The Cincinnati Bengals lost their home opener last week to the Baltimore Ravens 27-24, giving them a 0-2 start as they head into a Monday night’s prime-time game against the Los Angeles Rams. I am sure this is not how the Bengals imagined their season starting, but they were in the same position last season and found a way to bounce back.
With two divisional losses already and questions about the health of their franchise quarterback, Joe Burrow, the Stripes coaching staff finds their back against the wall as they look for a way to defeat a 1-1 Rams team. This game is even more interesting because this is the first time these two teams have faced one another in a regular season game since they played in Super Bowl LVI, and the Rams walked away with that win.
Who is quarterbacking for the Stripes?
I guess the big question on everyone’s mind is who will be leading the Bengal’s offense when the lights come on at Payco Stadium. Burrow reinjured his strained calf muscle against the Ravens and was limited in practice this week with a day-to-day status when it comes to playing on Monday. Burrow will get an extra day of rest, but this will likely be a game-time decision whether he plays.
The main concern for Burrow and the Bengals will be how long this injury might linger or the possibility of a worse injury if he continues to play through it. If Burrow cannot play, backup Jake Browning is prepared to come in and lead the offense. Browning has had plenty of snaps at quarterback during the preseason but has only appeared in one NFL game, which was taking a kneel-down at the end of a game.
Burrow gives the Stripes the best chance of winning. He had 222 passing yards and threw two touchdowns against the Ravens while not being fully healthy. On the other hand, Browning has had time throwing to starting receivers and, unlike Burrow, is more of a running threat. Regardless, the Rams will have to prepare for both quarterbacks.
Tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and the rest of the offensive line must have a good day.
Newly acquired left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. has undoubtedly earned his money in the last two games, facing top pass rusher Myles Garrett in his first game. Brown has only allowed four total pressures and no sacks in two games. He and the rest of the offensive line must improve their communication, keep the penalties to a minimum, and give the quarterback time to process and make plays.
Brown will face first-year edge rusher Byron Young, who has been quite the surprise for the Rams. He has recorded nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in his last two games. Look for Brown to keep Young at bay for the Stripes to move the ball.
The biggest disruptor for the Rams is three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. His presence was felt in Super Bowl LVI when he helped the Rams defeat the Bengals. He currently has four tackles and a sack in the last two weeks. Keeping him out of the backfield is a must for whoever is at quarterback.
Can the Bengals establish a running game?
Bengal’s Offensive Coordinator Brian Callahan may want to find a way to get running back Joe Mixon more involved in the game plan. Mxon has had some explosive plays, averaging 4.4 yards a carry. Long drives and controlling the clock will be critical. Yet the Bengals have not fully committed to the run, but they may not have a choice with their current quarterback situation.
Will this be the game rookie Chase Brown gets his shot at carrying the rock? Brown showed potential as he was used to picking up tough yards during the preseason. His ability to make players miss and his speed is just another option in the backfield.
Higgins, Chase, and Boyd have the talent to move the chains.
Receiver Tee Higgins had zero catches in his first game against the Browns, then rebounded against the Ravens by leading the team with 89 yards and two touchdowns. Higgins must have another big day, as the Rams will likely have Ahkello Witherspoon on him. It will be a tall order for Witherspoon to keep Higgins from making big plays in front of a home crowd.
The Bengal’s biggest offensive threat, Ja’Marr Chase, has not been a factor like he has in previous years. He voiced his opinion earlier this week about taking more shots down the field. Finding creative ways to get Chase the ball will be necessary if the Bengals hope to stretch the field.
If the Bengals plan on winning this game, they need to get their biggest playmaker more involved in the offense. Chase will be up against second-year Rams corner Darion Kendrick; look for the Bengals to test Kendrick early.
Let’s not forget reliable slot receiver Tyler Boyd is yet another option. He has made his presence known, especially when going over the middle of the field. You have all the talent at receiver but have yet to find a way to utilize this trio of receivers.
Will Lou Anarumo disguise a plan for Matthew Stafford?
Known for his creative defenses, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo can not let Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford feel comfortable in the pocket. The Bengals have struggled lately, getting to the quarterbacks they have faced. The Rams have been good in pass protection, so finding ways to bring pressure will be challenging.
One key matchup to keep an eye on is offensive tackle Alaric Jackson against Trey Hendrickson. Cincinnati’s top pass rusher, Hendrickson, must get to Stafford. The Bengals have struggled to bring pressure so far this season. Defensive end Joseph Ossai did not show up on the final injury report, which means the Bengals have another edge rusher to keep Stafford looking over his shoulder.
Rams rookie receiver Puka Nacua turns heads when on the field.
The Rams will be without their star receiver Cooper Kupp, who was placed on IR at the start of the season; however, rookie Puka Nacua has been Stafford’s primary target. He has thrown to Nacua 35 times in the last two weeks. Nacua leads the NFL in receptions with 25 while racking up 266 receiving yards. The focus should undoubtedly be on keeping the ball out of Nacua’s hands.
The Rams also have receivers Tutu Atwell and Van Jefferson to deal with. Atwell has had a solid start to the season, while Jefferson has struggled as he searches for his role on the offensive. The Bengals are strong at cornerback and safety and should make it difficult for the Rams downfield.
The Rams will challenge the Bengals defensive line.
The Bengals gave up massive runs against the Ravens while struggling to stop them in crucial third downs. The Rams will send talented Kyren Williams up the middle to move the chains. Williams has totaled 154 yards and four touchdowns in the first two weeks. Allowing the Rams to establish a running game would undoubtedly put the Stripes at a disadvantage.
The Bengal’s defense will have a lot of pride and will want to make a statement in stopping any running game. Underrated DJ Reader should set the tone for the rest of the defense to follow.
This Bengals defense must play better if they expect to stay in this game. After facing two of the best running quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson, it will be nice to have a pocket passer like Stafford to pressure.
This home game is a must-win for the Stripes if they are to resurrect their season with hopes of returning to the AFC Championship. The Bengals’ head coach, Zac Tayor, will have to be on top of his playing calling to put the Stripes in the best position to move the ball. Controlling the clock, getting Chase more involved, and forcing turnovers will all be vital in coming away with a win.
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