These key matchups and X-factors could decide Super Bowl 2022
A new champion will be crowned Sunday night when the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals play Super Bowl LVI.
The matchup led to some intriguing headlines. How will the Rams handle emerging NFL superstar Joe Burrow? Which Matthew Stafford will show up on the biggest stage? And we can’t forget about Jalen Ramsey vs. Ja’Marr Chase on the perimeter.
These storylines have dominated the Super Bowl discussion. However, there are a few crucial X-factors that just might decide the eventual winner.
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Trench Warfare: Rams
Super Bowl 56 will be a battle of the trenches. There is a narrative the Bengals' offensive line is at a disadvantage against the Rams’ ferocious defensive unit. It is no secret the Bengals will have their hands full against the Rams trio of Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.
They combined for 31.5 sacks this season. Miller was a major midseason addition after coming over from the Denver Broncos. Donald turned in another stellar NFL campaign with 12.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits.
How the Bengals stand up against the Rams’ front seven will be something to watch. The Bengals allowed 55 regular-season sacks. In the playoffs, the offensive unit allowed nine sacks against the Tennessee Titans.
Expect the Bengals to double team Donald within the interior. Another matchup to watch is Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams dealing with Von Miller.
Miller has an aggressive first step. He can bend around the edge and also utilize swim moves to pivot inside offensive linemen. Williams will likely have to negate Miller to give Burrow enough time to throw the football.
This makes Miller a player to watch in the game. If Miller gets going early, it could be a long night for the Bengals.
"When it comes down to the wire, it is who wants it more," Donald said during a recent interview. "In the Super Bowl, it is going to be the same type of thing. It's going to come down to who wants to win more. It's got to mean something. It's got to be important and guys are hungry for it."
Trench Warfare: Bengals
On the flip side, the Bengals' defense is no slouch. The Bengals play together as a unit and are effective at mixing up coverages.
The Bengals' defense has played with confidence. Give credit to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo for his ability to design complex schemes. The Bengals operate with nuance and have allowed just 19 points after halftime during the playoffs.
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For the Bengals' defense to be successful, it starts with defensive end Trey Hendrickson. The free-agent addition made a big splash with 14 sacks this season. He formed a nice tandem with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and edge rusher Sam Hubbard.
“He is a three-down guy and gives us a ton of flexibility to do different things with him,” Anarumo said of Hendrickson during a Super Bowl press conference. “Trey has been great, and so happy that he is ours."
The key for the Bengals will be to make Matthew Stafford uncomfortable. This season, the Bengals have 75 quarterback hurries and 53 quarterback knockdowns.
Keep an eye on Hendrickson against Rams veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The latter will play against his former team.
If Hendrickson can get home, it will put pressure on Stafford. The Bengals must rush Stafford's internal clock and speed up the game.
"I think it's important that we keep giving different looks whether it be pre-snap or post-snap,” Anarumo said. “To me, that comes into play when you have guys that understand what their roles are and they understand the nature of what their job is and what they are being asked to do.”
Not your average Joe
While all eyes are on Joe Burrow, there is another Joe that deserves attention. Bengals running back Joe Mixon could emerge as a true equalizer Sunday.
Mixon is a true three-down running back. He is strong between the tackles and can utilize his agility to elude awaiting tacklers. Mixon rushed for 1,205 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He added 42 receptions.
The Rams defense has shut down runners with ease during the playoffs. Opposing rushers have averaged just four yards per carry.
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Watch for the Bengals to try to establish the run early. If Mixon can get going, he can take pressure away from Burrow on the biggest stage.
Mixon will need to replicate his AFC Championship game performance. He turned in 21 carries for 88 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs. He kept the Chiefs' defense honest as the Bengals found a sweet offensive balance.
As you know, it was enough for the Bengals to win.
If Mixon can be an early factor, the Bengals have a shot to strike a similar offensive chord and avoid becoming one-dimensional.
Which receiver will step up?
The Rams know what to expect from Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. Sunday. The veterans are top options who draw a lot of attention. The same can be said for Ja’Marr Chase within the Bengals' offensive attack.
However, the Super Bowl always has room for surprises. Some of the biggest moments are often reserved for complementary receivers.
Does anybody remember David Tyree with the New York Giants? How about Jacoby Jones with the Baltimore Ravens?
Keep an eye on secondary options Tee Higgins and Van Jefferson. Higgins could see a lot of work with Chase occupied by Jalen Ramsey. He hauled in six catches for 103 yards against the Chiefs. He was also a 1,000-yard receiver this season.
Jefferson is a true X-factor. He is a deep threat and can stretch the field with ease. Stafford likes to take vertical shots and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jefferson sees more looks in the Super Bowl.
There are a lot of moments to watch Sunday. One play to change the dynamics of the game and it's possible it could come from these key areas of interest.