Oftentimes when I write these previews, we get two animal logos. When I see a pissed off blue ram mugging down a neon, maybe radioactively orange tiger who appears to be singing, I wish I could actually see a ram and a tiger in a death match. I'm not saying I want Michael Vick to start hosting interspecies cage matches, but let's just think about this. You don't fuck with tigers. I mean, seriously. Don't be dumb. But rams are dumb. They fight by headbutting and nutknocking. The difference? When a ram is done, it "proves its worthiness."
Child please. Game 3 preview after the fold.
St. Louis Rams, 1-1, 3rd - NFC West
Cincinnati Bengals, 1-1, t-2nd - AFC North
Parentheses include NFL rankings in that area.
STL pass v. CIN pass D
Going into this without Marc Bulger could be a challenge for the first team. Cincy boasts a very functional pair of starting CBs in Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. In the back, their safety trio of Chinedum Ndukwe, Marvin White, and Roy L. Williams is nothing to sneeze at (which BTW is one of my favorite all time sayings. If you happen to sit front row at a Rams game this year and a benchwarmer walks within spray range, I expect you to sneeze on them), but I would certainly rather have James Butler and O.J. Atogwe in the back.
Hopefully, this means we'll get a similar result from Laurent Robinson to what he offered up against the Falcons (5 rec,. 65 yds.). He could definitely open up the game for what starters we do have on offense. Keenan Burton needs to get his hands on the ball as well. While Kyle Boller exhibited a penchant for inaccuracy, I'm hoping we tighten up the passing game a bit and work Burton into some shorter routes.
STL run v. CIN run D
Suffice to say, we need to improve on the 2.6 yds per carry average we posted against ATL. While Steven Jackson will probably be off the field as soon as possible, the running backs behind him have to do more with less. Kenneth Darby was able to hammer out 30 yards on 7 carries, whil Samkon Gado rushed 12 times... for 5 yards. We could see somewhat similar results against the Bengals, especially if Darby sits out.
At LB, they feature Keith Rivers at WLB who is a very capable OLB. Of course they drafted Rey Maualuga just 3 picks after we took James Laurinaitis, so they have plenty of talent at LB. The key will be dealing with their front 4 and defending any run blitzes.
STL O-line v. CIN D-line
Hopefully, we can get Jacob Bell and Alex Barron back on the field in time for this; it would be a great opportunity to face some qualified defensive linemen and get ready for week 1 of the regular season. The Bengals have a phenomenal DT in Domata Peko and an young DT in Pat Sims who should continue to improve his game coming off of his rookie campaign. They needed to upgrade their pass rush and did so by drafting Michael Johnson, who at 6'7" and a solid 260 lbs., should be a force once he adjusts to the NFL game. I think he needs more development to take advantage of his size, but once he gets going, I think he could have a very productive career.
The Rams were able to pass block as well as I can remember against the Falcons; repeating that success would be no small feat. Improving the run blocking, to be frank, has to happen if we want any success out of 2009. Doing so tonight would be an achievement, albeit a small one.
CIN pass v. STL pass D
Despite the loss of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the Seahawks, Cincy still can put up solid numbers in the air... as long as Carson Palmer stays healthy. Chad Ochocinco, tomfoolery aside, is as talented as any WR in the league. Picking up Laveranues Coles adds experience to a unit that needed it once Housh bolted. And in drafting Chase Coffman, Cincinnati may have finally found a reliable receiving TE. Cincy has scored just 13 points in two games this preseason, so they're certainly not an offensive powerhouse, but the Rams defense has been known to make even the weakest offense look pretty explosive so don't rule anything out.
The Rams have to get more pressure. Four sacks in two games might be tolerable if it was coupled with a more consistent rush on the QB. While Palmer will likely sit due to an ankle injury, any QB, if given enough time, can be effective. Chris Long needs to step up and make sure this is not the case tonight. Seeing Larry Grant in some varied blitzes would be a welcome change, but he can't go it alone. Given the quality of Cincinnati's line (which is poor), the Rams need to capitalize on shutting down this facet early.
CIN run v. STL run D
Having praised the Bengals pretty blatantly until now, let me be equally blatant - their running game is soft sauce. Cedric Benson, their starting RB, averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last year and found the end zone twice. This should be enough to remind Rams fans how valuable a talent like Steven Jackson is.
After being carved up by Michael Turner, we need to get back to the kind of run stopping we saw the Rams exhibit when they stuffed Thomas Jones for just 13 yards on 9 carries. Part of that will be dependent on James Laurinaitis. The need for Animal, Jr. to recognize appropriate attack lanes was on clear display when Turner broke a nice counter off for more than 40 yards; James bit, and the rest was more blistery than history.
CIN O-line v. STL D-line
This is a great matchup between subpar units. For "trenchers" like myself, Cincinnati's O-line is their biggest weakness. It makes Cedric Benson look worse and heightens the risk of another injury to Carson Palmer. Meanwhile, the Rams' defensive line isn't scaring anybody. Chris Long looks mediocre and Adam Carriker is watching his spot on the depth chart being taken over by Gary Gibson (click here and scroll down to "Carriker Works"). If your two of your three most recent first round picks (and the two with the most experience versus your greenest rookie) are struggling to earn a first round talent tab, your franchise is going to suffer, your team is going to struggle and your fans are going to be, well, pretty pissed off.
Because I want to pump this out and the 3 storylines are killing me, I'm skipping them this week. But fear not, they'll be back next week!