RAMS ROUTE RUNNERS
The Bengals may have the best wide receiver corps in the NFL, but the Rams have an excellent one, too, in Odell Beckham Jr., Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson.
Apple: "That's a great challenge. They're a very talented group … They have a great quarterback to get them the ball. It's going to be a fun opportunity for us to go out there and show our talents. We've had to go against great receivers this whole season so, there's nothing different mindset-wise.
"Just going to go out there and impose our will and play physical and let the chips fall where they may."
Hilton: "(Kupp is) really deceptive in switching tempo when running routes and he's just a really smart receiver. I have a lot of respect for him and what he can do inside in the slot and outside. He's just a talented guy. He's phenomenal. I'm excited about this matchup on Sunday."
The Rams offense has enough firepower to change their scheme week-to-week depending on their opponent.
Hilton: "That's the fun of playing these types of offenses. You might expect one thing, but they'll come with the other. We know as a defense, we 'vce always got to expect the unexpected. It's the Super Bowl, a lot is on the line. They're going to do what they need to do to put themselves in a position to win. Personally, I feel like my skill set matches up perfectly with … my run-stopping ability, … I know that comes naturally."
GENERAL GERMAINE'S GAME PLAN
Pratt: "(We have to) make them one dimensional. Once you stop the run, they have to play one hand. That's any game of football. You've got to eliminate the run and then make them pass. If we do that, we will have a chance."
THE SAINTS CAME MARCHING IN
The Bengals have plucked Apple, safety Vonn Bell, and defensive end Trey Hendrickson in free agency. The three had played together in 2018 and 2019 in New Orleans.
Apple: "It was a great time. I loved it. It's great to be back with Trey and Vonn. We just have that natural chemistry on the field. I believe just playing with each other and then practicing together so many times back in New Orleans. (We) played in a lot of big games. It's great to be around them."
Awuzie and Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp share the same agent and some time together before their draft day in 2017.
Awuzie: "He has the most respect from me, especially of the players in the league. That's one of the players of some of my top-tier respect levels. It's just how he carries himself as a father, a husband, a player, his preparation that goes into it.
"We had the chance to train together before the draft in 2017. We were doing releases, one-on-ones even the 40, change of direction drills and everything. I really got a chance to know his nature and it's just crazy how things go full circle. I remember Ryan Lindley was also helping us (with) our training and he used to say like, 'He could imagine me and Cooper and how our careers are going to be because of how we prepared and how we similarly respected the game.'
"It's a great opportunity to go against that guy. He's a friend of mine. We followed each other on all social media. Every time California, … when we're at the agency, it's just like nothing has changed."
TOBIN'S MOST WANTED
In the early moments of this season's free agency, the 513 area code came through Awuzie's phone.
Awuzie: "Cincinnati was one of the first teams that believed in me and wanted me as soon as free agency started. That was very important to me. But at that time, I didn't know too much about the Bengals. I was kind of still wondering what I was going to do. I took on a little bit of research and listened to coach Zac (Taylor) and what the guys were telling me.
"It was like I felt an attachment to this place, … and the opportunity to be part of something special and the opportunity to build something. I feel like in this environment is when I play my best football. When guys are really back-against-the-wall. To prove ourselves, we have to do whatever it takes to win and to build a culture.
"I really feel like Cincinnati gave me that chance and I'm truly blessed to have this opportunity. They believed in me and that extremely heightened my belief in this team … I'm extremely thankful for that now."
'CORNER' STONE CHEMISTRY
Apple, Hilton and Awuzie all came to the Bengals around the same time in the offseason and have quickly built championship-caliber unity with the rest of the defense.
Awuzie: "I had a chance to think about this a little bit and it's crazy because I think that our scouting department is one of the smallest in the NFL. But, they're by far the most hardworking. Them being able to get all the guys that they got in the free agency, the draft, … and pretty much hit on everybody.
"More than that, the right culture guys. It's not just me, Mike and Eli. It started probably six years ago with (Tyler Boyd) and Sam Hubbard and Jessie Bates (III) and all those guys. Getting everything situated and sticking with guys. It's a real blue-collar group, our scouts. Getting the job done and you can tell that it mimics the city of Cincinnati.
"Blue-collar city, blue-collar place where people just rise up and go to work, regardless of circumstance. Regardless if it's snowing, if it's raining. So it's a credit to the scouting department and the front office."
