Super Bowl 56: The Rams triumph but could the Bengals rise again?

Super Bowl 56 was an intriguing and entertaining match-up, but it was the LA Rams who came out on top. Curtis Leung provides all of the analysis and talking points.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Redspork02

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Redspork02

The 2021/22 NFL season ended with the Rams overcoming the Bengals 23-20 in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

The Rams became the second team to host (and win) the Super Bowl, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did so last year.

Rams coach Sean McVay also became the youngest Super Bowl-winning coach, at the age of 36. Poetically, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians was the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl last year, at 61.

Super Bowl 56 MVP Cooper Kupp was one of several star players of the Rams who demonstrated just why they are so highly regarded across the league.

The ‘all-in’ strategy of the Rams ultimately paid off as their signing of big-name players such as Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller rewarded them with their franchise’s second ever Super Bowl.

For the Bengals, meanwhile, the underdog story came to a sorry end against a very good Rams team. They are still young though and have an opportunity to build on a successful year.

Here’s a deep dive on both sides.

LA Rams’ ‘all-in’ tactic pays off

The main talking point surrounding the Rams will be Kupp’s excellence. With 99 total yards coupled with a pair of touchdowns, Kupp was the heartbeat of the Rams’ offence and single-handedly sustained his side’s offensive momentum.

His rapport with quarterback Stafford has only improved through the year, and their chemistry on the field resulted in Kupp winning the 2021 Offensive Player of the Year award after a regular season that saw him win the ‘triple crown’ (leading the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns).

Indeed, despite the coach McVay’s obvious gameplan to get the ball to Kupp, the Bengals simply had no answer. Whether it was contested catches in tight coverage, beating defenders with the ball or on deep routes, Kupp could not be stopped.

His side leaned on him much more due to the first-half injury to Beckham Jr. The veteran wide receiver was signed by the Rams at the midway point of the season and was able to take some defensive attention off Kupp.

Beckham Jr. had been famously dissatisfied at the Cleveland Browns, and his marriage with the Rams seemed perfect right from the get-go. When the Rams needed him most in the Super Bowl, he was able to beat his marker and break the deadlock.

Beckham Jr. was not the only significant new face on the Rams this year, however. The franchise had thrown kitchen and sink at the Detroit Lions to acquire 2009’s first overall pick, Stafford.

Despite making his customary deep-ball interception, Stafford was excellent throughout, and was particularly good in the fourth quarter demonstrating just efficient he is in clutch situations.

In all, the 33-year-old managed to throw three touchdowns despite the lack of help from a stuttering run game. There is no doubt that Rams fans will have found Stafford’s gutsy performance encouraging, given that their last Super Bowl appearance saw the Jared Goff-led Rams offence stall severely.

Another new face on the Rams this year was Super Bowl 50 MVP Miller. Miller was traded to the Rams in the middle of the season from the Denver Broncos and has since found an important role alongside three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

As many had predicted prior to the fixture, Miller and Donald had huge days due to the Bengals’ malnourished offensive line. They managed to get a lot of pressure on Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, sacking him seven times.

The Lombardi Trophy comes at a great time for the Rams – it was a timely victory for a franchise that had been building up to this fixture for a few years now. They have used draft picks and future cap space to build the ‘super-team’ they currently have and will hope that many of their players will return off the high of the win.

With that said, however, a few players have expressed the Super Bowl victory as the pinnacle of their career, with Donald claiming he would retire if they won prior to the fixture.

While this seems purely emotional, what should be noted is that the Rams will need to rebuild their side relatively soon – they do not have the resources to maintain the current roster for much longer than a year or two.

“I’m just in the moment,” said an emotional Donald as confetti fell for his Rams.

Regardless of what the future holds, take nothing away from this special Super Bowl victory for the Rams. It was deserved after a tough regular season and playoff run that saw them eliminate the Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers.

“I’m so proud of this team. That game today was the story of the season,” said signal-caller Stafford after the victory.

Young Bengals should stay optimistic

The loss for the Bengals is largely a story of underperformance – a shame given how their season went.

Enroute to the Super Bowl, the Bengals eliminated the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, which was no mean feat.

They failed to get it done on the big stage, however, as their offensive prowess was largely stalled by a stout Rams defence.

The main issue for the Bengals appeared to be from their offensive line protection, or lack thereof. Burrow took the most sacks among all quarterbacks over the course of the season, and the Rams were able to exploit the glaring weakness.

While they were able to neutralise the impact of this at the start of the game with quick throws, runs and fakes to throw off the Rams defensive line, going down early resulted in a necessity for deeper throws. This left Burrow in the pocket for longer, allowing the Rams defensive line to feast.

On the Bengals’ make-or-break drive in the fourth quarter, Donald was able to overcome a double team and force Burrow into an incompletion, which just about summed up the game.

Though this has been one of the Bengals’ weaknesses for a few seasons now, they had seemed to find a way to win despite poor offensive line play. Against the Titans, Burrow took an astronomic nine sacks, but was able to still rally the Bengals to victory.

The 2021 Comeback Player of the Year fell short on the grand stage, however, as the Bengals’ big play ability was not enough to turn the Rams over.

Despite the abysmal protection for Burrow, there were many positives for Bengals fans to take from the game and, ultimately, the season.

The Bengals defensive line was one of those bright spots – and they forced the Rams into fighting with one arm tied behind their back. Their base 4-3 defensive front is considered simple, but it was effective against the Rams’ wide zone running game, with the likes of Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson winning their edge battles.

None of that would be possible without the solid play of their linebackers either. Logan Wilson was particularly impressive and was especially present when used in man coverage.

On the offensive side of the ball, running back Joe Mixon saw little volume but was efficient when called upon. The same could be said of Tee Higgins, who caught Mixon’s trick play pass.

Perhaps the brightest spot on the offensive side of the ball was Ja’Marr Chase though. The 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year was matched up against Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey for much of the game but was able to get the better of his veteran opponent on many occasions.

Having gone 4-11-1 in 2020/21 to 10-7 in 2021/22, the Bengals have revolutionised the fortune of their franchise under the Burrow era. They had the first overall pick in 2020 and selected the Heisman Trophy winner, before putting together an explosive supporting cast for him.

While his ACL tear derailed the Bengals’ season in 2020/21, there is no doubt that Burrow’s first full season under 38-year-old head coach Zac Taylor has been a booming success. They did win their first playoff game in over 30 years after all.

The Bengals will undoubtedly be humbled by the loss - but it can be easy to forget that this team has a young core with a young coach. To get this far was truly unexpected, and it will have equipped them with valuable lessons moving forward, just like the Rams after their Super Bowl 53 defeat.

The Bengals’ wise use of draft picks and reasonable cap situation suggests that, with the right moves in the offseason, they could improve on the season they had. Burrow is on his rookie deal until 2025, which puts the Bengals in a strong financial situation for the next few years.

This was a disappointing end to the season for sure, but it is just the beginning of the story for the Bengals’ Burrow era.