November 23, 2014

Preview: Bengals @ Rams

The Bengals embark on their final road game of the season to play the injury-ravaged Rams, who look like they may have to sit QB Sam Bradford this week. If you live around Cincinnati, make sure you are available to watch, because it will probably be the last Bengals game this year that is broadcast in your area.

After 5 straight games facing top 10 defenses, this week the Bengals have an opponent in the Rams that is near the bottom in many categories. Not much has gone right for them this year. Hopefully the Bengals will further that trend for one more week.

There are 4 numbers that will give you a pretty clear picture of how this game should go. The Bengals are averaging 22 points/game while playing several of the toughest defenses in the NFL; the Rams average a mere 12 points/game with one of the league’s feel-good QB stories of 2010 under center. The Bengals are giving up 21 points/game, while the Rams are giving up 25 points/game. They won’t need anywhere near 21 points to get this one.

When the Rams have the ball…

The Rams offense has managed to score a total of 153 pts this season (11.8 pts/game), worst in the league by 20 pts total. They have been held to 10 pts or less six times, including by every top 10 defense that they have faced except for the Browns.

QB Kellen Clemens v. incredible odds. After surprising the NFL as a rookie last year and raising the expectations for the Rams this year, Sam Bradford has had an abysmal sophomore campaign. He currently ranks between Carson Palmer and Indy’s Curtis Painter. I’m sure that’s not the company he is looking to keep. And an nagging ankle injury just won’t go away for him.

With backup QB A.J. Feeley also fighting a hand injury, someone has to get under center. That lucky fellow looks to be Kellen Clemens, signed by the Rams just last week after being claimed off of waivers from Houston. With all of six practices attended by Clemens, this could get ugly fast. Look for LOTS of running plays to be called. And for the Bengals to play 11 in the box. (I kid. 10 in the box.)

Offensive Line:

This unit is at least part of the reason why Bradford and Feeley are banged up, having allowed 46 sacks and 96 QB hits, league-worst marks on both counts. That has to be good news for a Mike Zimmer defense that is tied for 6th in the NFL with 36 sacks and that saw Carlos Dunlap return to practice for the first time in weeks.

LG Jacob Bell v. DT Geno Atkins. My spider senses are picking up on a big game in store for Dr. Havoc, adding to his 7 sacks on the season. The next two weeks are the perfect opportunity for Atkins to notch the first double-digit sack season since Robert Geathers did it in 2006.

Running Game:

If you are one who still curses the name of Chris Perry every time someone brings up Steven Jackson, then go ahead and get it out of your system now so you are not grumbling all weekend.

The Rams brought in Cadillac Williams to pair with Jackson as a formidable 1-2 punch in the running game. But the sting in that punch has never materialized. The Rams are averaging just 99.8 yds/game, and they find themselves up against the Bengals’ #7 ranked run defense.

RBs Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams v. LB Rey Maualuga. SJ has had just three 100+ yd games this season, including in both of the Rams’ wins. But in the other 9 games in which he has played, he has been held to an average of 53.2 yds/game. Williams made is first appearance on Monday night in Seattle after missing 4 straight games.

The game plan for the Bengals is pretty simple: stop Jackson. The best way to stop him? Get an early lead and force the Rams to throw instead.

Passing Game:

Passing yds/game are not everything. The 49ers and the Tebows average fewer yds than the Rams but have winning records. But they have something the Rams don’t: a dominating defense.

WRs Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander v. CBs Nate Clements, Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings. This would be a rematch of the Bengals facing Brandon Lloyd, but he sat out against the Bengals while in Denver before being traded to the Rams.

Of the three WRs, only Alexander has a 100+ yd game in a Rams uniform, which he logged in Week 2 against the Giants. He also has the next highest receiving game at 91 yds against the Packers, another poor passing defense.

For the Bengals, Nate Clements sat out of practice on Wednesday, but that is likely to limit stress on his hamstring. Keeping Adam Jones on Lloyd as much as possible would make sense. If Clements is not able to go on Sunday, the Rams odds for success in the passing game will go up.

TE Lance Kendricks v. LB Thomas Howard. The Bengals were painfully reminded last week what happens when the TE gets open. They must get back on track this week. Fortunately, none of the Rams’ TEs have proven very effective, with the rookie Kendricks leading the pack with 20 catches for 266 yds, slightly over half of Gresham’s production.

When the Bengals have the ball…

The Bengals have found nearly every way possible of tearing our hearts out over the past few weeks. While a loss in St. Louis would be the ultimate kick in the berries, the advantage is clearly in their favor. Limiting mental errors, avoiding turnovers and playing a decent game should bring home the 8th “W” of the season and ensure a non-losing season.

QB Andy Dalton v. stats. Andy is a mere 167 yds away from throwing for 3000 yds this season. There could be a little temptation for Jay Gruden to get his QB over that mark this week, keeping him as close as possible to Cam Newton and a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year. Of course they will deny that stats could ever influence strategy, but there is no doubt that they know the numbers.

Andy is averaging 217.9 yds/game, and the Rams allow 208.8 yds/game, good for #8 in the league and 6 yds/game more than the Bengals. Despite temptation to pad the stats, I would like to see Andy’s attempts at or below his average this week.

