Rams vs. Bengals: Full Cincinnati Game Preview
Cincinnati once stood as one of the league's lone undefeated teams before taking dives at the hands of the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals, the last one at least a close contest decided by a last-second field goal.
On paper, the contest against the 4-6 Rams looks like the definition of winnable, as coach Jeff Fisher's team has to travel across the country, bringing along a three-game skid.
Sunday is a chance for the Bengals to get back on track and prove the team isn't reeling out of control. Here's a look at everything to know.
Week 11 Results and Recap
AFC North Standings
Cincinnati Bengals (8-2)
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
Baltimore Ravens (3-7)
Cleveland Browns (2-8)
The Bengals did most everything right on the road against Arizona and still came up short.
Andy Dalton threw for two touchdowns despite four sacks and some miserable deep-ball attempts. Behind him, Jeremy Hill seemed to rediscover some momentum by rushing for two touchdowns.
The problems came on defense. Coordinator Paul Guenther's unit entered without top corner Adam Jones and lost pieces such as Darqueze Dennard as the game wore on. The injury woes helped Carson Palmer throw for four touchdowns and march his team down the field as the clock ticked, setting up the game-winning field goal.
This drum is dead, but it needs beating again—the loss wasn't terrible by any means. If anything, the Bengals went on the road in prime time against a Super Bowl contender and held their own.
All the Bengals have to do now is take the positive from it and apply it to the game against the Rams because those Pittsburgh Steelers continue to inch closer in the division.
News and Notes
Pressure on Dalton
Dalton, by most accounts, has improved by leaps and bounds this season.
Even he couldn't save the Bengals in Arizona last week. He's not the main person to blame, but some of his deep passes were errant and highlighted some major missed opportunities.
ESPN.com's Coley Harvey dove into the specifics of what the Cardinals did to force misses:
Sure, few quarterbacks do, but according to ESPN Stats & Information, Dalton's Total QBR when facing pressure is a mediocre 6.9, ranking him 24th among qualifying quarterbacks. That's right in line with the career 4.3 QBR he has when dealing with pressure, a figure that ranks him 26th among qualifying signal-callers since 2011, the year he began playing.
Most quarterbacks struggle under pressure, of course. But it's an interesting note to watch moving forward, as both of Cincinnati's last two opponents seemed to figure things out.
If they wrote a blueprint, so to speak, the Bengals could be in trouble.
Receivers Not Expecting the Ball?
One of the other issues plaguing the offense, which especially reared its head in the 10-6 loss to the Houston Texans, is dropped passes.
Before the game against the Rams, coach Marvin Lewis actually spoke about the issue and elaborated on the cause.
"The receivers always have to trust that he's coming to them all the time," Lewis said, per Harvey. "They disappointed us a couple of times because they don't think they're getting it and then here it comes. They always have to have the edge to where 'I'm getting the ball.'"
It's an interesting problem to have. Dalton's working his way through reads and gunning it with mostly accurate passes. This sounds like a simple adjustment for targets on the offense to make moving forward.
Quarterback a Question Mark for Rams
As the week goes on, whether the Rams trot out Nick Foles or Case Keenum under center remains a mystery.
Foles hit the bench after miserable play as the Rams searched for something more, only to watch as Keenum suffered a concussion last weekend.
According to the Associated Press (via WCPO.com), Keenum is in concussion protocol but preparing off the field: "Coach Jeff Fisher said Keenum, injured late in Sunday's loss at Baltimore when the back of his helmet banged into the turf after a hit, was at Rams Park studying film and participating in meetings on Tuesday."
There aren't major differences between Foles and Keenum—Cincinnati will still need to mostly focus on running back Todd Gurley. Regardless, keep an eye on which quarterback ends up getting the start.
Latest Injury News
Marvin Jones (LP)
There isn't much to worry about here when it comes to Marvin Jones. His limited participation seems more like a precaution than anything. Even if it turns into something worse, the Bengals can lean on others such as Mohamed Sanu in a limited passing game this week.
