It all begins in the trenches. The Cincinnati Bengals defensive line has been a strength of the defense all year, just not in ways that tend to show up on stat sheets. These three playoff wins have hinged on strong defensive line play. Super Bowl LVI will be no different, though it will be a tougher task. The two biggest Cincinnati splashes of the past two off-seasons reside on this Bengals defensive line. They will have one more opportunity to show the league why others should follow in their footsteps and sign with Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Line Must Take Control in Super Bowl LVI
Trey Hendrickson Is Worth That Contract
Overall, the Bengals defensive line is going to need to play better than they have all year. In terms of pass rush win rate, the unit as a whole ranks 25th whereas the Los Angeles Rams pass block win rate is best in the league. Los Angeles faced four of the top ten sack leaders in the NFL: Nick Bosa (twice), Robert Quinn, and Harold Landry. Bosa recorded 1.5 sacks, Quinn had half of a sack, as did Landry. While they haven’t been as tested as the Bengals offensive line has been, they’ve stood tall in the face of elite talent.
Trey Hendrickson has earned his place among the elite by securing a career-best 14 sacks in the regular season to go with 2.5 in the three playoff games. He’ll draw the assignment of facing off against the former Bengals left tackle, Andrew Whitworth. As bittersweet as it would be for Cincinnati to send “Big Whitt” into retirement with a loss, the feeling of a win would be astronomically greater.
Hendrickson’s ability to get off the ball quickly and speed rush of the outside has proven to be an issue for plenty of left tackles around the league. Whitworth is still a very solid tackle, but this matchup leans in favor of Hendrickson ever so slightly. There will likely be at least one instance where Hendrickson will be Whitworth around the edge and threaten to make Matthew Stafford his fifth sack/fumble victim.
There were a number of questions on whether or not Hendrickson was worth the four-year, $60M contract. After finishing the season in the top five of the NFL sack leaderboard and putting together the best single-season in Cincinnati since Coy Bacon’s 21.5 mark in 1974.
Need Someone Else to Step Up
As good as Hendrickson has been, if offenses can clamp him, it’s been over. A big reason for that is the fact that the Bengals defensive line doesn’t have another at least above-average pass rusher. On the Bengals sack leaderboard, it’s Hendrickson, a large gap, then Sam Hubbard with 7.5 and the injured Larry Ogunjobi with 7.0.
Hubbard has come on as of late and has been a bit more productive in the pass rush game, but he’s more of a run-stuffer. In the AFC Championship, he came up with a pair of massive sacks to secure the win. It will take another career-best game from Hubbard to secure the Lombardi Trophy.
Sam Hubbard played one of the best games of his career in the Bengals win over the Chiefs.
🔶 80.4 PFF Defense Grade (led team)
🔶 79.3 Pass Rush Grade (led team)
🔶 2 sacks (led game)
🔶 3 stops (tied for team best)
What a game for the Cincinnati kid in his biggest moment yet. pic.twitter.com/xi8G3pjwRR
— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) January 31, 2022
B.J. Hill has done well to step in for the injured Ogunjobi, but he’s not quite the same player. Before his injury at the beginning of the year, it seemed that rookie Joseph Ossai was going to be able to step up and be a force opposite Hendrickson.
It can’t just be Hendrickson. The Rams offensive line is likely the best that the Bengals have faced all year. In order to make sure that Los Angeles doesn’t just focus on stopping Hendrickson, Hubbard and the interior must get pressure early on. Stafford is prone to making mistakes; he leads the NFL in interceptions with Trevor Lawrence. Rattle Stafford, get a few hits on him, and make the secondary’s job a little easier.
Continue To Stifle the Run
The Bengals defensive line is a massive reason that the defense is the fifth-best against the run. Over the last few weeks, however, they’ve been gashed a few times on the ground. Thankfully, the Rams rushing attach has tapered off a bit over the course of their playoff run.
The sheer fact that Cam Akers is playing at all this year is a miracle. Across the Rams last seven games, they’ve turned the ball over 14 times. Two of those were thanks to Akers coughing it up in the NFL Divisional Round and it allowed Tom Brady to come back.
Realistically, the game is not going to come down to the Rams rushing offense against the Bengals rush defense. They do too much passing in traditional concepts as well as getting the ball out of the backfield to their running backs. The difference will be stuffing the run whenever it comes up to get Stafford behind the chains. Force him to make plays. Make him make mistakes. Of those 12 remaining turnovers, 11 are on Stafford.
Against the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati employed a massive line with guys like D.J. Reader, Tyler Shelvin, and Hill to commit to stopping the run. Reader is the most underrated, underappreciated member of this Bengals defensive line and has had the ability to absolutely wreck opposing rush offenses with his ability to gum up the middle of the line and two-gap the center and take away both “A gaps.”
Time for the Last Stand
It all starts in the trenches. If Cincinnati allows Sean McVay and Stafford do what they want and are unable to get any pressure, it’s going to be a tough task. They’ve stepped up against good and great offenses thus far this year. On two occasions, they held the Kansas City Chiefs to three points in the second half.
Cooper Kupp is going to get his. Odell Beckham Jr is going to make a play or two. But Stafford is going to give this defense chances. It all starts upfront. There are only 60 guaranteed minutes left in the NFL season. If there’s a time the Bengals defensive line is going to step up and take over a game, it’s got to be here.
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