is wide open, despite everyone in the stadium knowing he’s Stafford’s favorite target and the No. 1 option in the Rams’ passing game. . Kupp was able to win from the slot or out against a variety of cover tactics and rear defense techniques designed to neutralize his effectiveness.

In Super Bowl LVI, the Bengals must keep Kupp a secret for a chance to slow down the Rams’ powerful offense. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo baffled Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs, using a mixture of point drop zones and pattern read coverages to eliminate the deep ball and test the patience of veteran quarterbacks.

Marcellus Wiley: Bengals defense crucial to success

Marcellus Wiley: Bengals defense crucial to success

Marcellus Wiley explains why Cincinnati’s defense is more important to the Bengals’ Super Bowl chances than even QB Joe Burrow.

Additionally, Cincinnati’s umbrella coverage limited access to their opponents’ top targets in the playoffs and forced the quarterback to target different playmakers on the perimeter. Against Stafford and Kupp, the Bengals will need to shade their coverage at No. 10 while finding a way to help the assigned defenseman Odell Beckham Jr.’s ability to burn single coverage down the back of the lineup.

With McVay also fielding Kupp and OBJ on the same side in a variety of stacked formations, it’s harder to completely eliminate Kupp from the progression. The Bengals will have to make it difficult for Stafford to target his favorite receiver on his first read. If Anarumo can come up with a smart tactic, it would take away the QB’s safety blanket.

5. Will Sean McVay stick to the script?

The offensive wizard is making his second Super Bowl appearance, but he’s better prepared to succeed this time around after learning valuable lessons in his debut. McVay was completely passed by Bill Belichick in Super Bowl LIII, with his own “paralysis by analysis” playing a key role in the 13-3 loss.

In Super Bowl LVI, McVay must avoid overthinking the game plan by sticking to the fundamentals that have made the Rams an offensive juggernaut this season. While Stafford’s arrival has led the Rams to use more scattered and empty lineups due to his effectiveness as a quick passer, this offense is at its best when it features the running game to set up a great game and action air attack.

McVay must remember his team’s identity and call the game accordingly. That should translate into a balanced approach, with 25+ runs on the stat sheet and plenty of touches for Cam Akers and Sony Michel. If the Rams take a deliberate approach in the title fight instead of throwing hay from the start, McVay’s team could lift the trophy.

6. Can Evan McPherson shift into the clutch again?

After hearing their fair share of criticism for spending a draft pick on a kicker, the Bengals’ acquisition of “Money Mac” changed the winning formula. The fifth-round pick has been successful on field goal attempts throughout the playoffs, especially from long range.

McPherson hit 12 of 12 attempts, with a pair of winners in three postseason games. That includes his three 50+ yard attempts in the tournament.

Given the odds of this game coming down to the wire, with a kick that ultimately decides the winner, the Bengals could be a long way from winning the title. Based on McPherson’s ultra-confident efficiency at every distance, the scales tip in Cincinnati’s favor every time the No. 2 trots down the field.

7. How will the Rams neutralize Joe Mixon?

Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris will spend every waking hour crafting a plan to stop Joe Burrow, but he can’t overlook Joe Mixon when compiling his call sheet. Mixon is a dynamic weapon out of the backfield, and his versatility could come in handy against a Rams defense determined to get guns out of the perimeter.

Standing 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds with a combination of strength, power and explosiveness that makes him a tough guy to put down in the holeshot, Mixon gives the Bengals some pop in the running game. The fifth-year pro also adds dimension to the passing game as a sticky-fingered playmaker with impeccable timing on the screens.

If the Rams ignore Mixon’s comings and goings on key downs, the No. 28 could make a handful of plays that support drives on the way to putting points on the board in a tightly contested game.

8. Will Joe Burrow keep his cool?

For all the swagger the Bengals franchise quarterback displayed in big games, Burrow is a sophomore pro now playing on the NFL’s biggest stage. Sure, he won a national title as a college kid, but the lights are so much brighter at the Super Bowl.

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Skip Bayless on Joe Burrow

Skip Bayless says Joe Burrow has a better idea of ​​playing QB than Patrick Mahomes.

Can Burrow play this game with the same patience and discipline he showed throughout the playoffs? So far, the QB has avoided the big mistake and opted for checks over hero throws at key moments. With the possibility of becoming a legend at hand, Burrow will have to resist the urge to do too much with the ball in his hands.

Given how we’ve seen All-Pros and Pro Bowlers crumble under pressure in previous Super Bowls, it’ll be interesting to see if Burrow can keep his cool while playing in a Super Bowl with big expectations.

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports and appears regularly on “Speak For Yourself.” He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and is a co-host of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast.

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