Bengals vs. Rams: Super Bowl LVI Pre-Preview

Troy Reeder, Los Angeles Rams
Troy Reeder, Los Angeles Rams
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Super Bowl - I'm currently working on my 19th Super Bowl preview. It's always amazing to think about how long I've been doing this stuff! Here's the first one to jog your memories. Usually we run our big Super Bowl preview article either Friday or Thursday afternoon before the game. Unfortunately, this means waiting until the end of the week for all of our stat tidbits that prepare you for the big matchup. It was one thing when we were the only site doing a Super Bowl preview packed with advanced stats. Now you can get all kinds of advanced metrics from all kinds of websites. So I wanted to get a jump on things with a special pre-preview.

This is just me emptying my notebook with five of the cool stat splits that I've found while preparing our Super Bowl LVI preview. Not a lot of commentary here, I'll leave that up to the readers in the comment thread. These stats will all appear again when we get to the actual Super Bowl preview at the end of the week, but here's a little taste of what we've found.

1) First, let's look at the trends for both teams. We'll start with the Bengals offense and the Rams defense. Instead of splitting things at Week 10, I used the more natural split of each team's bye week. I also removed Week 18 from the Bengals, as they sat many of their starters for that game. Remember that defensive DVOA is better when it is lower (i.e. less offense).

Bengals Offense by Week, 2021
Weeks Pass Rk Run Rk All Rk
Weeks 1-9 6.9% 24 -14.7% 24 -6.1% 23
Weeks 11-17 34.4% 6 -7.5% 16 13.9% 8
Playoffs* 25.6% 4 -8.1% 8 4.4% 5
Rams Defense by Week, 2021
Weeks Pass Rk Run Rk All Rk
Weeks 1-10 4.0% 10 -12.6% 11 -3.1% 7
Weeks 12-18 -8.3% 10 -25.6% 2 -15.8% 4
Playoffs* -43.9% 2 -29.4% 6 -38.8% 2
*Playoff ranks out of 14 teams

As you can see, the Bengals offense has dramatically improved since midseason, but so has the Rams defense. The Rams defense got even better in the playoffs, especially against the pass, while the Bengals offense let down a little bit.

Now here are the Rams offense and the Bengals defense.

Rams Offense by Week, 2021
Weeks Pass Rk Run Rk All Rk
Weeks 1-10 35.3% 4 -2.0% 11 16.3% 2
Weeks 12-18 13.3% 12 -6.0% 15 2.4% 12
Playoffs* 78.2% 2 -44.4% 13 16.2% 3
Bengals Defense by Week, 2021
Weeks Pass Rk Run Rk All Rk
Weeks 1-9 14.7% 20 -10.5% 16 5.3% 22
Weeks 11-17 6.9% 21 -12.3% 11 -0.9% 18
Playoffs* -14.9% 5 4.7% 13 -7.9% 8
*Playoff ranks out of 14 teams

The Rams passing game let down a bit in the second half of the season but has rebounded with a strong performance in the playoffs. Their running game has been horrific the last three games. As for the Bengals, their defense is playing better in the postseason than it did in the regular season. I think this is the biggest disconnect between the Bengals' actual performance this season and how the media is talking about the team going into the Super Bowl. This was not a great defense during the regular season. This wasn't even a good defense. This was a very mediocre defense until the last three games. Which is more likely: that the Bengals will continue their performance of the last three games, or play more like they did during the entire regular season? Not even three games, by the way; Cincinnati's defense had a 6.3% DVOA against the Raiders, so we're really just talking about two games of strong defense here.

2. These offenses use empty backfields more than any other teams in the NFL. Rams used empty on 18% of plays to lead the league. The Bengals were second at 14%. But there's a significant difference in how well each team defended against empty backfields during the regular season, including how often they brought pressure and saw pressure according to Sports Info Solutions charting.

Rams and Bengals with Empty Backfields, 2021
Unit Yds Rk DVOA Rk Press Rk
Rams offense 7.4 3 45.6% 4 15.3% 4
Bengals defense 7.7 30 22.3% 23 20.2% 28
Bengals offense 6.5 11 5.7% 21 24.5% 15
Rams defense 5.6 10 -18.8% 5 32.4% 3

3) The Bengals offense didn't rank in the top 10 in any down/play combination during the regular season. Their best ranks were 12th rushing on first down and 12th passing on third and fourth down. They also didn't rank any lower than 18th in any of the down/play combinations except for ranking 30th when running on third and fourth down.

