Ahead of Super Bowl LVI, one of the words Cincinnati Bengals defenders are using to describe their Los Angeles Rams opponents is “smart.”
“There’s multiple times where you’ll see Odell (Beckham) or Cooper Kupp, they know exactly where the zones are, where the soft spots are in zones. … Very talented group, but also very smart, and that’s what makes them dangerous,” Bengals safety and captain Jessie Bates III said Thursday.
It will be up to Bates and the secondary to slow down a dynamic Rams passing game in Sunday’s game at Inglewood, Calif.
Kupp won the receiving “triple crown” during the regular season by leading the league in receptions (145), yards (1,947) and touchdowns (16), becoming the first player to accomplish the feat since Steve Smith in 2005. In November, the Rams signed the talented Beckham, who had 27 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight regular-season games in Los Angeles.
The Rams, who also received contributions from DeSean Jackson before his release and Robert Woods before a season-ending ACL tear, led the NFL with 18 passing plays of 40 yards or more.
The Bengals will counter with Mike Hilton, a lauded nickel corner who may see a lot of Kupp in the slot. Bates, Vonn Bell and Ricardo Allen play safety for Cincinnati and Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple start at outside corner.
They also have depth in the form of Tre Flowers, a former Seattle Seahawks cornerback who dealt with Sean McVay’s offense plenty in his past.
“I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to play against these guys seven times before I left (Seattle), so it’s gonna be a great challenge,” Flowers said.
Allen, who played with the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-20, is the only Bengals player with past Super Bowl experience. The day did not go exactly as planned as he watched Tom Brady lead a comeback from down 28-3 to give the New England Patriots a stunning win over Atlanta.
“It’s an offense that’s very adaptable,” Allen said of the Rams. “They can adapt on the run and stuff like that. So you’ve got to know that about them. To be honest, it’s going to be players making plays, man. We’ll have to go out there and see what matchup they’re trying to get, see what analysis they’re trying to take away from us.”
While the Bengals have drawn attention for their high-powered offense, led by Joe Burrow, and their own set of wideouts, head coach Zac Taylor felt his defense (ranked ninth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed) often was overlooked.
“I do agree that they haven’t gotten the credit that they’ve deserved,” Taylor said. “You look at the group, they played their tails off in the playoffs, but really it goes back way before that. They’ve been consistent throughout the season.”
— C.J. Uzomah, who sprained the MCL in his left knee during the AFC Championship Game, reiterated his stance Thursday that he is “not missing the biggest game of (his) life.”
Uzomah did not practice Wednesday and the Bengals held Thursday’s media availability before practice. But Taylor has said Uzomah’s status is trending in a positive direction.
The seventh-year tight end is a Bengals fan favorite, and he continued to ingratiate himself with the city of Cincinnati this week. At a fan rally Monday night, Uzomah came out wearing a knee brace before he theatrically ripped it off his leg and tossed it aside to hype up the crowd. He admitted Thursday that he used a prop brace for that move, not the one he had actually been wearing.
He also promised in a podcast interview that he would bathe in Cincinnati’s famed Skyline chili, with the host, if the Bengals won Sunday’s game.
“Easy. 100 percent,” Uzomah said. “I’m wearing swim trunks, but you put it in a swimming pool, I’ll dive in there and I’ll eat my way out.”
–The Bengals say their team culture under Taylor’s regime has been years in the making, even through recent setbacks.
In late 2020, Burrow’s rookie season was cut short by an ACL and MCL tear. Bates said Thursday that after Burrow went down, Taylor called him, running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd to discuss carrying on as leaders in the locker room.
“(He challenged) us to kind of step up,” Bates said, “embrace the situation we were in last year where we didn’t have the MVP of the league or the comeback player of the year. We knew what we had here. We knew what we were building with. … If you learn from it, it’s not really the struggle, it’s part of the process. That’s the beauty at the end.”