Can the LA Rams starve the Bengals opportunistic defense?
The LA Rams have analyzed, dissected, reassembled, and viewed the Cincinnati Bengals from every possible angle so far, and have already arrived at their game plan. But if there is still some fence-sitting among the best strategy, let’s cut right to the chase. These Bengals need the LA Rams to fall behind, to abandon the run, and to make careless mistakes by trying too hard to make a big play with their passing attack. So the answer is? Don’t.
While everyone and their brother have ooh’d and ahh’d over second-year Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who does deserve credit for remaining poised in some very high-pressure situations, the true heroes are the Bengals defense. Six different players have accounted for an interception, and that has led the Bengals to hold an incredible +5 net turnover advantage in three games in their NFL Playoff run so far.
In the playoffs, teams that lose the turnover battle and the Time of Possession battle are often sent home quickly. That has certainly been the case for the Bengals, who have beaten three teams with a deficit in the TOP and each: Tennessee Titans; Las Vegas Raiders; and Kansas City Chiefs; with a -2 in net turnovers.
Turnover and TOP talk
So far, the Rams have won the TOP battle, and have a 0 net turnover statistic. They’ve beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+5 net turnovers), the San Francisco 49ers (0 net turnovers), and the Arizona Cardinals (-2 net turnovers). While some teams will trend in a positive manner for that statistic, some of the occasions are simply the random nature of professional football. Do the Bengals win all of their playoff games if they do not enjoy the gifted possessions of pilfery from that defense?
The Rams had to face and overcome their very own Time of Possession and turnover demons this year. To fix it, the Rams have learned that the offense needs to run with the football, regardless of how effective they are at doing so.
When the LA Rams run 29+ times (which they have done in each playoff game), the Rams force quarterback Matthew Stafford to rely on the entire offense and not try to win the game single-handedly. It also gives the Rams defense a chance to rest up and return to the football field at full strength. But perhaps most of all, it forces the defense to respect play-action, which opens separation for the LA Rams receivers. That allows the Rams to make big passing plays when they need them the most.
Starve the Bengals D, feed Cam Akers?
Can the Rams play mistake-free in Super Bowl LVI? Perhaps not. But the Rams have learned, through trial and error, that committing to the run can help minimize the damage from a miscue or poorly timed turnover. The Bengals need to win the turnover battle to win this game. So it makes sense for the Rams to be even more vigilant at ball security. Starve a cold, feed a fever?
In this case, starve the Bengals’ defense by feeding the ball to RBs Cam Akers, Sony Michel, and Darrell Henderson Jr. If the Rams can achieve the same rushing average as the Bengals previous playoff opponents, a 30 carry performance from a combination of Akers, Michel and Henderson would get about 150-200 yards on the ground alone. That would be one helluva rushing attack for the Rams and would force the Bengals to load up eight defenders in the box.
The Bengals’ defense is very opportunistic and has flourished on their ability to cause mistakes from their opponents. But the Rams have graduated from that course and should match up nicely in this one. Matthew Stafford was just 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns, and zero inceptions against the Arizona Cardinals in the Rams 34-11 victory. While there is no reason to believe that the Rams win this one with that margin of victory, the Rams do not need a 500-yard game to win.
The Bengals most certainly need a huge game from quarterback Joe Burrow. If nothing else, that could be the difference in Super Bowl LVI.