NFL

Super Bowl LVI: Ja'Marr Chase versus Jalen Ramsey could be the defining battle in Los Angeles

By Sports Desk February 12, 2022

Super Bowl LVI will be a tale of the student versus the master with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor going against the man he used to work for on the Los Angeles Rams' staff in Sean McVay. They have not worked together since the 2018 season and their two offenses have taken somewhat divergent paths since that point, but the meeting between a coach schooled in the McVay offense and the man whom he learned it from is a fascinating subplot of the NFL's grand season finale.

When two coaches have a strong knowledge of each other and are born of the same scheme, how do they go about manufacturing an edge?

"It becomes a little bit of a game of chess," former NFL wide receiver Andrew Hawkins told Stats Perform.

"Typically I give the upper hand to the Mr Miyagi of the two because you can teach a system, you can put somebody in the system, the longer you're in that system, the more you know, 'I've taught you this so I know how you're gonna approach something because I taught you to do it, I know how to break your own rules', and there will be some gamesmanship and some of the Kyle Shanahan-McVay elements here with McVay and Taylor.

"Ultimately it'll come down to players making plays."

Two of the biggest playmakers in Super Bowl LVI will spend a lot of time face to face, with Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase set to line up against arguably the NFL's elite cornerback in Rams superstar Jalen Ramsey.

Chase, just as he was in college, has been the go-to receiver for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, and it could be the level of success Ramsey enjoys in severing their connection that decides who lifts the Lombardi Trophy.

Cincinnati's vindication

The Bengals may continue to have offensive line problems, but at this point few are still questioning their decision to eschew addressing them and select Chase instead.

In terms of individual awards, the most emphatic vindication has already been secured, with Chase taking home the hardware at Thursday's NFL Honours ceremony.

A decisive performance from Chase would end any debate, and the numbers illustrate the task on Ramsey's hands in attempting to stop him.

Chase's 2021 burn rate, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he is targeted, of 64.3 per cent was just above the NFL average of 62 for wideouts with at least 100 targets.

However, when he has won his matchup, Chase has done so decisively. His burn yards per target average of 13.85 stands below only that of Tyler Lockett (14.72), with his tally of 3.2 burn yards per route good for tied seventh among wideouts.

And when it comes to making big plays, only three receivers have fared better in the 2021 campaign, Chase producing a big play – a 20-yard burn or a burn for a touchdown – on 36.6 per cent of his targets.

No quarterback had as many passing plays of 50 yards in the regular season as Burrow (12) and no wideout had as many receiving plays of that distance as Chase's six.

Chase is not one of the league's elite separators but, when he does get even the slightest step on a defender, the results can be devastating.

In Ramsey, however, he is facing a defender with the ability to lock down receivers for an entire game.

A strength on strength matchup

Team-mate Aaron Donald might feel aggrieved at not winning Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday, but Ramsey also had quite a compelling statistical case and could be considered a snub.

Among cornerbacks with at least 100 matchups with a receiver, only two defenders had a better combined open percentage allowed across both man and zone coverage than Ramsey in the regular season.

His combined open percentage of 17.07 trailed just Bryce Hall (14.61) and Casey Hayward (14.83), with burns for significant yardage rarely something Ramsey gives up.

For cornerbacks with a minimum of 50 targets, Ramsey is top 10 in 2021 in burn yards per target (8.12, sixth) and burn yards per snap (1.39, 10th).

But where does Ramsey excel the most? Preventing the big play.

Indeed, his 2021 big-play rate of 14.2 per cent can only claim to have been topped by Avonte Maddox and Tre'Davious White (both 13.9). Maddox started only five games while White's season was cut short in his 11th by a knee injury.

When Chase lines up against Ramsey, it will be a case of strength on strength, but neither appears to be spending too much time worrying about how to combat the other.

"He's got to check me"

Asked about Chase, Ramsey replied: "I respect his game, I respect how he's played this year, he's come in as a rookie and tore the league up, he has great chemistry with his quarterback and you can tell.

"I'll let the world keep talking about it [the matchup]. We're going to get out there on Sunday; I'll be ready to play, I'm sure he will be too."

Chase undoubtedly appeared ready for the challenge when speaking to the media on Friday, hinting that Ramsey will have the tougher task playing the reactionary role on defense.

"I'm just gonna play my game, he the one gotta check me," said Chase. 

"I'm not playing defense, I'm playing offense, so he got to check me. We're going to go with our matchups and go as we go."

From the evidence of their respective stunning seasons, those matchups may well command the greatest attention when two of the stars of 2021 face off under one of sport's brightest spotlights.

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