Super Bowl LVI is here. Bengals vs Rams, baby. A matchup absolutely nobody predicted way back during much simpler times, aka Week 1. It’s hard to keep count of the storylines being crafted by sports writers and their editors. Personally, I’ve got my own take. (Sort of.) Know what the upcoming battle reminds me of? (You’ll never guess.)
The Twelve Labors of Hercules. (That’s right. Didn’t see that one coming?) Specifically, it reminds me of the very last Labor.
Basically, the story goes like this. The goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, has it in for Hercules even before he’s born. Reason being, she isn’t his mother. (You see the conflict there…) All his life, the strongman is targeted by Hera but does okay. His streak comes to an end as an adult when Hera drives him mad, prompting to murder his children, something that could not have helped his tattered sanity. Oddly enough, Hercules’ senses return to him and he visits the Oracle at Delphi to find out how he can do penance. He is told to seek out his cousin, Eurystheus, and do whatever he is told. Hence, the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
The last task put to Hercules is never meant to be accomplished. Eurystheus tells him to subdue Cereberus, the three-headed dog-monster that guards the gates to Hades. Hercules being Hercules, he clubs the beast while steering clear of its three, sharp-teeth-gnashing heads. When he’s done, Hercules drags Cereberus back to his cousin.
That brings us to Super Bowl LVI. If there is a Hercules in this story, it has to be Joe Burrow. Already, the narrative surrounding him has portrayed him as the Anointed. In not so many words, Burrow is the new Brady. Bringing the Cincinatti Bengals to their first Super Bowl since 1988. He is a surprisingly steady hand for second year quarterback. In his first playoff run, he has guided the Bengals past the Las Vegas Raiders (26-19), Tennessee Titans (19-16), and the Kansas City Chiefs (27-24). He has held his nerves in check and has come up big when needed. The Bengals win over the Chiefs was one of the best games in recent memory.
Coming into the playoffs, Burrow had a very good season with 34TD, 14 INT, and a 108.3 rating.
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On the flip side, the Los Angeles Rams’ vaunted defensive line will be staring Burrow down. The three headed Cereberus comes in the form of Leonard Floyd, Von Miller, and Aaron Donald. They’ll be licking their chops as they line up opposite the Bengals offensive line that is more porous than a sieve. During the regular season, the Rams had 50 sacks, the third most in the league.
Leonard Floyd had 9.5 sacks in 2021. Von Miller also had 9.5 sacks. Aaron Donald topped the list with 12.5 sacks. They’ve terrorized QBs from both sides and you can expect that the trend will continue. Miller, in particular, has played well during the playoffs.
The Bengals’ offensive line has left Burrow exposed time and again. He was sacked 51 times during the 2021 season, the most of any quarterback. Under pressure, he has show resilience and managed a 94.6 passer rating vs pressure during the season. That has dropped significantly during the playoffs though, hovering somewhere around a 40 rate. That nine sack game against the Titans stands out as a cause for concern.
Miller, Floyed and Donald probably won’t be able to break Burrow mentally. He has held up impressively. Five sacks would have most quarterbacks ready to wave the white flag, much less nine. The question is can the Rams break Burrow physically. If they do, it’s game over for the Bengals’ Cinderella story.