There are few guarantees in sports.
Joe Namath authored the greatest of them all when he elevated his fame to legend status for his bold victory guarantee on the eve of the Jets stunning upset over the Colts in Super Bowl III.
Barring an alien abduction, there is one no-brainer, sure-thing guarantee entering Super Bowl 2022 Sunday night at SoFi Stadium: Cooper Kupp is going to get open. A lot.
That’s the gift most evident to the naked eye about the Rams’ 28-year-old receiver. Despite not having top-end speed, Kupp gets open regardless of who or how many are covering him.
The Bengals enter the game with multiple plans in place to try to stop — or at least slow — Kupp: Double team him, put their best cornerback on him, get physical with him at the point of attack neat the line of scrimmage to alter his get-off on routes.
Here’s a news flash that isn’t exactly breaking news: Every team the Rams face has tried a combination of those things and yet Kupp still excelled, turning himself into the best receiver in the NFL in his fifth season in the league.
Kupp’s numbers this season are no joke. They don’t lie. He captured the receiver “triple crown,’’ leading the league in receptions with 145, receiving yards with 1,947 and receiving touchdowns with 16, becoming only the fourth receiver to accomplish this since 1971
He averaged 114.5 receiving yards per game. A lot of starting receivers play entire seasons without producing a single 100-yard receiving game. Kupp had 13 of them entering Sunday night. For context, Kupp’s Rams teammate Odell Beckham Jr. has 12 100-yard receiving games in the past six seasons, spanning 83 games.
In the Rams’ three playoff games this postseason entering the Super Bowl, Kupp caught 25 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns.
Kupp’s story is so unlikely it’s perfectly fitting for the place he plays — Los Angeles, where Hollywood movies are crafted.
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Not only did he play his college ball at obscure Eastern Washington, but he ran the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine in 4.62 seconds, speed numbers associated more with tight ends and linebackers, not top-end receivers.
“He’s got deceiving speed,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said before the game. “I think people think he’s not the fastest guy in the league, and they get fooled by that, and he runs right by them.”
Another element to Kupp’s uncanny ability to get open is that his size — 6-foot-2, 208 pounds — isn’t conducive to that of the stereotypical elusive slot receiver.
Former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson famously wrote a book titled, “Throw Me the Damn Ball,’’ meaning whether he was open or not. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford would be committing quarterback malpractice not to throw the ball to Kupp, because he’s open so often. It’s no accident Stafford targeted Kupp 191 times this season.
“Any kind of way you can affect the game, he does it,’’ Stafford said.
“I think quickness is a piece of football that isn’t talked about enough,” Kupp said on Wednesday. “Speed is a luxury in my mind. Quickness is a necessity. Quickness is something that I’ve tried to develop as early as I can remember.’’
Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase called the game of his Rams counterpart “like magic,’’ adding, “Cooper Kupp’s at another level.”
One of the things Kupp, the son of an NFL quarterback (Craig Kupp) and grandson of an NFL offensive lineman (Jake Kupp), said he’s worked on since he was playing youth football has been route running, and that’s paid off better than he could possibly have imagined, because he’s the best route runner in the game today. Kupp said his mantra has always been trying to make every route “look like the same thing.’’
“He’s as special as they come,’’ Bengals secondary/safeties coach Robert Livingston said before the game. “He can win in the slot. He can win outside. He can win in the short game, the intermediate game and, oh by the way, he’s great with the ball in his hands in the screen game. You always got to know where he is.’’
Easier said than done.
“They move him around so he’s not in the same place, so that you can’t game-plan for him,’’ Bengals secondary/cornerbacks coach Steve Jackson said before the game. “But there is no hiding him.’’
Asked how he’s able to get so open so consistently, Kupp smiled and said, “I can’t tell you all of my secrets.’’