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Super Bowl strategy: Bengals must find ways to double-team Rams’ Cooper Kupp

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp tries to break past Arizona's Chris Banjo and Deionte Thompson.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp tries to break past Arizona’s Chris Banjo (31) and Deionte Thompson (22) during the Rams’ win in the NFC championship game last month.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Third of a four-part series looking at strategy for Super Bowl LVI. Part 3: What will the Cincinnati Bengals do to try to contain elite Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp?

By now everyone is more than familiar with Cooper Kupp, the Rams’ triple-crown-winning wide receiver with the seemingly innate ability to go uncovered.

Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor, however, knew Kupp before most everyone else did, back in the receiver’s Eastern Washington days.

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Taylor, who spent two seasons on the Rams’ coaching staff, threw passes to Kupp during a private workout before the 2017 draft. There was only one incompletion that day, Taylor noted, because of an overthrow.

Recalling their time together in Los Angeles, Taylor praised Kupp’s celebrated intellect.

“You’d wake up to a midnight text from Cooper Kupp with thoughts on things that could help the offense,” Taylor said. “He’s certainly rare that way.”

Now Taylor must find an answer for Kupp in order to prevent him from turning the game Sunday into the Super Cooper show.

Good luck, Coach.

Including the playoffs, Kupp has topped 100 yards receiving 13 times and been held under 92 yards just twice in 20 games. When he has scored a touchdown this season, the Rams are 13-1.

The obvious move when trying to neutralize a potential game-destroying receiver is to employ a double team. But the Rams, fully aware of that fact, position Kupp all over the field to often take that option away.

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“It’s hard to just say, ‘I’m going to play Cover 1 and double Cooper Kupp,’ ” said former NFL coach Steve Mariucci. “They move him around in the formation to make that difficult. But you have to give help somehow. I wouldn’t single him often, I know that.”

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Now an analyst for the NFL Network, Mariucci said the Bengals will have to tailor their scheme to try to funnel Kupp toward the middle of the field, where there typically are more bodies.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp hauls in a long touchdown pass in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp hauls in a long touchdown pass in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis during the NFC divisional playoffs last month.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Of course, defenses have been attempting to do that all season and Kupp still has amassed 170 receptions for 2,333 yards and 20 touchdowns.

“I don’t know if you ever stop a guy like this Cooper Kupp,” Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “They have to try to contain him. These guys are hard to stop. But hopefully you can minimize the damage he can do.”

The Bengals’ secondary has been playing well, allowing only one wide receiver to reach 100 yards over the last eight games.

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In each of Cincinnati’s three postseason victories, the defense’s final play has been an interception.

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In the wild-card round, the Bengals limited Las Vegas’ Hunter Renfrow to 58 yards receiving. Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill finished with 78 yards in the AFC championship game.

But, in between, Tennessee’s A.J. Brown caught five passes for 142 yards. Cincinnati still surrendered only one touchdown in a 19-16 win.

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“If it’s me, I’m putting my hands on Kupp all day, every day,” said former NFL cornerback DeAngelo Hall, a three-time Pro Bowler. “I’m getting him at the line of scrimmage. I’m a little different, though. I ran 4.2, so I’m not worried about him running past me.

“A lot DBs can’t keep up with him. So it’s pick your poison. A lot guys just can’t match up with him, can’t match up with the athleticism and smarts, the schemed-up plays. That’s why he’s so tough on a defense.”

And Kupp will be tough, certainly, for Cincinnati to try to solve, the Bengals about to discover exactly how well their secondary is playing.

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