The Bengals defense presents some legitimate challenges for the Rams offense, especially after seeing Cincinnati shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the second half of the AFC title game. They may not feature a star-studded group like the Rams do, but the Bengals have played well on defense.
What doesn’t bode well for them is the fact that Matthew Stafford has excelled against their two most popular coverages: Cover-3 and Cover-1.
The Bengals run Cover-3 and Cover-1 more than any other coverage. Cover-1 is man coverage underneath with a single-high safety in the middle of the field, while Cover-3 is zone coverage with three deep defenders and four underneath zones.
According to The Athletic, Stafford has the fifth-most EPA (estimated points added) per play (0.18) in the NFL against Cover-3 and averages 0.5 EPA per play against Cover-1, which is the highest of any quarterback.
The Bengals’ most popular coverage has been Cover-3. Stafford ranks fifth in EPA per play (0.18) against Cover-3. Cincinnati’s second most popular coverage has been Cover-1. Stafford has been the NFL’s best quarterback against Cover-1 (0.5 EPA per play). The difference between Stafford and the second-best QB against Cover-1 (which happens to be Burrow) is the same as the difference between Burrow and Jared Goff, who ranks 13th.
Against man coverage in general, Stafford has been outstanding this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a 93.6 grade against man coverage, which is the best of any quarterback.
No QB is better targeting man-coverage than Matthew Stafford 🔥 pic.twitter.com/35SlJK79D6
— PFF (@PFF) February 5, 2022
The Bengals don’t run a ton of man coverage, using it about 35% of the time, according to The Athletic, but Stafford should feast on those opportunities when he gets them on Sunday. He has the highest EPA per play in the NFL against man coverage this year, dominating against single-high coverages, in particular (0.29 EPA/play, best in NFL).
Part of what makes Stafford so good against man coverage is the help he gets from his receivers. Cooper Kupp is an outstanding route runner who seems to get open on every play. Odell Beckham Jr. has thrived with the Rams, too, drawing single coverage often while teams attempt to slow down Kupp. And then there’s Van Jefferson, who has been the Rams’ deep threat most of the season and typically lines up outside.
The Bengals secondary is going to have a hard time slowing down the Rams offense in man coverage on Sunday, which is why they’re likely to disguise coverages pre-snap and use more zone – even though Stafford still ranks sixth in EPA per play against zone this season.