Super Bowl LVI kicks off this weekend in Los Angeles, where the upstart Bengals travel to play the hometown Rams. Here are The 33rd Team’s four key Super Bowl matchups to watch during the big game that could decide who lifts the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the night.
Rams CB Jalen Ramsey vs. Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase
The obvious choice to lead off, NFL fans will be treated to a 1-on-1 heavyweight fight between two of the best players in the league. Both Jalen Ramsey and Ja’Marr Chase made the AP All-Pro team this season, with Ramsey making 1st team and Chase being 2nd team. Chase is the undisputed big-play threat for the Bengals and Joe Burrow’s favorite target, so expect Ramsey to shadow Chase to whatever side of the ball he lines up on in an effort to minimize his impact on the game. Look for how the Bengals adjust their playcalls to get Chase in space, using screen, picks, and motions to put some distance or bodies between Chase and the talented DB.
Rams DL Aaron Donald vs. Bengals LT Jonah Williams
If the Bengals are going to win this game, they simply cannot afford to struggle against the Rams pass rush the way that they did against the Titans in the Divisional Round. Jonah Williams gave up two sacks in that game, but bounced back nicely against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship. He’ll face his biggest test of the season on the biggest stage, lining up across from what some consider the best player in the league in Aaron Donald.
Donald has 16 pressures and 2 sacks this postseason thanks in part to having other pass rush threats to take pressure off of him like Von Miller and Leonard Floyd. With 36 sacks between Donald, Floyd, and Miller, the Bengals are going to have their hands full along the offensive line. Look for the Bengals to chip pass rushers with running backs or CJ Uzomah if he is cleared to play.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp vs. Bengals CB Mike Hilton
Fresh off a regular season triple-crown title and providing the knockout blow to the defending Super Bowl champions two weeks ago, Cooper Kupp has shredded defenses all season. Kupp lines up in the slot over 66% of his snaps, so Bengals slot CB Mike Hilton will have the task of preventing Kupp from breaking off a big play.
Hilton has yet to give up a touchdown in coverage this postseason and has only allowed 82 receiving yards total (27.3/game). While his coverage grades have been stellar, he has missed 4 tackles over that same span. If Hilton can lock up Kupp and limit yards after catch with clean tackling, he could be the difference maker that the Bengals need to slow down a potent Rams offense.
Rams LB Troy Reeder vs. Bengals RB Joe Mixon
While Joe Mixon hasn’t crossed the 100 yards rushing threshold since Week 12 against Pittsburgh, he has become a more dynamic pass catcher in the back half of the season. He has 23 catches over the past 5 games (4.6 receptions/game) and has over 80 total yards in 4 of those 5 games. Troy Reeder is LA’s only true inside-the-box LB and a natural opposite for Mixon.
While Mixon comes into Super Bowl Sunday with some positive momentum, Reeder is coming off of one of his worst games this season. After missing 4 tackles against the 49ers in the NFC Championship, Reeder will need to have a significant turnaround to slow down a dangerous runner like Mixon. Keep an eye on the way the Bengals use Mixon in this game, as Bengals HC Zac Taylor will no doubt look to scheme up a way for Mixon to be lined up across from Reeder in single coverage.