Should Aaron Donald Been Super Bowl MVP? Advanced Stats Prove Argument

Donald had a 17.5% pressure rate with a team-high seven pressures and two sacks


Feb 14, 2022

Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp capped arguably the greatest single season by any player at the position. Kupp came away with receiving triple crown during the regular season, and was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year, and then went out and recorded two touchdowns to help the Rams past the Cincinnati Bengals in a 23-20 victory in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday.

Kupp finished the game with eight catches on 10 targets for 92 yards while being individually responsible for five (!) first downs on LA’s game-winning drive at SoFi Stadium. He stepped up in the clutch and his second touchdown propelled him to be named Super Bowl MVP with Matthew Stafford’s title-game stat sheet being impacted by two interceptions.

There’s an argument to be made, however, that neither of those Los Angeles offensive players should have been named MVP. And it’s because Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald put together a homewrecker of a performance.

Donald, on the surface, finished tied with a game-high two sacks as Los Angeles sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow seven times. But Donald did much more than those two sacks and four total tackles indicate.

Donald was responsible for a team-high seven pressures on Burrow despite receiving double teams throughout much of the first half and even an occasional triple team. Donald individually was responsible for a 17.5% pressure rate on 40 pass rush snaps, according to Next Gen Stats.

And Donald’s individual dominance, which helped LA compile a 41.5% total pressure rate while blowing up nearly half of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps, had a clear impact throughout the second half. The Rams finished the game with a 17.1% sack rate, according to SportRadar, which was their highest single-game mark of the season. Notably, the Rams averaged a 7.4% defensive sack rate during the regular season, according to SportRadar. Los Angeles did so Sunday on an identical 17.1% blitz rate, as the Rams brought in an extra rusher and in doing so granted Donald one-on-one matchups with the Bengals dreadful interior. More times than not it was those exact circumstances that allowed Donald to bulldoze through a Cincinnati guard and either get to Burrow, or cause the Bengals signal-caller to get rid of the ball.

The Rams finished with 11 quarterback hits on Burrow, more than double that of the Bengals (five), according to SportRadar.

Donald also made each of the final two plays to win the game. On third-and-1, Donald used his hands to shed a block by a Bengals lineman and then held up Samaje Perine for a gain of zero. On the very next fourth-and-one play, with the Bengals at the LA 49-yard line needing a field goal to tie the game, Donald needed just 2.20 seconds, according to Next Gen Stats, to pressure Burrow and force a game-winning incompletion. Alternative views of the exact play proved if Donald wasn’t able to get there as fast as he was Burrow had a very good chance to hit Ja’Marr Chase for a game-winning touchdown with Jalen Ramsey in coverage.

Those plays, just as much and perhaps moreso than the ones that Kupp made, were incredibly impactful in the Rams hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. And the decision to not award Donald the Super Bowl MVP probably is weighing heavily on — well, maybe not Donald — but the countless bettors who had Donald at 12-, 14- even 18-to-1 to be named MVP at game’s end.

NESN’s big game coverage is presented by Berkshire Bank.

Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports Images
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