Super Bowl LVI is just a few days away as the Los Angeles Rams are set to face the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Both offenses, although different in terms of personnel, look similar based on how their general statistics look. Each team ranked in the bottom ten in rushing yards during the regular season, and the Rams and Bengals were 25th and 26th, respectively, in yards per carry. As can be inferred from this, both Super Bowl teams relied heavily on their passing attacks to lead their offenses.
Each team finished the regular season in the top-seven in passing yards and passing touchdowns, showing proficiency in throwing the football. However, the way these teams accumulated these figures was vastly different.
In the plot above, yards per reception is compared to yards after the catch per reception. Ultimately, the goal is to rack up as many yards as possible, whether this comes before the catch or after the catch. Both teams accomplished this as they each are in the top-three in the NFL for yards per catch. But, Cincinnati is above the trend line while LA is below it in this scatterplot. Let’s break down why this is the case.
Air Attack vs. YAC
As a team, the Rams have posted an average depth of target of 8.9 yards, nearly one yard more than the Bengals. Although it isn't necessarily the case, shorter passing attacks in the NFL often result in more yards accumulated after the catch. One example of this from 2021 has been the 49ers. San Francisco led the NFL in yards per reception by over half of a yard, yet the team didn’t finish in the top-20 for average depth of target. This is only possible because the 49ers led the league in yards after the catch per reception, the only team to exceed Cincinnati’s average.
Another way this idea can be looked at is relative to the first down marker. Cincinnati has had 38.1% of its pass attempts go farther than the first down while LA has seen nearly 45% of its passes travel past the sticks. As one would anticipate, the Bengals have gained a higher percentage of their passing yards from yards after the catch than the Rams. More specifically, Cincinnati has outperformed LA in yards after the catch per reception by over one yard. Oppositely, Los Angeles has accumulated more yards through the air than Cincinnati, since air yards and yards after the catch are inversely related.
An additional factor that has contributed to the Bengals and Rams having different styles of passing is the aptness to shake off tacklers. Cincinnati has racked up over 350 receiving yards after contact more than LA, despite the Rams having 20 more catches. In a similar light, the Bengals have forced 21 more missed tackles on receptions than the Rams, contributing to their ability to pick up yards after the catch.
Comparing Skill Players
Focusing on the individual players now, average depth of target has been a differentiator between the two franchises competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. Of all players with 100 or more receiving snaps, the Rams’ five qualifying wide receivers of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson, and Bennett Skowronek have all had high average depth of target figures, each finishing in the top-seven among Super Bowl players. Their deeper targets have led to fewer yards after the catch. This is especially noticeable at the tight end position, as Tyler Higbee has an average of over one yard of depth per target higher than C.J. Uzomah.
Given the aforementioned information about yards after the catch, it is not unexpected that Cincinnati has the top-four players in yards after the catch per reception. Comparing the tight ends once again, Uzomah has an average of over one yard after the catch more than Higbee. Looking at receiving yards after contact, the Bengals have six of the top-seven players; only Kupp has found his way into the top-seven for LA. These numbers help reinforce the passing offenses’ different styles of attack.
In a combination of Joe Burrow’s quicker average time to throw this season, potentially an element of being under duress more than Matthew Stafford, the former LSU Tiger has a higher completion percentage than his Super Bowl quarterback counterpart. Due to the personnel and the strengths of his team, Stafford has been tasked with sitting in the pocket for longer and delivering deeper passes, on average, to his targets to lead his top-five passing offense. Burrow, on the other hand, has been asked to throw the ball shorter and quicker to his skill position players to tally passing yards. Although different in some capacity, both quarterbacks have led their high-powered offenses to Super Bowl LVI. Now only one question remains - which will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and potentially the Pete Rozelle Trophy, on Sunday?
All statistics provided by PFF via TruMedia