Super Bowl Preview

The Rams and Bengals will put it all on the line this Sunday, and the X-factor may be someone you didn’t expect.


Karthik Iyer, Staff Editor

We have reached the End Times, folks. The Cincinnati Bengals are finally a relevant NFL franchise. Led by Joe “Brrr” Burrow, Ja’marr Chase, and Trey Hendrickson – hey, someone has to play defense – they have defeated the Raiders, Titans, and the Partick Mahomes-led Chiefs on their way to the promised land, within tantalizing reach of that ever-so elusive Lombardi Trophy.

In other news, the Los Angeles Rams also decided to show up (gross).

The Super Bowl is a spectacle to the average American citizen for a number of reasons, from the halftime show, which will be graced by Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, and D-O-Double-G!, to that one ad by the company your uncle works for – unfortunately, he won’t stop talking about until next year. But on the football side of things, there are two main battles that will ultimately decide the war. The first encounter will be between the Rams’ defensive line, led by human wrecking ball Aaron Donald, versus the Bengals’ offensive line, a.k.a Swiss Cheese™. Articles have been written ad infinitum over the magnitude of the beatdown the Rams’ D-line will inflict, so I thought I’d go over a matchup bound to be a little bit more competitive.

Bengals Wide Receivers vs. Rams Secondary. Fight!

If you follow the NFL and keep a lazy eye on the Bengals, you know two things. One,Joe Burrow is a beast. Two, Ja’marr Chase might be even more than a beast.

There’s not a lot of analysis needed to be done on Chase, honestly. Dade is a straight-up baller. He has the straight-line speed, the route running, the soft hands, the physicality, everything you can ask for in terms of traits. The cherry on top is the it factor. He is better than you – he knows it, you know it, and 15 seconds later when you’re lying on the ground and he’s in the end zone, everyone in the stadium knows it. Pretty much every other team would have no answer, but the Rams have Jalen Ramsey. He has every bit of that it factor that Chase has, in my opinion. He has the straight-line speed, hip fluidity, recovery ability, and ball-tracking skills that comprise a Hall of Fame talent. Given this convenient solution, you might expect the Rams to rely on their talent and play a coverage like this.



This coverage is called “Cover 3”. It is named this because there is one extra defender, the safety labeled “FS”, as well as the two cornerbacks labeled “CB”, playing farther down the field. The “Deep ⅓” refers to each of the three deep defenders’ coverage responsibilities. You may notice that the “CB” at the bottom of the picture is closer to his receiver than the “CB” at the top. The bottom “CB” would be Jalen Ramsey, given his talent and ability to cover a receiver like Chase better than any other player on his team. In fact, the defense may switch this coverage to having the safety (labeled “FS”) only help the cornerback on the top of the screen given that the cornerback would need more help. This would switch Ramsey’s assignment into a “MEG” call, short for “Man Everywhere He Goes.” Ramsey has no help, he is one-on-one, mano-y-mano. How will he fare?

Well, since I’m going full-on Bengals homer, let’s say he gets burned. Not to worry, the safety can help him, right?


Dead wrong.

Enter Tee Higgins, who, get this, is 6-foot-4. Pretty impressive, right? He also runs a 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds.

Four. point. three. nine. seconds.















You beautiful man.

If the Rams play Cover 3 like in the diagram above, their second corner is going to be dead to rights. The Rams’ second corner is Darious Williams, who runs a 4.44 40, more than enough to keep up with Higgins, but he’s 5’9”. I’m sorry, but size is size, and if Joe Burrow can hit the frontside of a barn with his deep ball (which he can pretty easily), then I’m betting on Higgins’ length to snare that ball in every time.

So if Ramsey gets burned and Williams gets burned, who will that single safety on the back end help cover?


















I think that sums it up pretty nicely.

Yes, I made a badly conceived meme for a football article, and then screen-shotted it so there wasn’t a watermark. Fight me.

