This will be my last column for a few weeks, and with the last game of the year coming up on the 13th of February it is time for an evaluation. No doubt you will hear and read plenty of opinions on which team wins, and the reasons why, but is what those folks base their opinion on have more credibility than mine?
The Vegas oddsmakers have established the Rams as favorites, and the "line" may change some, yet Vegas has set the line to convince Bengal fans that they will not lose by just a field goal. Both teams scored 460 points in the regular season; when is the last time the combatants both scored the same exact amount? The teams were ranked 5th and 6th in yards allowed rushing, so let's start there.
We know who will carry the ball, but which defender, or defenders has the stand-out game stopping the run? Cincinnati's d-line has had a solid season, and Logan Wilson has proven to be a youngster with a bright future at linebacker.
The Los Angeles d-line has an all-time great in Aaron D., yet the standout who does not get much ink is Greg Gaines. Unless one team really dominates in time of possession due to running the ball, this aspect is not a key factor in who wins.
Cincinnati allowed 41 offensive touchdowns, while Los Angeles allowed 35, and the biggest separation is on pass defense. The Bengals defensive passer rating for the regular season was 93.1, while the Rams ranked in the top five at 83.8. Part of the equation in determining the defensive passer rating is touchdowns allowed passing, and since Cincinnati allowed 26.
The first question to be answered is simple: Can the Cincinnati secondary keep Stafford and the Ram receivers out of the end zone on pass defense? No, they cannot. When Eli Apple lines up before the snap he will look across the line of scrimmage and see a very talented receiver no matter who it is.
How about safety help for Apple and the other underneath cover men for the Bengals? Neither Bell nor Bates ranks with the top deep defenders in the league. Long, Williams, and Rapp are adequate pass defenders and face a Cincinnati receiving corps that is top-notch. Bet you knew that?
The difference-maker is of course Ramsey; one of the best corners of the last decade. Put a strong check mark for the Rams on pass defense. Joey Burrow has proven already that he can make every throw, and he may have to put the ball in the air plenty.
Why you ask? Cincinnati has been behind plenty of times this year, and as such Joey B. will again have to be efficient.
Bill Walsh stated emphatically that a passer must be decisive and accurate, and Burrow is. Monday will be Matt Stafford's birthday, and he would relish extending the celebration all the way through the 13th. Having been on a practice field as a college receiver's coach working with quarterbacks and attempting to make the game plan come alive when the ball is in the air—would really enjoy being around McVay and Matt S. and listening to the exchange between them.
Is this the last and ONLY time Stafford goes to a Super Bowl? Now that is a question you just might not hear this week, and McVay must impart they are joined at the hip for the duration, that is DURATION! Yes, Matt S. has made some bone head throws in attempting to do too much, but a defense cannot expect that to happen.
One of Steve Sabol's favorite stats that we discussed years ago, was yards per completion. John Facenda would state to Steve..."give me a horse I can ride", and that stat is the horse. The Rams will have the higher yards per completion. The term we used years ago was "explosives"...the Rams will have more explosive pass plays.
The checkmark for the quarterback making the key completions again goes to the Rams. Finally, the kicking game. Both teams have men who can make every kick, so let's look elsewhere for a key factor. Cincinnati allowed 235 yards on punt returns, while the Rams allowed only 60. The difference is significant, and believe the Rams have at least one punt return that helps with field position. The last checkmark goes again to Los Angeles in the kicking game.
I will close with the ESPN Encyclopedia since my latest research project is in the area of field goals. Page 1,282 under the heading of most field goal attempts, game, lists Ted Fritsch on October 7th, 1949 as attempting six goals against the New York Bulldogs.
Since Bloodgood and Driscoll both made four field goals in a game in 1926, the question begging for an answer...did either man attempt five or six in those games? If not, who is the first to attempt five, and how many other men attempted five in a game.
Yes, have the list of men who attempted five in a game and held the record before Fritsch. Some folks can do in-depth research, and then there is the group who did research for the ESPN Encyclopedia, who would you hire?