The Rams offense in the top 10 for every down/play combination except for 32nd running on third and fourth downs. Neither team had a very good record getting those important short-yardage runs on third and fourth down: Rams at 54% (29th) and Cincinnati at 51% (31st).

4) The Rams on defense rank first in ESPN's pass rush win rate, led by Aaron Donald who is on a different planet than other defensive tackles in ESPN's pass-rushing stats. The Rams are also third in pressure rate and eighth in adjusted sack rate. The Bengals ranked 30th in pass block win rate and 31st in adjusted sack rate, although they were surprisingly only 14th in pressure rate according to Sports Info Solutions charting.

The Bengals' individual ranks in PBWR are as bad as you imagine. Again, this data is courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info.

  • Left tackle Jonah Williams ranked 50th out of 68 tackles.
  • Left guard Quinton Spain ranked 62th out of 63 guards.
  • Center Trey Hopkins 26th out of 32 centers.
  • Right guard Hakeem Adeniji ranked 57th out of 63 guards.
  • Right tackle Isaiah Prince did not have enough snaps to qualify but would have ranked 59th among tackles if he had qualified.
  • Jackson Carman, who replaced Adeniji when the Bengals pulled him in the AFC Championship Game, also did not have enough snaps to qualify. However, his pass block win rate including the playoffs would be the lowest among any of the qualified guards on ESPN's leaderboard.

5) Rams ranked 29th in DVOA against passes in the short middle of the field. Including the postseason, the Bengals rank seventh in offensive DVOA on passes in the short middle of the field, so this is a good weakness for them to attack. The injury to C.J. Uzomah might lead you to believe that the Bengals won't be as strong on short middle passes, but Uzomah was only fourth in short middle targets on the Bengals. Tyler Boyd is the most frequent target in the short middle and Tee Higgins is the most effective. Including a DPI, Higgins gained a first down or touchdown on 22 of his 27 targets in the short middle of the field.

Troy Reeder played 59% of snaps for the Rams during the regular season and 86% or more of the snaps in each of the last six games. so he's usually sitting in the middle no matter which defensive personnel the Rams are using.

Our full Super Bowl LVI preview will appear on Thursday afternoon, but I hope you enjoyed this pre-preview.


6 comments, Last at 09 Feb 2022, 12:33pm

#1 by matu_72 // Feb 07, 2022 - 3:26pm

It will be interesting to see if the Bengals use their inside receivers to chip the Rams outside pass rushers when they go empty. Will the chips help much, and will the chipping affect the Bengals ability to attack the short middle?

Points: 0

#2 by Aaron Brooks G… // Feb 07, 2022 - 3:38pm

The Rams rush is more inside-out than outside-in. I'm not sure that's a boon, really.

LA was attacking in the first two games by lining a LB over the center with Donald and the other DT head-up on the guard, which is basically unfair. If you waste receivers chipping the DEs, you're using 7 to block 5.

Points: 0

#3 by matu_72 // Feb 07, 2022 - 4:01pm

The alternative is to rely on Burrow to get the ball out quickly, which he didn't do a great job of in the playoff game against Tennessee. If they don't have a good plan for the Rams pass rushers, this could get ugly.

I wonder what the Rams defensive numbers are against screens. 

Points: 0

#4 by Tutenkharnage // Feb 07, 2022 - 4:53pm

The Rams have weaknesses the Bengals can attack, but they're the better team overall, and if the Super Bowl tends to hammer one lesson home, it's that the team with the better defense generally has the bigger edge. That's Los Angeles in this game. Both coaches are capable of blowing this game, and both quarterbacks are capable of winning the game or losing it by themselves, but the Rams have nastier playmakers on defense, and a better offensive line. Add it all up, and laying the points seems like the safe bet. But that's why they play the games, right?

Points: 0

#5 by vrao81 // Feb 08, 2022 - 9:02am

I think a big portion of how this game can swing relies on coaching adjustments. Last time in the SB vs pats McVay didnt make adjustments. Will he this time around?

Points: 0

#6 by takeleavebelieve // Feb 09, 2022 - 12:33pm

The OL couldn’t figure out how to block stunts/twists, and Goff couldn’t make anything happen with 7 guys dropping back in coverage. I’m not sure what adjustments he realistically could’ve made.

Points: 0

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