There is good news for Rams fans, however (FYI, if you are a Rams fan, please stay away from me until the next preseason. Thanks). As the famous Dwight Clark line goes, “Yeah, well, they get coached, too.” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris would be remiss to put his secondary in a position to fail, like they would be in Cover 3 or Cover 1, which is Cover 3 with the cornerbacks getting less help from the safety. So, what is the trick up his sleeve?












Two is better than one, right? At least that’s what I learned while stealing toys in kindergarten. Cover 4 isn’t really a trick, but it does provide more help for the cornerbacks. One safety can help one cornerback, while another safety can help the other. Wait a minute, where did this magical extra safety come from? Well, if you take a look back at the Cover 3 image, you may notice that the strong safety labeled “SS” is near the line of scrimmage, or where the big guys line up. That safety is now playing further down the field, precisely to help cover dangerous wide receivers such as Chase and Higgins. The Rams may also run a variation of Cover 4 known as Cover 6.














This is pretty much the same coverage, except the cornerback at the top of the screen with “Flat” next to him has rotated down, and will only be responsible for his assigned wide receiver up until 10-15 yards downfield, at which the safety with the big “Deep ½” bubble over him will be responsible for that wide receiver. 

Ok, well, that settles it then. The Rams have successfully bottled up the Bengals’ potent offensive attack. Game, set, match, pack your bags, have fun in Cabo, Cincy. 

















Not so fast. 

The Bengals have a third great wide receiver, and his name is Tyler Boyd. You don’t need to know much about Tyler, other than he is a smooth route runner. Like, knife-through-soft-butter smooth. This makes him highly effective at routes that have sharp breaks, either in or out. A defender that lacks that same smooth-ness will have a very tough time keeping up with him. There is a very good route combination that can take advantage of all three of these receivers’ unique abilities. 














Welcome, readers, to the Stick concept.

The Stick concept really works its magic against zone coverages on the right side. Let’s imagine Ja’Marr Chase is the “X” receiver in this setup, and he is running the described corner route (the one on the left), because he’s just good at that stuff. This leaves Higgins as the “Z” receiver, running in a straight line, and Boyd as the “S” or slot receiver, running an out route that breaks 90 degrees to the outside.







So in this hypothetical scenario, Jalen Ramsey is guarding Ja’Marr Chase. Let’s ignore them for now. Darious Williams, who is 5’9”, is matched up against a 6’4” Tee Higgins who technically runs faster than him. They are on the outside. You can be damn sure that safety is not worried about an out route that only goes 5-7 yards downfield over a go route (which is straight down the field) that with decent ball placement and no help for Williams is a surefire touchdown. When that safety is going deep, he is bailing as fast as humanly possible to account for that size mismatch.

So, now we have Tyler Boyd in the slot, with what is basically a one-on-one with a slot corner playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Tyler Boyd’s route only goes 5-7 yards down the field. Tyler Boyd is targeted on this play every time unless there is a touchdown for Chase or Higgins. Tyler Boyd gets a first down on this play 99 times out of 100.

Tyler Boyd might win the Bengals this Super Bowl. 

Now, obviously questions have to be asked. Do the Bengals run a play similar to a Stick concept? Likely, since Bengals head coach and offensive architect Zac Taylor shares a teacher with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur in Rams head coach Sean McVay, and I stole this diagram off of SB Nation’s Packers website. (Credit to Acme Packing Company for the Stick concept diagram.) I bet that this will be in the playbook somewhere on game day, and who knows, but Taylor might call this play with Chase, Higgins, and Boyd all on the field.

The Rams will also adjust, as any good NFL team will do. They’ll switch some things up that I obviously won’t be able to get my hands on, and will make life for the Bengals much harder than one measly route combination. Nevertheless, I anticipate the Bengals going ‘Nam and throwing the ball over the top to Chase and Higgins (especially Higgins) a lot, or hitting Boyd or some tight end in the flat. 

Or, I’m making everything up and they’re going to run the ball 40 times. That’s probably what’s going to happen.

Once again, credit to Turf Show Times for the coverage images and Acme Packing Company for the diagram. You can check out their amazing work on SB Nation’s website or just by searching them up. (I am not sponsored, if you’re wondering.) Good luck to both teams, enjoy the game, everyone, and go Bengals!