All of the narratives surrounding the Cincinnati Bengals were swirling heading up to the team’s Monday Night Football match with the Los Angeles Rams. Will Joe Burrow play? How frustrated is Ja’Marr Chase? Can the defense rebound after a rough outing against Baltimore? Can they overcome another 0-2 start?
The game was not the prettiest from any standpoint. However, the black and white striped Bengals were victorious over the Rams in a de facto Super Bowl LVI rematch.
The Bengals Defensive Playmakers Lead Team to Victory
Expensive Stars Shine
In building this Bengals team, the front office used its precious dollars on the defensive side of the ball to make the most of their young offensive stars’ rookie contracts. D.J. Reader and Trey Hendrickson came to town and immediately changed the defensive mindset. Against the Rams, Hendrickson was his best self against a back-up left tackle.
On the night, the Bengals sacked Matt Stafford six times and Hendrickson mauled his way to two himself. He was able to win all game long by mixing up bull rushes to go with his elite hand usage which has been how he’s become a premier pass rusher.
Reader was a force on the interior, as usual. Plus, he added a crucial sack on the Rams first series on first and goal. Reader is not known as a pass rusher at nose tackle but he can get the job done if needed. B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard, and Dax Hill added one sack each as the defense feasted on the Rams.
Finally, another recipient of an extension in the offseason had himself a fantastic game. Logan Wilson, the captain of the defense, just has something against the Los Angeles Rams because in two games, he’s stepped up in massive ways. He had a legitimate argument to be Super Bowl LVI MVP had it not been for the holding penalty and he was able to take over this Monday Night Football game.
Wilson was everywhere. He hauled in a pair of interceptions to go with two more pass breakups and four tackles on the night. He was quick to break on the ball when Stafford tried the middle of the field and keyed in on runs and came downhill to make the stop.
All in all, the Bengals defensive line dominated the Rams and provided plenty of hope moving forward.
Third Down Lockdown
The biggest factor in this Bengals win, aside from the six sacks and two interceptions, is the defense’s ability to tighten down on third down shortened the game for Los Angeles, and made sure Stafford could not get any momentum. Coming into this game, the Rams led the NFL by converting 58.1% of the time.
On the night, the Bengals held the Rams to 1/11 on third down. Los Angeles had 10 drives that weren’t ended via interception. Cincinnati forced three-and-outs five times; three of which were on three consecutive drives in the second half. The defense put themselves into fortuitous positions and made it significantly easier to force the punt. Of those 10 failed third downs, seven were third and six or more. Five of them were third and 10 or more.
Forcing the Rams into obvious passing situations was key. They were able to get their pass-rushing specialists going and let them do their thing. On those 11 third downs, the Bengals blitzed just twice. On the incredibly long downs in the second half, they only rushed three. Even then, it was good enough to get to Stafford and Hill rallied for the sack deep in Rams territory.
When it mattered most, the Bengals defensive unit buckled down and gave nothing up.
Offense Not 100% But Better
It was obvious that Burrow was not at full strength. He could not move in the pocket or extend plays as he has grown accustomed to. Even then, the job got done.
Despite the fact that Burrow was working with a hobbled calf, the Bengals offensive game plan was to air it out. On the day, Burrow threw it 49 times and completed 26 for 259 yards. He did end up with an interception with an incredibly athletic play by Ahkello Witherspoon.
Tee Higgins did not have his best game but Ja’Marr Chase picked him up. Burrow had a clear favorite on the day and it was Chase with 15 targets which he turned into 141 yards and 12 receptions. It was vintage Burrow-to-Chase on Monday Night despite the calf injury.
Ja'Marr Chase was at his best against the Rams in split-safety coverage and on out-breaking routes…
🔸 9 targets, 8 rec, 104 yards (26 routes)
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 26, 2023
On the night, Burrow was sacked twice. Aaron Donald, even a version that wasn’t 100%, terrorized second-year left guard, Cordell Volson. Donald showed why he’s one of the top defensive players in the NFL on every snap and not even a double team could stop him.
Aside from that, the offensive line was solid. They allowed six hits on Burrow in total and, for the most part, did not force him to have to move around. Of course, he did have to roll out a few times and was noticeably wincing.
On To Tennessee
Cincinnati’s offense is just beginning to warm up to the 2023 season. They’ll have a test next week against Tennessee and stars Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons.
This will be the fourth time that Burrow faces off against the Titans, a team that has yet to beat him. In 2020, Cincinnati exposed Tennessee’s porous secondary en route to a massive 31-20 win. Then, the Bengals went to Nashville to take on the top-seeded Titans, overcame nine sacks, and stifled Tennessee’s offense to win 19-16. Finally, last year, the Bengals returned to Nashville and took a physical and hard-fought 20-16 win as they were starting to get hot.
This year, the Bengals will have to replicate their defensive prowess to dispatch Tennessee. If Burrow is closer to 100%, Cincinnati should be able to get the job done and get back to 2-2.
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