Super Bowl 2022: Here’s how Bengals can contain Cooper Kupp, including forcing Matthew Stafford into mistakes

It’s officially Super Bowl Sunday, as Matthew Stafford gets ready to duke it out at SoFi Stadium against Joe Burrow. Both quarterbacks have at least one nuclear weapon at their disposal, with the Los Angeles Rams‘ offense housing wideout Cooper Kupp and the Cincinnati Bengals bringing rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase to the fight, but as the saying goes: in the end, there can only be one. If the Bengals want to be the last team standing when the confetti begins raining in Los Angeles on Sunday, they’d better figure out how to contain Kupp, and that’s easier said than done.

Chase is a dynamic threat in his own right, and then some, but Kupp is something entirely different in 2021. Take nothing away from how Chase can break open games, but of the two of them, Kupp is the one who can brag about having racked up 1,947 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on 145 receptions this season, and that’s not counting the playoffs. In his three playoff games leading into Super Bowl LVI, Kupp has amassed 386 receiving yards on 15.4 yards per reception to go along with four touchdowns and 14 first-down catches — averaging a monstrous 128.7 yards per game since the tournament started in mid-January. 

He’s also largely responsible for sending Tom Brady into retirement, thanks to the infamous Cover 0 call by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles that led to Stafford launching a game-sealing bomb to a streaking Kupp with only seconds to play in the NFC Divisional Round.

So yea, there’s also that.

How can the Bengals scheme for such a weapon? Or, better yet, can they at all, considering no one else could??

Bates Motel

The answer is yes, they can, but it’s going to take a group effort of the highest order, and one that must be led by rising safety Jessie Bates. Head coach Zac Taylor has enjoyed flashes of great play from cornerback Mike Hilton, yes, but Eli Apple has shown he can be a liability more often than not, and that’s going to put a lot of the onus on stopping Kupp on a safety unit led by Bates and bolstered by 2021 free agent acquisition Chidobe Awuzie. The problem in guarding Kupp is bigger than simply keeping him from getting downfield, but it is also that as well.

One of the best route-runners in the NFL, there will be times when Kupp sheds his CB coverage in Super Bowl LVI, and that’s where Bates and Awuzie better be on their toes. They’ll enjoy some assistance from linebacker Logan Wilson, who leads the team with four interceptions but, again, no one man is going to stop Kupp. If the safeties either struggle to tackle Kupp in space and/or allow him to blow past them, they’ll regret it in a major way.

He’s the NFL leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns for a reason. But there’s a more primary way to stop Kupp and it doesn’t involve the secondary in such a sizable capacity, which is to say the Bengals have to force Stafford into making mistakes he’s shown capable of making at the most critical moments of the game. 

Get sack-religious 

Paging Trey Hendrickson to the center stage. Stafford can make teams pay for blitzing him, it’s true, and that’s in large part because it takes guys out of coverage and clears out the field for Kupp to have his way. That being the case, the Bengals need to get as much pressure as possible on Stafford with their standard front. That means Hendrickson — who led the team with 14 sacks this season — will need to have the game of his NFL career, in conjunction with help from Sam Hubbard and B.J. Hill stepping up in the absence of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (lost for the playoffs with a foot injury). Ogunjobi delivered seven sacks this season and losing him is kind of a big deal for the Bengals, especially knowing how badly they need to pressure Stafford.

The Rams quarterback has had multiple games with more than one interception thrown, and if not for the gift dropped by San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game, Stafford might not be celebrating his first Super Bowl appearance this week. Teams have shown time and again that while there’s an elite version of Stafford, there’s also a very bad version that can appear at a moment’s notice, and the Bengals need to flip that coin to the burned side, early and often.

If Stafford can’t get comfortable enough to deliver timely and accurate passes to Kupp (or Odell Beckham Jr.), then the Bengals’ secondary will have shorter coverage windows and more opportunities to intercept errant throws. The battle to stop Kupp will be centered around what Cincinnati’s secondary can or can’t do, but more important will be what happens in the trenches, because targets are usually made moot if the shooter isn’t allowed to aim.

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