Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The Cinderella story of Cincinnati continues on the unofficial national holiday that is the Superbowl.
Superbowl LVI (56) is a unique Superbowl, unlike any we have had in a decade. It will be without Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, or Peyton Manning. There is not a top three seed in the match, neither QB won an NFL playoff game before the playoffs began, and neither team has brought the Queen piece, Lovely Lambordi to their current city.
Let a unique Superbowl begin, with the betting odds currently at -190 for LA and +160 for CIN… implying the bookies anticipate a close game, and you should too. Much has been said about the great playoff run of both teams, but how improbable is the Bengals 2021–22 run? They began the season as +10000 odds to win the Superbowl, to put it another way, a 1% to win it all. They began the playoffs with +4000, and had the same odds at the beginning of the AFC Conference Championship game, and much less at halftime. Yet, here we sit with an orange and golden Sunday sunrise awaiting the Rams and Bengals to take the field.
It seems most of the consensus feels this game belongs to the LA Rams, but a better examination of the Cincinnati Bengals Cinderella season reveals this is as much their game to lose as it is the Rams.
Winning even one game in the NFL is difficult. Just ask Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor who won 6 of a possible 33 in his first two seasons. This season he has won over double his first two seasons combined, seeking his 14th against the Rams. The Bengals were not suppose to have a winning season, much less win the brutal AFC North, forget about taking down the#1 seed and then the back-to-back conference champs, in the conference title game at their stadium down 21–3… The Bengals did this because of great coaching and fantastic play in all 3 faces of the game.
Zac Taylor has an excellent staff including Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo, Offensive Coordinator Brian Callahan, and Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons.
Simmons is the longest tenured coach on the Bengals staff, now in his 20th year. Special teams receives very little attention, but he has produced arguably the best long snapper, punter, and kicker in the league. Expect the ‘third unit’ to do their job, and possibly tilt this game in a manner very few are speaking about.
Defensively, Anarumo has coached the Bengals to a feisty defense that applies pressure with 21 forced turnovers, and held 3 playoff opponents to under 60 combined points (including 0 in the 2nd half of against the high powered offense of the Chiefs). Defensive Linemen Trey Hendrickson has produced 16.5 sacks and is the sole defensive Pro Bowl member for the Bengals. Logan Wilson has 130 tackles, and the do-it-all duo of safeties Jessie Bates and Von Bell come up in the run game, cover sideline to sideline, and have a knack for making big plays. Expect Anarumo to pressure a weak Rams offensive line with Hendrickson and Hubbard, and Bates or Bell to capitalize with turnovers from a rushed Stafford.
No doubt about it though, the Bengals brightest stars are on the offense. Cincinnati has arguably the best triplet of Wide receivers in the NFL with rookie sensation Chase being the spotlight with 1,455 receiving yards. Higgins 6' 4" 215 lb frame and reliable hands create mismatches for most DBs, and ‘Mr. 3rd Down’ Tyler Boyd has 9 TDs. During my film study, he appears to have the most trust with QB Joe Burrow in pressure situations hence why I gave him the title. In the regular season those three WRs combined for an outstanding 3,374 yards and 24 TDs.
Running Back Joe Mixon is having a stellar season, and has an opportunity to loft himself into football immortality. He has produced 1,815 rushing/receiving yards and 17 TDs thus far. 185 all purpose yards and a game winning performance could make him a franchise icon, city legend, and a Superbowl MVP.
Frank Pollack is the Offensive Line Coach/Running Game Coordinator and has produced the best 2 seasons for Joe Mixon. Mixon is essential for the Bengals to have success, and Mixon’s success will be dependent on Pollack’s game plan for a great Rams defensive line.
If not the best, the most important is certainly last. Quarterback Joe Burrow is already a university hero, franchise icon, and city legend. He has put himself in postseason lore at the college level, he did not create drama by requesting a draft day trade from a low success organization, and expressed his desire to bring a Superbowl to his home state of Ohio.
The 2nd year QB is undefeated in the playoffs extending back to the State Championship game of his senior year of high school. He brings the stats (5,453 passing yards, 40 TDs) and swagger to lift his city, his state to a new level. It would be a full circle experience to lose a game for the honor of State Champ, only to be the first QB to win a Superbowl for the state.
He is the king piece on the chess board we call a football field. He has an opportunity to lead a team, a franchise, a city, a state from constant despair and disrespect to a higher ground, a new state of being, of thinking, of believing. The missing ingredient is the Queen Trophy… The Lovely Lombardi.
Author: Ignacio Gilbert