Analyzing the first 15 plays of each team’s offense in Super Bowl LVI

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Cooper Kupp pulls in an early TD.

Cooper Kupp pulls in an early TD.
Photo: Getty Images

Around the NFL, it’s common practice for teams to script their first 15 offensive plays. Why? This is usually before teams can adjust on defense. That makes the first few drives the perfect opportunity for a coaching staff to strut its stuff. You can often figure out a staff’s plan for attacking an opposing defense by watching their first 15 plays, so let’s analyze the Bengals’ and Rams’ first 15 to figure out what their plan was coming into Super Bowl LVI.

The Rams opted for a much more balanced approach on offense. Cincinnati was very pass-heavy early, which is interesting because the Bengals had a much more effective run game early on. Through their first two drives, the Rams didn’t run a single play action. However, they ran two on their next drive. That means that the Rams’ purpose for running early was to set up play action, or it was an adjustment to the Bengals’ containing their run game. Either way, it worked perfectly because on their third drive, the Rams ran play action three times. Each time led to a gain and the third and final play action saw several Bengals’ defenders bite on the fake allowing Cooper Kupp to get wide open in the endzone. Rams up 13-3.

For Cincinnati, the Bengals didn’t have a great run game early and seemed intent on letting Joe Burrow run basic dropbacks if their first down run didn’t go anywhere. Perhaps their first drive, which saw the Bengals fail to secure a first on two tries in short yardage, played a role in their willingness to go straight to the pass later. Although, when Joe Mixon has been given the opportunity, he’s looked very patient and had great vision behind the line, which has led to some solid gains. Thankfully as the game progressed, they started giving Mixon more looks on early downs. That balanced approach is what ultimately led to their first touchdown.

In the passing game, the Rams seem to be focusing more on creating bad matchups while the Bengals are opting for more basic dropbacks and reads from Burrow. Where the Rams have used motion a lot since their first drive, the Bengals have stepped away from that plan. That use of motion from the Rams has enabled Stafford to go to his first read more often. Both of his touchdowns thus far have been on his first read. Burrow, on the other hand, has very rarely gone to his first read, and when he does, it’s usually in a third-down situation to a short hitch route just beyond the first down marker.

The Bengals very rarely used two-tight end sets in the regular season, but after failing to give Burrow much protection on their first two drives, they opened up in a two-tight end set and that led to Mixon’s biggest run of the game and a 46-yarder to Ja’Marr Chase that set up a field goal. While the Bengals have a lot of wide receiver talent, their best plays have come when lining up with two tight ends. Through three drives, the Bengals did not use much play action. It took an RB pass play for the Bengals to get into the endzone. Obviously, don’t expect that to happen again in this game.

Ultimately, the Rams’ offensive scheme has been much more efficient. Their use of motion has done very well to create mismatches outside. Meanwhile the Bengals’ have been most effective when pounding the rock. Expect them to keep rolling out two-tight end sets until the Rams prove they can limit Mixon’s effect on the ground. After a touchdown drive that heavily used play action, the Rams are likely to open up the second half the same way they did the first — lots of runs and lots of motion to set up play action and get the matchups they want. It’s been a good game thus far. Here’s to a great second half as well.

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