More from Awuzie: "The culture in the locker room is crazy. I've never been on a team like this in the NFL where it feels like college. We know each other, we'll go to battle for each other. It's just a really beautiful thing to be part of."
Former Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins will forever be a fan favorite and is destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And his greatness serves as motivation.
Defensive tackle B.J. Hill: "He was a great player in the league for so long and he did so much for Cincinnati. He led the way for a lot of defensive tackles that came through here. That's pretty much the standard. I'm trying to be as great as he was and do my job like he did."
ROMULUS AND REMUS
The Bengals traded for Hill early in the season reuniting him with his former North Carolina State teammate and roommate Pratt. Hill has been stellar with 50 tackles and 5.5 sacks in the regular season and a huge sack and a pick in the postseason.
Pratt: "I was so excited for him. New opportunity, new life to showcase his talent. (I know) how much work he put in. We've been working in Charlotte, (N.C.), so I know how much work he put into his game. I can tell this year he's taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way. He's been making huge plays down the stretch for us. I'm continuing to watch him, I'm impressed with him as a man, as a father."
SOLVING THE STEEL CURTAIN
There probably isn't a more painful blow for the Steelers than watching one of their former players make it all the way to the Super Bowl. With the Bengals. They swept Pittsburgh during the season, outscoring them 65-20.
Hilton: "I'll be honest. Those two wins were definitely big for me. The guys knew that. You can ask them. They could tell both weeks that we played those guys, my mindset was different. I was just locked in and really pushing guys a lot more. Just to show like, 'All right guys, like if we want to take this division over, it's going to start with Pittsburgh.'
"Them bringing me over, I had the insight on what Pittsburgh thought of Cincinnati and telling those guys and just getting them riled up and knowing. 'We're this close, but we have to finish it.'"
The Bengals love the fans as much as the fans love them and they're going to give it their all Sunday afternoon.
Pratt: "It means everything. As you can tell they were so excited for us to even make the playoffs and then we started winning. Showing them what we have in the locker room. Showing them what our process was. I think probably most of them were like, 'Oh my gosh, they just made it to the playoffs.'
"Then we won against the Raiders. So, they're like, 'Oh my God, you actually won a playoff game.' But now they can see what standard we have in our locker room and showing them each and every week, and then bringing them the trophy home will be huge. Cincinnati will be going crazy for a long time."
Check out some of the best snapshots from the Bengals Wednesday practice in Los Angeles ahead of Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams. Presented by Fifth Third Bank.
Best of the Zooms news conferences Wednesday ahead of the Bengals Super Bowl LVI berth Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams at SoFi Stadium:
TURNOVERS IN TINSELTOWN
The Bengals defense has snatched the ball in crucial points throughout the postseason and it has allowed them to make it to Super Bowl LVI. They have six interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Cornerback Mike Hilton: "Any chance you have to take a position for the offense, that's a good momentum swing. We've been doing that well in the playoffs. We've been able to get multiple turnovers and put our offense in position to go score points. We feel like as a defense, if we constantly do that, we'll set ourselves up for wins."
Cornerback Eli Apple: "Every game, especially these last three playoff games, we've had to make plays and we like that. (We) like that pressure on us to where we've got to win the game. I'll say (the Raiders game). That first one was an interception where Germaine (Pratt) made the play and then go on from there making plays every game. We've got to keep it going."
Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie: "'See ball, get ball,' mentality on our defense. I think it starts up front, those guys hunting after the quarterback. Not a lot of quarterbacks have that many opportunities to have just easy throws. … Our generals, our linebackers in the middle, they always have preached turnovers. Especially Germaine Pratt. This guy is just a ball guy. He's always talking about turnovers. Always keeping it on our mind.
"Even dating back to camp, he was just randomly sent a picture of the Super Bowl trophy. … It'd be like 5 a.m., like, 'All right. Yeah. I know what we got going on.' But it's always on their mind. They're always trying to find ways to lead. That's basically our mentality. (It is) just to be aggressive and play our game. We know the opportunity's going to come, make the play and, shoot, try to get in the end zone after."
Linebacker Germaine Pratt: "Each game came down to the defense making a huge play. Defense wins championships. … All the guys in the locker room are prepared for the moment. As a defensive player, you want to be on the field to make that play to change the game or win us the game. I think we showed the last three games that the defense is ready to keep on making plays and win the game."