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Bengals' Split-Screen Approach To Rematch Of Super Bowl Classic

LB Logan Wilson walks during the Ravens-Bengals game on Sunday, September 17, 2023.
LB Logan Wilson walks during the Ravens-Bengals game on Sunday, September 17, 2023.

They play the overhauled Rams in a rematch of a Super Bowl classic just 19 months old in a game fit for Monday night (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN) at Paycor Stadium and if you're the Bengals you deal with the tape and your emotions in your own way.

If you're Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, you haven't kept re-playing the last snap of breaking into the clear while Aaron Donald takes down quarterback Joe Burrow.  If you're middle linebacker Logan Wilson, you see the Penalty of Invisibility only if it's on a red zone cut-up of Rams head coach Sean McVay's bountiful route concepts.  

If you're long-time special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, you don't watch tape this week ("New coordinator,"), but you remember what you did see in the last-minute 23-20 loss.

"Just how close we were," Simmons said. "It brings a level of confidence … how capable this team still is of getting to where we want to be. That this team is good enough."

Last Sunday, the Bengals started 14 players who started that game in SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13, 2022. The Rams started five. Enough of his guys are left that it reminded Simmons to go back into his Super Bowl files. Instead of watching scheme, he felt spirit.

Simmons is famous for making his players take notes, but on the Thursday before the Super Bowl he asked them to write down what it would mean for them to win it and what they would have to do to do it.

"I still had a copy of all those notes. It was kind of cool to go back and read those notes. I gave them back (this week). After the Super Bowl I didn't see them until May," Simmons said. "I forgot to give them back. I gave all those guys the sheets back."

While some were watching loops of Stafford to Kupp this week, Simmons took snapshots of the notes from the players no longer here and sent them to guys like Clay Johnston and Keandre Jones.

"They were all good," Simmons said. "They were written from the heart."

If you're starting safety Nick Scott, you didn't leave your heart in L.A., where he was on the different side of the falling confetti. He started for the Rams that night and has that ring so many of his new teammates nearly had.

"It's not weird," Scott said. "This is my home. They adopted me. This is my family. I moved past that personally and I'm focused on getting a ring with this team."

And that's how he watches the tape. He watched himself on a Rams defense he thought did a good job holding Burrow and his weapons to 20 points, but concludes, "WE were on the wrong side of a classic."

So Scott has shelved the emotions for analytics of an offense he knows well.

"They're a fast-paced and potent offense with the shots they call," Scott said. "It's just as much playing McVay as it is some of the guys who are out there on the field because he's trying to have different gadgets and guys running all over the place trying to confuse the defense with bunches and motions and jets (sweeps)."

And there is his old quarterback Matthew Stafford, rejuvenated at 35 and playing even better than when he drove them for the ring with 85 seconds left.

"He's slinging it like he's 20," Scott said.

If you're offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, you're like Scott and squeezing the sentiment out of the Xs and Os when he watches the cutting cut-ups.

No regrets.

"It's hard to ignore it because the logo is really big in the middle," Callahan said. "The game's over. It's been over. We're trying to gain insight and an advantage for game planning purposes for this week. I've cried my tears over that one and we're trying to win this week."

But Donald is still a Canton presence and Raheem Morris is still the coordinator. And they were here just 13 months ago for a practice and half and a preseason game.

"They have a philosophy and what they believe in. So it's always good to just see what we did do well, what did we not do well, and where we've kind of grown," Callhan said. "We also practiced against them in the last training camp, so there are a lot of things to pull from, a lot of things to look at with them, their personnel and scheme versus ours."

So he figures he's watched it two times through, along with the ancillaries.

"I'd rather not have to watch that game that often," Callahan said. "But it's part of it."

It's also part of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's clicking between emotion and analytics. If you're Anarumo you've got to watch it because Stafford is still there with his dastardly no-look passes. So is the cunning McVay and his playbook that has turned fifth-round receiver Puka Nacua into an NFL record-breaker while Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp simmers on injured reserve.

Kupp, who was all over the place on the last drive. Kupp, who converted the fourth-and-one early in the drive on one of those jet sweeps. Kupp, who caught the no-look from Stafford over the middle for the biggest play of the drive, a 22-yarder. Kupp, who caught the winner from the 1 with 85 seconds left barely beating cornerback Eli Apple to the front pylon.

"There's frustrating parts," Anarumo said of the tape. "You watch Stafford throw it like that, he's a heck of a quarterback. That's a tough one to swallow."


"You're on the goal line, (if) you double Cupp, but then they'll run it in because cause you're short. I don't know, maybe that would be the one," Anarumo said. "We blitz (safety) Vonn (Bell) into the jet sweep on the fourth and one. I love Vonn to death. I wouldn't have changed that one."

Some wise guy asked Anarumo if on the tape the officials still threw a flag on Wilson at the Bengals 8, 1:47 from the ring.

A textbook drop in coverage on, of course, Cooper Douglas Kupp. Wilson staying with Kupp running a slant over the middle out of the slot. A penalty on a hold indistinguishable in a game of virtually no penalties. A first down on the 4.

"Unfortunately, they did," Anarumo said.

As NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth called it at that instant, "Close."

If you're Wilson, the indefatigable engine of the Bengals middle, the only way you've seen that play is this week is on the red zone cut-ups. A pardon-me bump in a busy hallway with people moving past.

"Before this week, I haven't looked (at the Super Bowl) in depth," Wilson said. "It was also two years ago. They've got different players. They're running some of the same stuff. They always come up with nuances. We've also looked at their first two games. I'm not worried about that. You get over it with time and I'm over it.

"I've talked about it many times," Wilson said. "I'd do the same thing again. There's nothing I can do about it."

So he's trying to stop Stafford from getting the ball to Nacua and if that means looking at that play, well, it might as well have been a joint-practice play.

"The main guy making them good is the quarterback. He's been in the league so long. I think he's one of the league's best players," Wilson said. "I don't think he gets the respect he deserves, especially being in year 15 on a younger team after going all in on a Super Bowl.

"I think he's a tremendous quarterback and I have the utmost respect for him. He does a really good job manipulating underneath the defenses."

If you're the Bengals on Monday night, that split screen is analytics and emotion.