A matchup between a playoff contender and an injury-plagued afterthought played out an intriguing matchup in Week 15 as the Cincinnati Bengals in the end proved to have too much for the St Louis Rams. For most of the game, the two teams played back-and-forth, only exchanging field goals before two Bengals touchdown drives (either side of the intermission between the third and fourth quarters) put this game away. The Rams got a consolation touchdown late, but as soon as the Bengals established that two-score lead, you felt this game was over.
Neither team really broke from their stereotype in this game. The Rams played solid defense but couldn’t muster any offense to truly test the Bengals. As ever, everything went through Steven Jackson and though he did his best to carry Bengal defenders for yards, they had sights set on him all day and he could never break free to rip-off a big play and break the game open. For the Bengals, it was, as ever, a waiting game for the offense; just allowing their defense to keep pace until the offense found its rhythm and found a crease to pull away. A close–but at the same time, comfortable–win for the Bengals this week ahead of another potential banana skin NFC West opponent next week.
The Cardinals are playing good football right now and the Bengals must not look ahead to their regular season finale at home to Baltimore or their slender playoff hopes will not reach their Week 17 crescendo. As Rams fans turn their eyes towards the league scoreboards for the next two weeks to see if they will be picking second or third in next year’s draft, let’s take a look back at some noteworthy performances from this week’s loss to the Bengals.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
A Star Shining in the … Midwest
The Bengals have for years lacked a real presence at defensive tackle and this season their patience has been fully rewarded with a breakout season by second-year player Geno Atkins. After yet another strong performance (+6.3, his best grade of the season), his fine season shows no signs of slowing as he took St Louis’ stand-in left guard Jason Brown to task for the entire game. Atkins, as always, was in the backfield at every opportunity and picked-up a sack, two hits and three pressures in the passing game. His also recorded two tackles behind the line with his pursuit to Steven Jackson at the 12:44 mark of the first quarter particularly impressive, getting the Bengals off the field on the opening drive of the game. He will need to maintain this type of play for a couple more seasons to truly be thought of among the elite defensive tackles in the league, but for this year at least, Atkins is as good as it gets as in interior defensive lineman.
Losing the Handle … But Not the Possession
Coming into this game Cedric Benson (-2.7) had not fumbled all season, his last fumble coming in Week 16 at home to the Chargers last season. This week the sure-handed Bengal running back put the ball on the ground a surprising three times. He was able to keep turnovers that could have proved so crucial to the Rams away from them by scooping two of them back up himself. The only loose ball that got away from he was fortunate to see Jerome Simpson pick up, with all the more benefit of the Bengals picking up 8 loose-ball yards on the game. On such strokes of luck can games and seasons be defined, and how different might the game have been had the Rams fielded those loose balls? Benson and the Bengals will hope that after this uncharacteristic glut of fumbles they will not see another for even longer than the 15 games since his last one.
Next Man Up
Few teams use an extra lineman more frequently than the Bengals do with Dennis Roland (+1.5). When he pulls off blocks as he did this week you can see why they persist with it when it doesn’t yield results. Roland made two good blocks on St Louis rookie Robert Quinn on the Bengals’ third quarter scoring drive, but it was his block on Bernard Scott’s scoring play that was most impressive. Adding some extra beef to the left side of the line Roland caved Quinn down the line taking the block to ground to allow Scott a clear crease off left tackle to drive his way into the endzone.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Offensive Line Woes Continue
It seems unfair to pile on to a Rams offensive line that bears absolutely no resemblance to the one they intended to field this season, but at the end of the day, these guys just aren’t getting the job done. Adam Goldberg (+1.3) returned to the fold at left tackle to at least provide some semblance of stability at left tackle but that was just about it, as once again the Rams failed to find a stable base for their offense. Harvey Dahl (-1.2) was solid in pass protection at his unfamiliar position of right tackle but let himself down with two penalties on the same play, with a hold and then dropping an F-bomb on referee Jerome Boger that saw him sit down for one play. Inside, the Rams are simply a mess and the money they invested in Jason Brown (-3.8) has not seen the desired returns. Injuries have killed this unit and the Rams will be looking forward to long offseason to allow their starters to heal up and attempt to re-form a strong cohesive unit.
A Rare Success at Corner
Aside from their offensive line the one position decimated like no other unit across the league has been the Rams’ cornerback unit. With Justin King missing, Roderick Hood (-0.4) was forced into starting his second game of the season this week. However, it was Josh Gordy (+2.6) starting his sixth straight game on the opposite side who provided a rare beacon of hope for the Rams in pass coverage. His big play came early in the second quarter as he jumped an out route by Andrew Hawkins at the 14:17 mark to pick-off the pass and take it 30 yards the other way to give good field position just short of scoring range, which was wasted with another St Louis three and out. For the day, Gordy allowed only one reception of seven yards to AJ Green on the five passes thrown his way while also breaking up another pass intended for Jerome Simpson in the third. This is only an isolated performance but in such a season of abject misery for the Rams at corner, it’s at least something to cling to.
Too Little Too Late
With another Top 3 draft choice almost certainly on the horizon, the Rams will once again be spoiled for choice for top-end talent and one position, among many, that they need to look at boosting on their roster is wide receiver. This week Danario Alexander (+2.1) flashed the ability that momentarily filled the Rams with hope that they had a free agent steal, but this performance could mean to Alexander what it meant to the Rams in this game: too little too late. Alexander’s touchdown grab was an impressive one rising over Adam Jones and avoiding an errant lunging Taylor Mays, but all he had contributed to that point in the game was some solid work as a run blocker, valuable work but the Rams need more. With Sam Bradford deserving of more time and the jury still out on their offensive line investments, why not take a look at some of the top receivers in the draft to link up with Bradford and Brandon Lloyd?
- Bengals third-round pick Brandon Ghee recorded his first defensive snaps of his NFL career this week. Both were in coverage and he was targeted on neither play.
- The Rams tied their season low with only three missed tackles in this game.
- Bryan Kehl recorded six defensive snaps this week, his first since the Rams’ Week 8 victory over St Louis when he started the game.
PFF Game Ball
Two members of the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive line are leading candidates for this season’s breakout player. While Carlos Dunlap had a quiet game in St. Louis, Geno Atkins once again had an outstanding day, proving almost completely unblockable for Jason Brown.
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