Aaron Donald was the real MVP of Super Bowl LVI
Super Bowl LVI was a dramatic contest featuring a suspenseful fourth quarter and 15-play go-ahead touchdown drive that concluded inside the two-minute warning. The Los Angeles Rams prevailed 23-20 over the Cincinnati Bengals, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp was named MVP of the game after his decisive touchdown reception gave the Rams the final lead.
However, looking back at the game, the box score, and the film, it's pretty obvious that Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald was the real MVP.
Donald was dominant
Donald is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the NFL. He is an absolute menace to offensive linemen and he showed up Sunday night with just as much dominance as he’s ever had. Going into the game everyone knew that the Bengals' offensive line could potentially struggle with the elite pass-rushing talent all along the Rams’ defensive line.
It took some time for it to really play out, but by the time the game concluded Donald had accumulated eight quarterback pressures. He had four tackles and two sacks, and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked a total of seven times, the most of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
Donald’s ability to draw double and sometimes triple teams undoubtedly contributed significantly to those numbers, as his teammates Von Miller, A’Shawn Robinson, and Leonard Floyd all got in on the sack list thanks to easier pass-rushing opportunities with more attention committed to the All-Pro Donald.
The Bengals’ pass-block win rate was just 14%, the worst of any team in any NFL game all season. The fact the team managed to put up 20 points is a testament to Burrow’s ability to quickly release the ball and the playmaking ability of his two primary weapons, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
In today’s NFL, if you can’t consistently win in the trenches when passing the ball you are destined to face an uphill battle, and Donald contributed significantly to a big advantage for the Rams.
Donald's clutch play sealed the win for LA
The Bengals failed to score in their final five possessions of the game, opening the way for the Rams to make their comeback and stay within striking distance despite being incapable of running the ball and facing multiple injuries to the detriment of their passing attack. In the final possession of the game, Donald helped stop Bengals running back Samaje Perine from squeaking through the line for a 1-yard gain on third down to secure a new set of downs. On the next play, Donald made the decisive sack to end the game.
The Rams defense, led by Donald, kept the game within reach for Matthew Stafford and Kupp by consistently pressuring Burrow and limiting the Bengals’ offensive output. Then, when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, Donald took over and decided things with his strength and speed on the final two plays.
No single player can win a football game, and Kupp absolutely earned the award he was given, but he likely wouldn’t have even been in a position for his touchdown(s) to matter if not for the invaluable play of the league’s best defensive lineman on the other side of the ball. Despite being shut out of the official award ceremony, the game’s most valuable player was Aaron Donald.