Take note, Bears: Elite WRs helped lead the Rams and Bengals to Super Bowl LVI

LOS ANGELES — As with any Super Bowl, the stars catching the eye heading into Sunday are the quarterbacks. Joe Burrow and Matt Stafford are the protagonists, and they’re the ones with the cameras in their faces.

But when it comes to special effects, explosive wide receivers are the ones to watch.

The Rams and Bengals each think they have the best body in the NFL at this position, either could be correct. The Rams have all pros Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson, while the Bengals have the trio of rookie rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

“It’s definitely going to be a show,” Higgins said after the Bengals wrapped up their final practice at UCLA. “Those guys over there are really great, then you got me, Tyler and Chase. It’s definitely going to be fun.

This is what it looks like to assemble an elite group of passing targets, which is a non-negotiable requirement in the modern NFL. Of the 37 wide receivers who had at least 800 yards this season, five are in this game.

The Bears should take note.

The Bengals did it despite their split from AJ Green, thanks to the development of Boyd (a second-round pick in 2016) and the instant gold medal over Higgins (#33 overall in 2020) and Chase (#5 last year).

The Rams did so despite losing longtime No. 1 receiver Robert Woods to a torn ACL in November. They signed Beckham the day before to bolster a crew that already included Kupp (third round in 2017) and Jefferson (second round in 20).

Whether it’s through the draft or being aggressive in free agency, it takes a major investment to get that good.

Assuming they let Allen Robinson walk in free agency, the Bears head into next season with Darnell Mooney as their best receiver. While he’s reliable and has passed for 1,000 yards this season, he might not make the top three if he’s on either Super Bowl team.

“It’s going to be a battle of the top receivers,” Boyd said. “I consider us the best group in the country. We showed it. But the Rams also have a great group.

In this matchup, the main event is Chase against five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Ramsey has said all week that he wants to spend the whole game covering for Chase, and the rookie is happy about that.

“I’m just gonna play my game bro,” Chase said. “He is the one who has to control me. I don’t play defense. I play on offense, so he has to control me.

It’s no surprise that putting a premium on wide receivers has paid off for these teams. The game is all about passing, so every priority is tied to that: get a good quarterback, protect him, and provide him with an arsenal. On the other side of the ball, it starts with pass rushers, followed by cornerbacks.

Taking the wide receiver position seriously means doing what the Rams and Bengals have done, as opposed to the course the Bears have taken over the past three seasons when at most they had two clicky receivers: Robinson and Mooney. Often it was just one or the other.

But it takes more than one, even if he is a star. The best defensive backs and savvy covers can deny that. So it’s not Kupp or Chase that makes his team’s passing game so fearsome; it’s the overwhelming collective of talent that forces a defense to make difficult and futile decisions.

“In the years when guys were getting banged and it was just kind of me there and I was getting double-crossed, it was hard to do what I had to do,” Boyd said. “Now that we have all these guys playing and making games, everyone’s job is easier. It’s much more relaxed. It’s so easy for all of us to get into our game.”

Same for the Rams.

“We bounce off each other well, and then it’s one thing to pick your poison,” Beckham said. “I feel like [all] of us are dangerous.

Kupp has been a budding star for years and just won the receiving triple crown with 145 catches, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. He opened the season with seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Bears and pretty much averaged the rest of the way. He is widely regarded as the best road runner in the game.

Jefferson, third in the Rams’ pecking order, has never gone for a 100-yard game this season but played his part reliably and averaged 16 yards per reception en route to 50 catches, 802 yards and six touchdowns. .

In 11 games with the Rams, including the playoffs, Beckham had 46 catches for 541 yards and six touchdowns.

Chase was fourth in the NFL with 1,455 yards and third with 13 touchdowns. The Bengals were one of five teams that had multiple 1,000-yard receivers, with Higgins scoring 1,091 and six touchdowns on 74 catches.

Boyd, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver a few years ago, ranked neatly third with 67 catches for 828 yards and five touchdowns.

With so many options, Burrow and Stafford will be hard to stop.

There will be moves and counter-moves all night long, and it’s very different from that perpetually checkmate feeling the Bears offense has had for years. As new general manager Ryan Poles sketches out the personnel he wants to provide Justin Fields, it should look a lot like what he’ll see at the Super Bowl.

About Jimmie T.

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