Andy Dalton (LP)
Here's a shocker.
Alas, while it's shocking to see Dalton's name on the injury report, this isn't anything more than a veteran getting a day or so extra away from things. Barring a major turn of events, Dalton is fine for this weekend.
Adam Jones (DNP)
Adam Jones' name on this list is the biggest concern for the Bengals.
Already short-handed in the secondary, Cincinnati can only afford to go without Jones for so long. At the same time, it wouldn't be a shock to see him sit this week out against a Rams team not known for taking to the air often, anyway.
- DNP: Did not practice
- LP: Limited in practice
- FP: Full practice
Courtesy of ESPN.com
Cincinnati Offensive Line vs. St. Louis Defense
The Cincinnati offensive line just hasn't had a good go of it in recent weeks, letting Dalton suffer 10 sacks over the course of the last three games.
As hinted in the news and notes section, there's a budding, disturbing trend here—especially against the rush-proficient Rams. Aaron Donald might be the closest thing to Geno Atkins in the NFL these days, and his defense has already totaled 30 sacks on the season and ranks as the league's third-best pass rush at Pro Football Focus.
St. Louis has the rare ability to hurt offenses with interior pressure, just as the Bengals can. Maybe it's a saving grace that the Cincinnati offensive line practices against that pressure each week, but if the line cannot execute well Sunday, the losing streak could extend to three.
Cincinnati Linebackers vs. Todd Gurley
The Cincinnati defense has been downright elite against opposing rushers this season since Vontaze Burfict's return, allowing just 3.18 yards per carry to backs over its last three games.
Gurley, though, is one of the league's breakout players.
The sensational rookie averages five yards per carry with 775 yards and six touchdowns this year, a stunning stat line considering most teams don't worry about St. Louis' quarterbacks or weapons in the passing game.
If Burfict and Co. cannot find a way to keep Gurley in check, the rookie has the ability to take over a game and keep the Cincinnati offense off the field, not to mention the crowd bored and quiet.
Rams' X-Factor of the Week: Todd Gurley
St. Louis' hopes hinge on Gurley each week.
It's no coincidence that over his four games in a row with a minimum of 128 rushing yards, the Rams picked up three of their wins, even besting the Cardinals via his 19 carries for 146 yards.
The Rams are a bit like Bengals teams of old in that they want to control the clock with the running game and rely on a strong defense to do the heavy lifting when actually on the field.
For this approach to work, though, Gurley has to be able to find room against a suddenly potent run defense. Cincinnati has the talent to stop the Georgia product; it's a matter of execution and not giving the explosive back the creases and angles to do major damage.
Bengals' X-Factor of the Week: Tyler Eifert
St. Louis is strong on the defensive edges, hence the unit allowing just four touchdowns to wide receivers this year.
For Cincinnati, the key to moving the ball against a stingy defense might be with tight end Tyler Eifert. In Week 10, Chicago tight ends caught eight passes for 125 yards and two scores against the Rams, then Baltimore tight ends followed with eight catches for 121 yards.
It's a chance for Eifert to put together another streak of quality outings. After a nightmare three-drop performance in the loss to Houston, Eifert turned two of his three catches into touchdowns against Arizona.
Eifert will need to play a big role in the offense all over the field for the Bengals to keep moving the ball Sunday.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, St. Louis 21
Look for the Bengals to snap a two-game skid.
While secondary issues might persist thanks to injury, St. Louis doesn't have a quarterback who either knows the Bengals well (Brian Hoyer) or is an elite player (Palmer) to keep Cincinnati honest.
This disparity means Burfict and Co. can sell out to stop Gurley. On the other side, Dalton and the offense's quick-hitting ways can neutralize the Donald-led rush so long as the play-calling doesn't once again overthink itself.
Look for the Bengals to do what the Rams would hope to do and control the pace of this one as Eifert and the defense post big performances to keep the upset-minded Rams at an arm's length.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, St. Louis 21