Offensive Line:

Every time Anthony Collins plays, I shake my head that he cannot earn a spot as a starter, and the thought that he may leave when his contract is up for a team that will start him sickens me.

Just because the Rams are 2-11, don’t think that they can’t bring pressure. They have racked up 35 sacks this season, one less than the Bengals. However, their D-line has truly become the walking wounded, with 4 of the 8 players battling some type of injury right now and missing practice on Wednesday.

LT Andrew Whitworth v. RDEs James Hall and Robert Quinn. We heard Quinn’s name a lot heading into the draft, and he has lived up to the hype. Both Hall and Quinn have 5 sacks this season. Whitworth got back on track last week against Antonio Smith, and he must be just as solid this week. Hall is nursing a chest injury, so Quinn should see plenty of PT.

RT Andre Smith or Anthony Collins v. LDE Chris Long. With Smith in a walking boot at times over the past two weeks, this is not the week to risk allowing Long to add to his 12 sacks on the season, even if he is dealing with an ankle injury of his own. Let Collins have this game. I trust him a lot more than Smith this week.

Running Game:

Wonder why I want Andy’s attempts down this week? Here’s why: the Rams’ run defense is the worst that the Bengals have played this year. Worse than the Colts. Worse than the Browns. They are allowing a league-worst 156.8 yds/game on the ground. So pound the rock, baby!

RBs Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott v. LB James Laurinaitis. The OSU product is a tackling machine, racking up 114 so far this year. But like D’Qwell Jackson in Cleveland, he has to make the tackles because they aren’t coming from up front.

There was some grumbling by a couple of our WDF compatriots this week about the lack of production from Scott. Frankly, I’ve begun to sour on both of them. I need to see 100+ yds from Benson and 50+ from Scott (assuming he gets enough carries). If either struggles against the Rams, they will lose me for good.

Passing Game:

While the Rams’ run defense is weak, the pass rush is stout. If the Bengals O-line plays a strong, disciplined game (and I’m questioning the disciplined part lately), the passing game should find some success. The Rams’ secondary has managed only 5 INTs this year, one fewer than the Bengals’ secondary, and no one has more than two INTs.

WRs A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson v. CBs Bradley Fletcher and Justing King. I thought Jay Gruden made a mistake last week not getting Andrew Hawkins more involved. If the Bengals leverage the mismatches in speed that they can get with Hawkins and Simpson, the field will open wide to them.

TE Jermaine Gresham v. LB Brady Poppinga. Gresham is another mismatch to use. I would love to see him have a big game and declare to the NFL that he must be schemed for.

Special teams…

P Donnie Jones v. P Kevin Huber. If you thought Huber had a lot of punts this year (77), Jones has more (85). Both can drive a kick a long, long way, and both pin opponents inside the 20 about 28% of the time. The Rams will need to force an error to stay in the game.

PR Austin Pettis v. PR Brandon Tate. I don’t follow the Rams, but this job seems to have been a complete mess for the team. Danny Amendola and Greg Salas are listed as the 1st/2nd guys by NFL.com. Nick Miller returned a punt for a TD on Nov 27 but has only 3 punt returns as a Ram this year. Pettis is listed on the team’s website, so even though he only has 15 returns, I’m going with him.

If Tate’s 9.7 yds/ret underwhelms you, then Pettis’ 9.3 yds/ret won’t impress you either.

K Josh Brown v. K Mike Nugent. Both kickers have good range with longs of 49 yds this season. But Nugent, the recent Ed Block Courage Award recipient for returning from injury last year to lead the league in accuracy at 96.6%, has the advantage.

KR Jerious Norwood v. KR Brandon Tate. Quinn Porter is listed by the team as the kick returner, but he has an abdomen injury right now. Norwood only has 12 returns, but his long is 47 yds, two more than Tate’s longest in 21 fewer opportunities.

The Bengals must come to this game ready to prove to themselves and to us that they have the mental toughness to bounce back from a gut-wrenching last second loss and from a difficult stretch that has seen them drop 4 of 5 and lose control of the #6 playoff seed.

I need to see 3rd down conversions. The Bengals convert only 36.2% of the time this year. Teams that want to succeed in the playoffs cannot be held that low. They have to be able to stay on the field. Punting nearly 2 out of 3 times that the opponent can get the Bengals to 3rd down won’t get them to the playoffs, let alone a win should they get there.

I need to see the horses gallop. Benson and Scott are getting their best chance to run all over somebody. If they get held in check by this team, they will have proven that the Bengals need to pursue other options at RB next year. Unless the Rams are putting 9 in the box, in which case Andy’s passing numbers will be insane.

I need to see turnovers. Zimmer’s threats last week worked, with the Bengals coming up with 4 to put themselves at +1 on the season. The Rams are -5. Own the ball.

I need to see pain. The Rams are already walking wounded, and they face teams from the hard-hitting AFC North this week and next week. I’m not calling for James Harrison-style dumbass, headhunting, get-yourself-suspended pain. I mean physical domination that has them wishing for the end of the game so they can go soak in the tub.

All that will make me a very happy WhoDey!

Final Score: Cincinnati 27. St Louis 3.