The Los Angeles Rams are coming off of a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. However, they have a serious opportunity on Monday Night Football in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have started the season 0-2 and quarterback Joe Burrow doesn’t look healthy as he deals with a calf injury. The Rams have an opportunity here to move to 2-1 with a matchup against the Indianapolis Colts on the horizon.
After beginning as 7.5 point underdogs, the Rams are now just at +2.5 according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The line has moved significantly throughout the week with the uncertainty of Burrow’s calf injury. Let’s take a look at five keys to victory for the Rams and how they can pull off the upset on Monday Night Football.
1. Take Away the Underneath Throws
Whether it’s Joe Burrow or Jake Browning at quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, it’s unlikely that this is going to be a team that takes many deep shots. With Burrow’s calf injury, he hasn’t been able to push the ball downfield as he doesn’t have an elite arm as it is. Browning also can make throws at all three levels of the field, but his arm strength isn’t anything special either.
The leaders in a dumb metric i named after 2021 Ben Roethlisberger. it's just aDOT multiplied by average time to throw. the league average is around 18 btw.— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) September 19, 2023
the biggest guppy QBs in the league so far this year: pic.twitter.com/FJ0uOsFi3F
Burrow simply is not pushing the ball down the field because of calf. The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz created a metric to visualize this and Burrow is by far the worst quarterback this season. This is especially seen in Ja’Marr Chase’s average depth of target which is down a full two yards this season. Chase’s average depth of target was 9.8 in 2022 and is down to 7.6 through the first two weeks.
Joe Burrow's calf is having a significant effect on his game. He's just 3-for-18 outside numbers beyond 10 yards this season.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) September 22, 2023
Rams have to take away the underneath throws over the middle. pic.twitter.com/HuHVgTZgs2
The Bengals quarterback is struggling this season. While he has gone up against two good defenses, Burrow is just 3-for-18 beyond 10 yards outside the numbers this season and 17-for-20 when staying under 10 yards and targeting the middle of the field. The Rams have to be able to force Burrow to throw outside.
2. Get Kyren Williams Going
This could end up being a very good Kyren Williams game on the ground for the Rams. To put it simply, the Bengals are getting gashed on the ground through two weeks. The Bengals have allowed 192 yards rushing per game this season which ranks 31st in the NFL. They’ve allowed 13 explosive runs which is by far the most in the NFL.
Explosive plays allowed on defense through 2 weeks of the season. And I went back to 10+ yards for runs and 20+ yards for passes and will keep it like this going forward pic.twitter.com/OVfbIfK86B— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) September 21, 2023
Through two weeks, the Bengals rank 26th in rush EPA allowed on defense and 28th in success rate. The Rams have to be able to take advantage of that and be able to rely on Kyren Williams. After trading Cam Akers, Williams needs to show that he can be the guy and this is a great opportunity for him to do just that.
3. Make the Quarterback Uncomfortable
This lines up with the first key to victory, but the Rams defense needs to make either Burrow or Browning uncomfortable in this game. That starts with the pass rush. The defense needs to be able to force Burrow to test his calf and move outside the pocket to evade pass rushers. For Browning, he’s always had an issue under pressure going back to his days at Washington. If you can speed up his process, you can force him into mistakes.
The Bengals offensive line hasn’t allowed a lot of pressures, but much of this is because Burrow is getting rid of the ball quickly. His 2.31 second average time to throw is the second-fastest in the NFL behind only Tua Tagovailoa. Byron Young, Aaron Donald, and Kobie Turner can have a huge impact on this game.
4. Get Hands on Balls
The Rams defense hasn’t forced a single turnover this season. There was some bad luck against the San Francisco 49ers with Deebo Samuel’s fumble and a snap going off of George Kittle and going directly to Christian McCaffrey. However, the Rams only have two pass breakups all season according to Pro Football Focus.
Players like Cobie Durant, Derion Kendrick, and others, need to be more aggressive on the ball. This has nothing to do with Raheem Morris playing a soft coverage as the Rams defensive backs are playing much tighter than they were last season. If the defense can create a turnover or two in this game, it will provide a huge boost to an offense that is one of the most effective units in the NFL to start the season.
5. Be Ready to Play a Desperate Team
Heading into Monday Night an argument could be made the Bengals are playing for their season. This is a team that recovered from an 0-2 start last season, but this year also feels different. With losses to the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals have to be able to find a way to get in the win column as 0-3 likely ends their season.
With two competitive games against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers combined with the Bengals being 0-2, the Rams aren’t getting overlooked on Monday Night. This isn't a “trap game” for the Bengals. The Rams must be ready for a team that may take some chances that they normally wouldn’t or show some looks that they haven’t shown yet. The Bengals are going to give the Rams everything that they have because if they don’t, their season could be over.