Monday, October 2, 2023

2022 Super Bowl: Bengals’ short-yardage calls vs. Rams among questionable coaching decisions in big game

Sunday night’s title showdown between the Bengals and Rams featured the youngest head-coaching matchup in Super Bowl history. It didn’t necessarily feature the best head-coaching matchup in Super Bowl history, at least based on the two sides’ in-game decision-making. Make no mistake, Zac Taylor deserves lots of credit for leading Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl appearance in more than 30 years, and Sean McVay has rightfully made history for winning Los Angeles a trophy.

The two coaches also had their fair share of solid calls in Super Bowl LVI, like the Bengals’ halfback-pass touchdown from Joe Mixon, or Cincy’s deep-ball shots against Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. But the officials weren’t the only ones with a few questionable decisions on the big stage, either. Here are some of the most notable iffy calls from Super Bowl Sunday:

Short-yardage play calls: While Taylor got steady production from Joe Mixon when the Bengals ran the ball, he twice fed backup running back Samaje Perine on crucial third-and-one plays, including one in the direction of Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald in the waning seconds of the game. With 55 seconds left, facing a second-and-one with field-goal range in sight, he also dialed up a throwaway deep shot that ended up going out of bounds, wasting a down.

Refusal to run: Even though Taylor and the Bengals made uninspired choices on the short-yardage opportunities, they could’ve afforded to lean on Mixon more throughout the game. Every time he touched the ball, he moved forward. Yes, it was just as important to get Joe Burrow in a rhythm, but when Mixon is averaging almost five yards a touch and Burrow is absorbing pressure on every other drop-back, the smart play is probably to keep the ball on the ground, even if it’s slower and not as sexy.

Running in general: Whereas the Bengals found success on the ground and just needed to be more selective with their short-yardage hand-offs, the Rams had the opposite problem: they needed to run less. Obviously Sean McVay couldn’t totally abandon the ground game, but his three-man rotation of Sony Michel, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson just never found daylight against Cincy’s D-line, and yet too often, L.A. opened drives with first-down carries up the gut before asking Matthew Stafford to throw them out of a hole.

Ignoring Cooper Kupp: Maybe the Bengals were just blanketing the Rams’ best receiver immediately following Odell Beckham Jr.’s absence due to injury, but we doubt it, considering Eli Apple’s consistent struggles with Kupp on the final drive. Why didn’t McVay do his darnedest to keep the ball in Kupp’s hands as the offense floundered for drives at a time after Odell’s departure? Rams fans can at least take solace knowing Kupp was, in fact, the focal point of the final series, which sealed the victory.

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